Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. (game software) (evaluation)
by Gordon Owens
Killbragant Castle looms before you, looking nothing like the description the adventurers' union gave of a quant castle in the peaceful English countryside. Still, all you've got to do is help the sweet young thing that lives there solve a tiny problem with some unwanted guests. Piece of cake," they said, "a pleasant vacation." One glance at the captain of the guard confirms your worst fears--Killbragant is hardly quaint. You're in trouble all right, big trouble!
Thus begins the fantasy adventure game Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a successful mixture of a graphics adventure and fantasy role-playing game. As for that nice vacation, forget it; this vacation is the stuff of nightmares. It seems Elvira's great-grandmother, Queen Emelda, is due for a resurrection and plans to rule the world with the help of her evil minions. Your task is to help Elvira find her chest and the six keys that open it in order to put a stop to Grandma's imminent return. Of course, Elvira's unwanted, not to mention undead, houseguests, including everything from zombie soldiers to a beautiful but deadly vampires, are dead set on seeing to it that you fail.
Elvira may start a new trend in graphics-oriented adventures. Many games sacrifice depth and length of play in favor of striking graphics. Accolade, however, has stated a game that provides hours of play in addition to stunning graphics. As you enter the castle, the attention to detail becomes apparent, and thanks to Elvira's first-person perspective the feeling of being there is immediate. As you wander the ancient grounds of Killbragant, you'll have the opportunity to battle a variety of creatures, all of which will grimace, scream, and snarl at you in remarkable detail. I found the animation to be excellent. At one point in the game you'll encounter a falcon, which scrolls smoothly across the screen just before ripping out your eyes. Another excellent animation sequence is the werewolf transformation. I recommend that you bring some silver when you visit this guy, and I'm not talking about your fork and spoon.
The box states that Elvira contains blood-curdling graphics. This is a warning as well as a selling point: the game contains graphic violence. You will be beheaded, have your throat ripped out, and sustain various other fatal and unpleasant injuries--all with minute attention to detail. The results are sometimes shocking. For this reason, I feel that Elvira is not suitable for young children.
Of course, a superior adventure game relies on more than good graphics for its appeal, and Elvira is no exception. The game boasts an excellent soundtrack and supports today's most popular sound cards. I found the music to be very well done, creating tension at just the right moment. Another excellent feature is the incorporation of digitized sound effects. No matter what sound card you're using, you'll still be able to hear screams, cries of agony, and the clash of steel on steel as you engage in battle. For those of you whose only source of sound is the PC speaker Accolade has done a creditable job with the music, and you'll even be able to hear the digital sound.
Elvira is an icon-driven game that uses a point-and-click interface. All the necessary icons are located on one screen, which speeds gameplay by minimizing the amount of mouse pushing you'll do. Needless to say, because of the nature of the interface, a mouse is highly recommended.
During the game all text, descriptions, and inventory items will appear in a lower window. Arrows direct your movement along the four compass points, and up or down arrows allow you to negotiate stairways. You manipulate objects byusing command icons such as Examine, Open, Close, Use, and the like. Picking up an object is a simple matter of clicking on it and dragging it to your inventory. Another interesting feature, the ability to drop things in a room and retrieve them later, isn't found in many of today's graphic adventure games.
During combat, when you confront one of the castle beasties, a special combat window appears, alternately displaying Lunge/Hack and Block/Parry. The intelligent combat interface requires you not only to select the proper attack or defense but also to time your defense correctly. Not that it's going to help you much. There's going to be a lot of blood spilled here--mostly yours. One more note on combat: Once you engate in battle, it's a fight to the death. If you wish to run or use magic against your enemy you must do so before the combat window appears.
Strategy for Elvira is somewhat simplistic; try to stay alive and grab everything that isn't nailed down. In the castle, you find some of the better weapons and other items used throughout the game. You'll have to engage in combat to enter many of the rooms in the castle, and since fighting is strictly on-the-job training, save often. The game has so many items you can pick up that I recommend selecting a centrally located room in the castle as a repository. I found that the library serve nicely, since it's never guarded. Make sure you read the documentation, as it contains some good pointers. Last, but not least, if you truly get stuck, Accolade does offer an excellent hint book that includes a layout of the castle and grounds.
Despite my disappointment with the lack of a user-friend installation process and some minor documentation oversights, I consider Elvira a noteworthy achievement. If a dank and dangerous setting is your element, you'll be right at home in Castle Killbragant. Grab a copy and begin your adventure--exoploring Elvira may take days, but every moment's a thrill.