Countdown Vampires (PSX) Review

Click here if you wish to view the Countdown Vampires description page for screenshots and more information.

Review by tankMage (March 2016)

Score: C+

After looking at the few games I reviewed for the PlayStation, I realized all of them were rather good and it was high time I manned up and played a train wreck of a game. That’s not always an easy task, since I try to avoid looking at reviews for a particular game until I’ve written my own. Titles, screen shots, and first impressions are all I have to go by. With its silly title, stereotypical shirtless protagonist, and epically bad voice acting, Countdown Vampires appeared to be the sort of PS1 game that serves better as a table coaster for drinks than as a source of entertainment. After playing through it, I found that Countdown Vampires wasn’t that awful, even if it isn’t of the same caliber as Resident Evil or Silent Hill.

Story

    If there is one aspect of this title that blatantly sucks, it’s the story. Maybe it was the translation or the way the game was presented, but Countdown Vampires doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, not even when you consider the fact that the writers were probably going for a campy Resident Evil vibe. One aspect of the story I had trouble accepting was the setting. The beginning of the game takes place in a nightclub, which is ok, but once you find out what the nightclub was being used for, you’ll probably agree the the plot has left the realm of the absurd and entered that of the stupid.

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When you invite monsters to a rave…

   The backstory doesn’t make much sense either. Keith is a detective that was held responsible for the death of his partner, so what do his superiors do? Suspend him? Nope. Take his badge? Nope again. Demote him? Nah, all those things are too logical, therefore predictable. Instead, Keith is reassigned to the night club and ordered to either guard a VIP or investigate a series of murders. The game flip flops between the two, so my guess is he was supposed to protect a VIP, while investigating the killings. Some of the background is explained as you play the game and read documents you find, but the premise is still difficult to accept and there’s a lot of stuff that goes unexplained.

   The icing on the cake is that you will have to play through the game at least twice to get the full story, because only a portion of the plot is revealed in the initial playthrough. The rest is locked up in a special “story mode” which is available if you beat the game on normal within a time limit. Of course the game gives no indication that this needs to be done, so it’s very possible that many players walked away from this one scratching their heads not knowing there was more to the title than meets the eye. Supposedly, every cloud has a silver lining and Countdown Vampires did have some interesting characters, a sense of atmosphere and mystery, and a number of cool settings, like the fortress town and a dam. There were also multiple endings, which gives this one some replay value.

User Interface

    Countdown Vampires has a fairly standard survival horror UI. Limited inventory, tank controls, and auto aiming are all staples of the genre that are alive and well in this title. Like just about every other survival horror game from the late nineties, this one features an infamous movement system known as “tank controls” that was created for early 3D systems that didn’t feature analog sticks (although Sony did release the Dual Shock analogue controller for the PlayStation years before Vamps hit the shelves). In a nutshell, the player moves forward by pushing up on the D-pad, backwards by pushing down and rotates the character left or right by pushing the corresponding buttons on the pad. Some people detest tank controls due to the fact that they feel clunky at first and take practice to master. I did not hold this movement system against Countdown Vampires for two reasons:

  1. Tank controls were very common in this era, because not everyone owned Dual Shock controllers and certain games would be unplayable for those who did not have them.
  2. This movement scheme works fairly well once you get used to it. 

Having said that, players should be aware of how movement input works in this title because, many people understandably hate tank controls.

    My only real complaint about the UI was that I was unable to figure out how to read item descriptions in the inventory, which is sometimes very helpful in survival horror games. Even after reading the instruction manual and several guides, I couldn’t figure out how to analyze items, but I know the feature exists, because my daughter (who is two years old) found it while mashing buttons…go figure. **Update: Holding the X button after highlighting an item in the inventory brings up the description.**

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Graphics

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    Being a later PSX…er…PS1 title, Countdown Vamps should look good and for the most part it does. The pre-rendered backgrounds had that grainy, low resolution look that gave games from this time an almost dreamlike quality. The character models are also fairly well done, but don’t look as good as those found in later titles from AAA devs. Of course in the end, PS1 era, low-polygon character models all look like crap in general and are an acquired taste to say the least. While the gameplay graphics for this title are good, I felt that the CG movies were fairly average. The opening cut scene looked nice, but the rest of them seemed like they were hastily thrown together and were disappointing when compared to the initial video.

Gameplay

    If not for its fairly solid controls and gameplay, this title would have been a complete failure. Aside from a few tough bosses, Countdown Vampires is very easy (if you can get used to the controls), but somehow manages to preserve a sense of fear of the unknown, even though careful, alert players will have little trouble blasting holes in vampires, werewolves, and giant bats. There’s also a great arsenal of weapons and an abundance of ammo. Players can choose from a tranq gun, grenade launcher, and even a sub machine gun to name a few of the armaments. The only drawback to the variety of guns, was the fact that many of them appear late in the game and feel unnecessary, since the magnum tends to outperform just about everything.

   Many of the puzzles found in this game were fairly challenging… unfortunately this was more due to translation and design issues than clever construction. In some cases, it seemed like the localization team had trouble converting puzzles that were designed in Japanese into English. Other puzzles just seemed have been designed half heartedly and lacked imagination. Most of the puzzles involved forcing the player to take clues from a file and enter some kind of code, which got repetitive rather quickly. There was also quite a bit of backtracking, but that was common in the survival horror genre. Enemies were placed cheaply in some areas and the player has to ready his or her weapon and prepare to fire before the screen loads or the monsters will jump all over Keith in the blink of an eye. Bosses were fairly well designed and took a bit of skill and strategy to defeat, too bad there are so few of them. Speaking of enemies, this game has a fairly robust lineup of baddies for a survival horror title.

 Countdown Vampires also features some slot machines and roulette tables that allow Keith to possibly win money that can be used at vending machines to buy some extra healing items. Even better, there is a special mode that allows you to play as a vampire, which was fun and challenging, so this game certainly has some fun extras. Despite it’s bothersome puzzles, poorly placed mobs, and backtracking, I had a lot of fun with this title. Maybe I developed some sort of gamer’s Stockholm syndrome, since I had to play through the game three times to get the entire story, but I had fun running around the twisting hallways of Countdown Vampires, blasting everything I saw. Even the initially irritating puzzles ceased to be an issue after the first play through.

Translation

  If you have read some of my other reviews, you probably know that I generally only briefly touch on a game’s translation, if at all. In the case of Countdown Vamps, translation errors are so numerous that they hinder progress at times and I felt the issue needed more attention in this review than usual. Whoever did the bulk of the translation work didn’t seem all that fluent in both English and Japanese. A weapon called the Stun Glove was mistranslated as “Stun Globe”, the letters “R” and “L” were often interchanged, and there was even one line of text that was simply forgotten and left in Japanese (fortunately it was not important).

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  While these issues are usually excusable, I felt that the cryptic nature of the game’s puzzles and plot, demanded a clean and accurate translation. Many puzzles required the player to extrapolate codes from hints given on slips of paper and in files. Usually this is tricky and may take some effort, but it’s much harder to do so when it’s difficult to understand the document in the first place. In many cases I simply gave up on the puzzles and looked them up online. Of course the shoddy translation hurt the script as well and I couldn’t help but feel that the game’s story was crippled by it, since the player must often piece together what happened by reading documents, emails and watching cutscenes, all of which include some dialogue or written narrative.

Music and Sound

    Survival Horror games generally  boasted minimalist sound tracks and Countdown Vamps is no exception. What little music there is happens to be excellent and does much to establish an eerie feeling. The game’s sound effects are great as well, but seem to be lifted right out of Resident Evil in some cases. The voice acting is another story. The VOs for this game were truly awful. I really can’t say whether or not that’s a bad thing, since horrible voice acting and dialogue usually make for some entertaining quotes. Just as Resident Evil had hilarious quotes like “You’re the master of unlocking.” this game has memorable phrases like “This white water turns them back to normal.”. The choice of voice actors was totally inappropriate for some characters, especially the muscle bound Keith Snyder who is voiced by the boyish sounding Jeff Mannings. At least Mannings did a sort of passable job, because the rest were so awful I almost split my sides laughing at times. In fact, the VOs are so bad I got the impression that the studio pulled some of its sound techs out of the break room, handed them a script and had them do their lines in one take with zero preparation.

Final Thoughts

  The name is bad, the voice acting is terribad, and the story is just plain lame. Underneath all that is a fairly good game that has a few minor kinks in its design like cryptic puzzles and a few poorly placed mobs. I had to play through this game a total of three times to get the full story and I had some fun each play through, which is the entire point of playing a video game in the first place. At the end of the day Countdown Vamps is like an economy car, sure it doesn’t look like much and your friends will laugh at it, but it won’t let you down if you give it a chance….or expect much of it…

Recommendations

    If you are new to the survival horror genre, put this one on the back burner and play Silent Hill, Resident Evil, or maybe even Clock Tower. Once you’ve played the classics swing back and give Countdown Vampires a try, you may find it agreeable. Seasoned survival horrorists (yeah, I know, I made that word up), may find this game too easy, but there are difficulty modes that spice it up. Either way, this title is better than some of the bottom of the barrel games in the genre and worth checking out after you’ve played the classics.

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