The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing wins my “games-you-would-really-think-are-terrible-but-as-it-turns-out-aren’t-actually-that-bad” award for 2013 so far. Its only real flaw is that it is shamefully derivative, but if you are looking for a solid, action-packed top-down RPG, then you could do a lot worse.
On paper, it’s a difficult sell. For starters, Hollywood hasn’t done Mr Van Helsing any recent favours – although the game has no apparent link to the 2004 movie with Hugh Jackman. Nope, that had its own atrocious video game tie-in. Secondly, it’s about as cookie-cutter as it gets in terms of being an RPG. Despite that, it manages to be something quite worth playing, particularly if you are fan of the genre.
One of the first things that caught my eye was the Steampunk take on the subject matter. Van Helsing is traditionally portrayed as a scholarly, well dressed, Victorian gentleman with a penchant for slaying pretty much anything that goes bump in the night. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing more closely resembles the aforementioned movie than the original fiction, but it casts the player not as Van Helsing himself, but his son.[quote]
The Steampunk aesthetic is pulled off surprisingly well, and the level of enemy character design is of an unusually high standard. The clockwork soldiers are particularly memorable, as are the electrified werewolves. This style twist works well throughout, and goes a long way toward making The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing an enjoyable experience.
In terms of gameplay, Neocore Games has for the most part hit the mark, although there are a few peculiar game design choices that don’t really pay off. The standard ARPG genre tropes are present and give the game a strong sense of familiarity. Items come in different grades, and there are item-sets to collect as well as sockets. There is also a Rage mechanic, which bears questionable implementation.
One key difference between this game and say, Diablo III, is that there is only one choice of character: Van Helsing. So it does not have the broad scope that comes with having various different character classes from which to choose. As a result, the game should be more character driven, but that doesn’t really feel like the case. Van Helsing is accompanied by a ghostly sidekick called Lady Katarina. She helps him out by assisting in combat, collecting items, and performing other mundane tasks, but more importantly, she is a companion to Van Helsing. The banter between the two is pretty much ongoing, and although it falls well short of the sort of inter-character dynamics which Naughty Dog is capable of pulling off, it does inject a degree of personality into the game. Despite these efforts to flesh out the narrative, the characters lack the strength required to extract any real human emotions from the player.
Having said all that, it is still a fair amount of fun to play. And the visuals, in combination with the fantastic art direction, make for a game which is quite a joy to behold most of the time. Not only does the game look the part, but the sound design is also surprisingly tight.
Dedicated RPG aficionados will probably not be satisfied with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing‘s relatively limited scope for customization and replayability. However, those looking for a single, quick play-through of something that resembles Diablo and looks pretty will probably quite like it.