The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing (VH) is surprisingly the first title I’ve played/watched/ heard/verb-ed based on Bram Stoker’s badass vigilante monster hunter since the 2004 film starring Hugh Jackman (Uhh… Wolverine, I mean) and the accompanying Xbox/PS2 game. From memory the film was amazing (but then again my brain was significantly less developed nine years ago), and the game was so difficult I think I may have cried and thrown away the disc. Good times. Developing a character using such familiar inspiration without choosing one that has been so direly overdone (*cough* Sherlock Holmes *cough*) is a difficult task that NeocoreGames have nailed well, even if the game itself feels far too similar to well established action RPGs to truly set itself apart.
My own first half an hour of gameplay was far less than enjoyable due to technical and difficulty issues. Playing singleplayer with an online character proved too trying for my system to run while VH was open through the Steam interface; after a quick Google search I realised I could open the 64-bit application from the Steam directory. The game runs infinitely better this way, though it restricts you to offline mode, meaning no multiplayer. Sure, you get seamless animations, beautiful scenery and meticulously crafted enemies with fluid and immersive gameplay, but you go it alone. It doesn’t take long for the enemies to become unwarrantedly difficult to face alone either, so this is more of a pain than it should be. Not that one would be likely to find online games anyway; if co-op is something you’re interested in (and it should be), you should recruit one-to-three friends of yours before buying.
The storyline is beyond ignorable, and though some will use this as a crutch to besmirch the title, I can’t actually recall being moved by any action RPG’s plot more than say, once. The constant humour and light vibe throughout VH will turn some people off, but it is a little refreshing when compared to the ultra-serious Diablo series, and this will absolutely not be the last time I reference that series in this review. Honestly, so much of this game feels so damned Diablo-y that I’m not sure where to start (we’ll get to that soon). Playing as Van Helsing (that is the son of the more well-renowned Van Helsing) with the ghost of one Lady Katarina as accompaniment, players fight through very possibly endless droves of varying enemies as they would in any other hack n’ slash, dungeon crawler, etc. etc. etc. video game. The environment is well-suited and unique to the genre; an anachronistic 19th-century Borgovia, not to be confused with any real-world Eastern European country, though considering the late Lady Katarina’s accent you could hardly be blamed for making such a mistake. The anachronistic-ness (turns out there’s no noun form for that word) comes when such an unremarkably typical gothic-noir setting is plagued with evil scientists, inexplicable magic and fashionably steampunk-ed equipment. These out-of-place elements feel strangely well placed and spice up the setting, though the level environments feel like adaptations of those already done in Diablo. Here we go…
VH is just begging to be compared to Diablo, and I feel like the similarities are less superficial than the genre makes necessary. Of course one should expect common ground due to the common subgenre–that being necessary RPG elements (levelling up, skill and attribute management), control systems (click to move/attack) and scales of weapons and enemies (normal, magic and rare, minion, champion and boss etc.), but almost every facet of the game is designed and presented identical to a Diablo game. I can’t decide if I’m mad over this or not, since it works almost as smoothly as the title with the significantly higher budget, but it does feel tacky to just be the same. Gameplay feels identical to Diablo, and the major differences seem to only be the less central elements; storyline, setting, and the tongue-in-cheek tone that this is all presented in. As mentioned before, the level design and the environments feel far too familiar; “So this level is the equivalent to Diablo’s spider level, I see. Oh and here’s the sewer level, check.”
I came into these surprisingly believable incredible adventures with the fear that they might show the same old Van Helsing we’ve seen before. To my surprise, I found a more pressing feeling that they’re shown in the same old action RPG we’ve seen before. Technically, the game is beautiful and runs smoothly (though some updates regarding the whole 64-bit offline-mode might be necessary), and the experience of slaughtering dem baddies and levelling up is thoroughly enjoyable. Through it all, though, that distant voice calling out “Hey, this is just like Diablooo!” spoils the experience, and makes these Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing feel more like the same old, same old than they deserve.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing by NeocoreGames.