Also On: XBLA
Publisher: Neocore Games
Developer: Neocore Games
Players: 1-4 (Co-op)
The recent PC release The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing hit the PC and the Xbox 360 only a few weeks ago and was developed as well as Published by the Neocore Games company. The download-only Action RPG is not unlike games such as Torchlight and the Diablo series, which both have a large following. The game is very much a classic Hack’n’slash title that was well, incredibly surprising to say the least.
The game retails at the wonderfully accessible $15.00 price mark and has a very simple yet effective system of getting you into the game right away. After a short cut scene and character introduction, of course. You set off to Borgova to fight hordes of monsters and save the world from a particularly mad Scientist.
The more realistic and less cartoonish design helps set this game apart from other games of the same genre. While games like Diablo III and Torchlight are a bit more colorful Van Helsing has a darker, more drab color and design palette that really compliments the setting. The game takes place in the fictional country known as Borgova, which has a downright astonishingly broad set of locations, from forests, cities, sewers and more. Neocore certainly took great care in giving the player plenty of sights to see as they move through the game as well. With little landmarks, secrets and hidden spots that aren’t necessarily easily located or accessed there is a feeling of minor accomplishment in finding a location that is somewhat off the beaten path. In many cases players manage to discover these little gems in the wilderness randomly.
The world that has been crafted by the developers also has this odd, Bram Stoker-like feel to it that any fans of the classical horror genre would enjoy. It is also paired with a kind of makeshift steampunk technology that further helps to set the world apart from other games within the same genre. At times the game and it’s characters even have a detective-like feel to it. Almost a classic gumshoe or Noire feel. Something that might seem like an odd combination at first quickly helps set the tone, pace and development of the game.
Our main character Van Helsing (who is actually the son of the original Van Helsing in our story,) is a bit bland. I will be honest, but this works out pretty well since he’s only a character that serves as a vehicle for the player to move through the story. While he does have dialogue and opinions about “stuff n’ junk,” he’s a pretty stoic fellow with a compass that points firmly in the direction he’s guided himself in. The other characters in the game on the other hand have a wonderfully devilish and dark charm to them. The companion of our main character, Lady Katarina has a particularly dark and cynical brand of humor loaded with sarcasm that really helps give the game more of a personality, and honestly would most likely be something that is missed were it not in the game. This character brings quite a bit to this title that was not immediately apparent, but was a welcome change from the usual silent companions in gametypes like this.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward, and takes a page right out of the Diablo and Torchlight design books. About 90 percent of the game can be played with a mouse. While it’s handy to have things like potions and powers hotkeyed you can conceivably play Van Helsing without them. While our character is very stylized there really aren’t too many difference wardrobe options for him for the type of game it is, not too big of a deal however the games weapons-types follow a similar pattern. Van Helsing is basically stuck using two short swords, large two-handed swords, two pistols or a long rifle and this is about it. There are spells that can be unlocked as you level which add some flavor but the weapons themselves are rather limited. iIt seems that I got bored of the same weapon types quickly and was switching on and off between weapons quite regularly, but the reality felt like I was simply changing between two types of weapons. The same problem exists with the ranged weapons and in fact, I found this option to be a rather passive and boring way to go through the game. This is really too bad since ranged combat is not an option in this game. You are going to have to use it to deal with some monster types or bosses easier. The players could try to avoid it, but most likely would end up taking a boat load of healing potions or dying regularly.
The Melee combat however is a different story. Van Helsing seems to require a bit more planning and strategy when dealing with monsters rather than simply running in and bashing your way through waves of enemies. There are points where the player will have to retreat to heal or run around the fringes of an angry mob to thin out their ranks. This is not a action RPG where you can simply run to the center of a horde of enemies and attack until they are all dead. I thought this was a welcome change to the genre and certainly ramps up the difficulty. There is also a higher concentration of Mini-boss or more powerful monsters in groups the similar titles. It’s not uncommon to come across a few characters with a name displayed in blue, or even orange that is not the Boss in that area.
The sound FX in the game are pretty good, the violence is meaty sounding when a blow is struck and some of the sounds the monsters make are well done, though nothing spectacular on this front, they clearly did put time into it during the development. To be honest though, the soundtrack seemed lacking. A lot of the same tracks, or seemingly similar tracks. After a little while I found myself just listening to “…Like Clockwork,” the new Queens of the Stone Age album in place of the game’s music. It just didn’t seem to fit the more exciting moments.
The Van Helsing’s quest system is the standard, universal system we’re all used to. You run to the guy with the exclamation point above their head to get the quest, then you turn it in when it’s a question mark. Nothing really new here, which is fine. Sometimes it made me feel like I was a bit of an errand boy, but ultimately it’s a solid system and the small complaints that people would have about this would be same as any game using the same, or similar quest-based system. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” would be a perfect way to describe the questing system for the game. There were a few quests that appeared to be broken. I had an issue on multiple occasions where quest items would disappear, yet the locations on the map were being displayed for that area. On quest in particular where I had to find electrical coils was particularly frustrating, luckily the quest was fixed simply by closing then restarting the game. Some people actually had to edit game-files in multiplayer instances however for the very same quest.
I did find a few things odd with the game, one being that there is simply no Vampire enemies in the game. From my count, I only found one actual Vampire in the game he is an ally? I thought this to be very odd since the Van Helsing family has hunted Vampires. Instead you just deal with a whole slew of werewolves and other various undead creatures. It’s not even really a complaint, and is more just something that I found to be a bit odd.
All-in-all, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing was surprisingly good, especially for its price-point. There are some unpleasant limiting factors in the game and some rough edges that the players will have to deal with from time to time. However, even with those issues in mind the game comes together nicely and is surprisingly polished for what is really only a small indie title. The game’s natural charm as well as it’s atmosphere shine through and really tied everything together nicely. If a top down hack ‘n’ slash action RPG is something you’re into and you’ve got a few extra bucks this is definitely you should look into.