There are a couple of things people will think of when they hear the words “Van Helsing”: one is the terrible Hugh Jackman film of the same name, and the other is the legendary vampire hunter made famous for his adventures in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Thankfully, Neocore Games’ Action-RPG, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, isn’t trying to cash in on a risable movie that’s the better part of a decade old, instead taking inspiration from the original character, sprinkling in a good measure of strange goings on, mystical and mythical locations and then throwing in some good old monsters for good measure. If you’ve always fancied yourself as a wannabe monster hunter, claiming all the fame (and the loot) that goes with it, then there’s every chance that The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is exactly the game you’ve been waiting for. It’s time to load up those guns, slap on the wide-brimmed hat and slay some monsters.
The story begins as a letter turns up in the Van Helsing’s London home addressed to “Professor Van Helsing”, the protagonist’s father, the original monster slayer of legend. Not to be outdone by some old man – even if the old man in question is his father – Van Helsing Jnr. sets off to Borgova in his stead, determined to be just as legendary as he was and put the monster in the ground one way or another. He is accompanied on his adventure by not only his weapons, but also a ghost called Katarina who is now bound to the Van Helsing family as part of a deal made years ago. Van Helsing does his best to downplay her help in as many situations as possible but you’ll soon figure out that, if it wasn’t for Katarina’s persistence, he’d have been dead a very long time ago.
The story is told through a series of conversations, usually between Van Helsing and Katarina, but there are times – usually during missions – that another character will get involved too. A lot of the other characters aren’t voice very well however, sounding a little stilted and stale, but the main two character’s are rather well performed and keep you engrossed in the story for the majority of the narrative. Sometimes, you’ll get a small cutscene, but don’t expect fully rendered images that look amazing; the cutscenes in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing usually consist of a small camera pan to the enemy you’re about to take on, then Van Helsing making some remark about being a great hunter. The opening cinematic is interesting though, showing visions of real-world countries skewed enough to remind you that you’re in a fantasy world (the United Kingdoms of Avalon being a prime example).
As well as the voice acting being decent (for the main characters at least) the music that’s used throughout the game does a good job to fit in with the theme of the whole experience. It’s a musical accompaniment that’s reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes films, with the traditional Victorian-era music mixed together with a steam-punk type vibe. It’s very interesting to listen to, especially while you’re hacking through another battalion of wind-up soldiers, and will make some people wish they could have the soundtrack to listen to whenever they feel like it; I know it did for me.
You’re going to want to make sure that you’ve got a sturdy mouse before setting off into the world of Van Helsing as, in typical Action-RPG style, you’re going to be smashing those left and right mouse buttons as if your life depends on it – because, usually, it does. The main aspects of the combat are mapped to the left and right mouse button, the left being for Van Helsing’s basic attack (whether he’s using his swords or guns) and the right button being for a special attack, which costs mana. There’s nothing spectacularly different about the combat system, and if you’ve even played a single Action-RPG in your life, then you’ll be well prepared for what The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is going to throw at you. You’ll also have the ability to change between melee combat and ranged combat with a quick strike of the ‘R’ key, with ranged combat being good for the smaller enemies – especially of they’re coming towards you, usually allowing you to take them out before they even reach you – and the melee combat being more suited to the larger enemies; when you’ll need more than just an itchy trigger finger in order to make sure you don’t end up a sticky mess on the floor.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is very heavy on the RPG elements, tasking you with not only sorting out the inventory for yourself, but doing so for Katarina, too. She can wear a lot of the same items of clothing as Van Helsing, and wield a lot of the same weapons, so you will have to make sure that after you’ve checked whether Van Helsing could use a particular sword as a weapon – for example – that Katarina also doesn’t need it before sending her off to the shop to sell all of the wares you’ve collected over time. You will also have to spend ability points for each of the characters each time they level up too; although both of them have the same categories so you’ll only have to learn one system, but perform the actions twice each time you level up.
Van Helsing has two more methods of customising the character that Katerina doesn’t. Van Helsing has the ability to modify his skillset and which perks he has. Skills work in the same way as in most games like this: each time you level up you’re given a number of skill points to spend on upgrading your current skills or purchasing new ones. Tricks and Auras are another important part of Van Helsing’s repertoire, and can often mean the difference between life and death. These aspects of the game come under the heading of Skills as you are able to equip and modify them under the same tab – although it can be a little too easy to miss them. Auras are passive abilities which you don’t have to directly activate as long as they’re equipped, and Tricks are special powers that need to be activated in order to use, and work on a cooldown system. These are usually quite powerful effects, such as fully healing both Van Helsing and Katerina, or stopping time for several seconds, so it’s hugely important to only use them when they’re absolutely needed. There’s nothing worse than being on the brink of death only to find out that your healing spell is still cooling down because you used it twenty seconds ago when you didn’t really need it.
Then there are the Perks. These work in a similar way to levelling up, only they do so slower. For example, when I was level 13 in the game, my perk level was 4, which meant that I had four perks equipped. When this “perk level” increased to 5, I’d be able to equip another perk, and so on. These are very similar to Auras in the sense that they’re modifications to Van Helsing that you don’t have to manually activate to use. They can range in usefulness from something that gives the character 5% increase in resistance from elemental attacks, to something that increases the damage output inversely proportional to how much health you’ve got left (the less health you’ve got, the harder you hit). Intelligent use of these perks is something you’ll have to learn in order to reach the end of the game. Misuse of them will see you dying quickly and regularly.
Multiplayer is always going to be a big part of an Action-RPG too, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is no different in that respect either: the entire game can be played co-operatively with up the four players in total. It’s a little strange with four Van Helsings running around the same screen, but once you’ve picked up a few different items of clothing, you should be able to differentiate between players. Another thing which helps differentiate is the fact that each person can create a unique first name for their character. Each character needs to be called “Van Helsing” – that’s what he’s referred to throughout the game – but the first name is never mentioned at all and can be anything. I personally had a little bit of trouble finding a game to play in multiplayer, as there only seemed to be a couple of games to join at any one time, and those didn’t last long before the host decided to stop playing, but I’m sure that if you get a few friends together you won’t have any problems at all. There’s only one thing better than one Van Helsing, and that’s four of them!
VERDICT: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an extremely accomplished game. It doesn’t quite rise to the heights of Torchlight or Diablo, but it gets pretty close. The amount of content on offer is simply staggering and the depths to which players are able to customise their character is to be applauded. A little bit more work on the voice acting – as well as a little more variety in the enemy types – would have gone down a treat, but they’re more slight niggles than glaring omissions that don’t really detract from the gameplay experience.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a difficult game at times, but one that isn’t difficult just for the sake of it. If you die as soon as you run into a group of enemies, it’s because you ran into a group of enemies without assessing the situation; your fault not that game’s. If you’re looking for an Action-RPG with substance, one that will keep you entertained for hours on end while still giving you that “I’ll just get to the next area” feeling, then The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing should be high up on your list.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.