Online, Jun 2020
One of the big advantages of playing remotely is how it removes geographical constraints in which games you play, letting you try one game in North America and another in Asia straight afterwards. Count Dracula is the first room I’ve tried from Singapore, and currently the only one available from that country that uses a livestream avatar format.
Our pre-game instructions included a strong encouragement to connect from a laptop or desktop if possible, and the briefing started with a walkthrough of how to set up our Zoom clients for an optimal experience. This is because, unusually, they provide an inventory system in a second Zoom window via screen share rather than a browser tab. That works very well at keeping the game within the Zoom interface as long as you use the split screen function, or can connect from two different devices; if you’re connecting from just a phone or tablet, you may find it a lot harder to play the game as intended.
Another distinctive feature was that the feed from our avatar was entirely silent. He heard and responded to our instructions, but replied only in the form of gestures. Although I’ve seen that in a couple of other games, and quite liked it in one of them, here I felt it reduced immersion and contributed to some early communication problems where it felt like we were steering an over-sensitive RC car, constantly overshooting first to one side and then to the other.
Your mission is straightforward: to find and kill Dracula. The story was fleshed out with diary entries, with a new page being found in the room and added to our inventory with each new section of the game. The inventory system worked really well as a way to provide that text. It mattered less for keeping track of what we’d found, because there weren’t that many items to manage, but the floorplan map was invaluable.
The game environment was a decent simulation of a vampire castle, with the strong point being the way it opens out through the game; the lowish light levels weren’t a problem since we could see items in the inventory anyhow. However, the game suffered from having a relatively small number of puzzles. At any given point there seemed to be exactly one puzzle available to be solved, though sometimes many purely decorative items to sort through to find the key items.
One central puzzle also seemed deliberately confusing. That was for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the inclusion of red herring distraction information to make it harder. My impression was that the design expects you to spend a lot more time stuck than solving, and if that weren’t the case you’d run through the content very quickly indeed.
In the game’s favour, although our avatar couldn’t communicate out loud, he used gestures with an energy and humour that kept the game entertaining nonetheless. Still, the strongest reason to play this game is if you’re trying to do remote avatar-based escape rooms in as many countries as possible.