[Contains spoilers for Dracula: Love Kills]
I can't fully explain my weakness for adventure games about Dracula, but I seem to be growing a collection. Some of them are really good, mind — I'd easily rate Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon in particular as one of my favourites — but it's clear that Dracula is an easy target for uninspired, formulaic game design. The mythology comes complete with easy choices for villains (Dracula and his servants), heroes (Harker and/or Van Helsing) and of course a damsel in distress (Mina). The aesthetics and locations are typical adventure game fare, including creepy graveyards and old castles. Plus there's the overhanging sense of sexuality without having to try too hard. Not that it stops some people from trying too hard anyway.
Dracula: Love Kills exists at the crossroad of my Dracula collection and my hidden object adventures.
(Tangent: just as I start weaning myself off hidden object hunts they start turning up in cheap game bundles...)
Dracula is the playable character in Love Kills, which by hidden object standards is practically revolutionary. He's a weakened version of the count, and strikes up an unlikely partnership with Van Helsing to rescue Mina from the Vampire Queen. Although honestly it doesn't seem like Van Helsing is much help so I don't know why we bother putting up with him.
There's an unwillingness to commit to casting you as a bad guy, which has some odd side effects. Along the way you meet some of the queen's servants, always classically attractive human women, and have the choice to drink their blood. When you hunt them down Dracula makes a pained expression while Igor and Van Helsing act like the devil and angel on your shoulder egging you on or telling you not to do it. A prompt warns that your choice will have consequences!
Classic Dracula is a clear monster and nothing gets through the bloodlust, so this feels like a more modern take on vampires. It makes me wonder why you'd choose Dracula as your starting point, except that it's a shortcut for getting players on the same page, while being more feasible source material than Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer. Maybe everyone is just in love with bad Transylvanian accents.
The choice of what kind of Dracula to be is an even weaker version of the BioShock choice to harvest or save the little sisters. Blood is important for powering Dracula's supernatural abilities, but once again whether to feed on women doesn't have much consequence for your power level. There's a lot of blood conveniently lying around in vials, and if you choose to spare people's lives they will reward you. Indeed, not feeding on people leads to a few extra puzzles, which would realistically be a minor inconvenience but in the context of playing a game is the whole reason we're here. This extra content suggests that if anything sparing lives is probably the intended choice, even though it's playing against the character's nature and achievement stats show that choosing to bite is more common. Conflicted Dracula suppresses the urge to bite, and whispers, "I'm still human." Um, no you're not?
I feel like there's an expectation here about the game's audience is and what they want. Including the idea that vampires are sexy because of the desire to tame them. I happen to think vampires are sexy because of the power exchange, but that's a bit raw for Love Kills.
At the game's conclusion Mina is freed from her magic prison, and Van Helsing begs Dracula to hand her over so she can receive medical treatment. He appeals to Dracula's obvious love for her, and urges him to consider what choice she would want him to make.
In the evil, bloodsucking version of the game of course these pleas are ignored, but if Dracula's a warm, cuddly guy deep down and couldn't bring himself to kill anyone then he agrees to let Van Helsing take Mina instead of making her his vampire bride. This would be at least fractionally more compelling if Mina had the chance to speak for herself. The only lines she gets in the whole game are in the bonus chapter, and even then only if you chose to turn her. Would it make a difference if you could hear her ask you to stop? Would the evil version of the story be too much for their casual brand to handle?
I'm not actually suggesting a more obvious rape metaphor is what this game needs. I'm not sure what would save this story setup, honestly. But I can't help but wonder if Dracula is this malleable then maybe Mina could be given at least as much complexity: the ability to have two sides to what she might want.
But this is just one among a sea of games more concerned with gamey conventions than what it might actually want to say.