|Anyone who's paid the least bit of attention to video games over
the last few years can tell you that survival horror games are all the rage. So it's kind
of strange that there are only a handful of games that actually represent this highly
popular genre. The game Alone in the Dark is generally credited with starting it all, but
as we all know it was really Capcom and their super successful Resident Evil franchise
that brought survival horror into the homes of nearly all gamers. Resident Evil had half
of America too scared to sleep and made zombies the monster for the new millenium. Capcom
has also furthered the genre with Dino Crisis, clearing the way for bad guys of the
non-zombie kind. SquareSoft has tried their hand at genre with Parasite Eve. The Dreamcast
even has its own survival horror game, Blue Stinger, a uniquely Japanese Christmas horror
story. Now Bandai is jumping on the band wagon with their survival horror game, Countdown
Vampires, on the PSX. That's right, this time the bad guys are vampires but the rest of
the game remains true to almost all of the survival horror game conventions.
Like any survival horror game worth its salt, Countdown Vampires offers up a few tense moments and a few tough monsters; overall its pretty slick looking and very playable. The opening FMV is truly high quality, not only is it cool looking and a cool story, but it throws you right into the game in a great way. Basically you play Keith, a hunky "detective from another town" who's present at the grand opening of the Fear Moon, a horror themed casino/hotel. Things go a little awry and evil vampires start sucking on all of the patrons. Almost too quickly you realize that this black water makes vampires and white water cures them. While you can kill vampires with your wide assortment of guns, it's best in the long run to stun them and cure them with the white water. If you've saved enough of them you'll be rewarded with a special game feature at the end. At the end of the FMV you're already on your way to find the source of the black water and stop the vampire onslaught.
Almost all of the game is spent within the vast casino resort and the surrounding area. There is something creepy about a deserted, ultra-glitzy horror casino. As in Blue Stinger, there are vending machines located around the resort, and they mainly sell heath items. Money for the vending machines can be taken from cured vampires or won by gambling on the operations gaming machines. There are a number of different slot machines and roulette tables scattered throughout. I always felt kind of funny wasting my time betting when the world was in danger of being overrun by vampires, but it was always worth the money and helped break up the monotony of some of the harder puzzles. The map layout was vast, convoluted, and pretty diverse.
While the map and backgrounds are pretty cool and diverse, I can't say that much about the monsters. Mainly there are vampires (a wide assortment of males and females), bugs, werewolves, purple guys, and the super hard boss witches. They weren't nearly as creepy as a mob of zombies in Resident Evil could be, but they did have pretty good AI. And damn those witches are tough. I did find curing vampires a cool and unique part of the game, especially because you're rewarded for your efforts.
The monsters are unique but the movement style and equipment menu are totally derivative of Resident Evil. But in many ways Countdown Vampires is a lot like the first or second Resident Evil sans the zombies. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying put the game down or anything, I think that this is a positive comparison. It's hard to deny the similarities; the control scheme is ultimately identical. This is due in part to the limitations of fixed camera angles, but also just plain using what already works. Countdown Vampires adds a quick gun change button (nice if you're trying to stun a vampire and things get a little out of control) and a reload button. I never once got my reload button to work, and I'm hoping that it's just a glitch on my pre-release copy because it was such a tease when it could be really useful.
Countdown Vampire's puzzles were also quite similar to Resident Evil's. This isn't a problem either, but I always wish for more engaging brainteasers. There are lots of puzzles to solve, from simple arrangement type problems to tougher hidden areas. Mainly you try to open doors to find keys to open more doors and occasionally fight off a few bad guys. The camera angles could be a hassle when battling. Almost every bad guy was hidden behind a corner that was impossible to see around. Tough, but a cheap way to surprise the player. I found myself always listening for the telltale vampire moans before turning any corner. The sound was pretty standard as was the music. In fact most of the game remains silent save your clunky footfalls. I was also disappointed with the lack of analog or vibration capabilities, but not to the point where it affected games enjoyability.
So this is the low down; if you like other survival horror games, chances are you'll like this one. It offers over two disks of cool vampire hunting, key finding, and puzzle solving, not to mention some truly killer FMVs. If youre a Resident Evil fanatic, you probably won't like this game as much. And if you're like me, you'll be tempted to compare it (unfairly) to Code Veronica. Yet, I think that playing a new game is better than playing an old one over again for the fourth time. Just because Evil Dead II is the best gore movie ever, for example, doesnt mean you can't watch Dead Alive and still enjoy it. Admittedly, the graphics arent as polished as the later installments of the RE franchise and the monsters aren't as inventive or ominous. (How could you ever beat Nemesis?) The simple fact is, I'd already played all the RE games and wasn't about to play them again; I was thirsting for something new. Fortunately, I was able to sink my teeth into Countdown Vampires which shares similar features of RE but offers a different environment and a unique variation of the vampire hunt/kill zombie genre.