Ever since he killed Dracula back in Bram Stoker’s novel, the name Van Helsing has always been associated with that of a monster hunter. Until now he never really had much headway into video games, but The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing looks to change that. Is this game really as incredible as the title claims, or is Van Helsing pulling your leg?
When the town of Borgova is held hostage by a mad scientist they call in Abraham Van Helsing to help deal with it. The only problem is that /the/ Van Helsing is busy, so his son goes in his place. Teaming up with his ghostly companion Lady Katarina, someone who is actually a former countess from Borgova, the two of them go off to defeat the mad scientist and save Borgova. If you’re expecting a well fleshed out and interesting story then the bad news is you’re not getting it here. The story itself is just “kill scientist, save Borgova” and the game is so light on story elements that it actually lacks an ending. I’m serious, upon killing the final boss I was whisked away to the credits with no explanation.
Yet I can give two things credit: the game has good humor and fun characters. Every part of the game is filled with jokes. Some of them are original, quite a few are blatant references, but most of them were funny enough to keep me happy. The characters also work: each character in the game has a fun personality and they all interacted in fun ways. I was always enjoying meeting new characters. I also have to take a moment to commend the game’s voice acting, which is firmly in the “so bad it’s good” category. Crazy accents also help bring each character to its absurd life.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing looks good enough. There’s nothing overly ugly with its technical side, though there were times where I’d get into a camera angle that would show me the unfinished inside of buildings. Artistically it’s a good looking game with a fun steampunk aesthetic that produces entertaining environments and enemies. The UI is a little weird in the way it crawls up the right corner of the screen, but I was able to get used to that. On the other hand, the menus are a total mess. There are hidden areas (why Lady Katarina has a hidden skill section is beyond me), poor placement that requires scrolling too much, text that would constantly overlap, and confusing layouts for the skill trees, the whole menu desperately suffers from needing an overhaul.
As a top-down action RPG, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing should be immediately familiar to fans of the genre. Playing as Van Helsing, I would have to explore environments and defeat very large amounts of enemies to collect loot that would raise my stats. The big change from most action RPGs is the rage feature. I could assign abilities to A and X on my controller, and then put up to three “rage points” into three different buffs for the abilities. Spending a rage point would use up some of the rage bar, which refilled every time I killed enemies, and I could distribute them how I wanted using the right stick (a system that took some getting used to.) The idea is interesting and I found it neat that I could change how my attacks worked on the fly. Yet when I could assign 6 abilities to use, I found it weird that rage only works for the ones in A and X. The rest of the abilities couldn’t be buffed in any way.
I was also a bit surprised by the lack of playable classes (there are technically three, but two of them are paid DLC.) Van Helsing does have a skill tree for both his sword and guns, and can switch between them at any time by pressing the left stick, but there’s only the one “hunter” class to play as. I also can’t help but feel that the game was designed with a more single player leaning: while there is drop-in drop-out co-op for up to four players, enemies don’t respawn so after you clear an area there’s no reason to go back. For the most part it feels like I was just supposed to go through the story once solo and that’s it.
Yet I can’t deny that there’s just some fun in killing enemies, and I was often engaged with battles in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing more than I was for other games of its type. I actually found the battles to be challenging and I often had to keep on my toes to avoid getting trapped and killed. I could use some basic tactics, one of my rage abilities slowed enemies so I could use that to slow some of the melee enemies and try to pick them off with a rifle first, but often there was a few too many enemies on the screen to bother with much besides disorganized chaos. Lady Katarina also joins Van Helsing in battle, though the most I could do with her is choose if she’s going to attack melee or at range. Yet even then I had some fun by on purposely dumping tons of points into an ability that caused her to explode upon death, something that killed most enemies instantly, and keeping her HP and defense low. Any game that allows me to turn my companions into living bombs is entertaining.
Occasionally I had to participate in defending Van Helsing’s secret lair. These missions played out like pseudo tower defense games. I could set traps in the map screen, then I would run around fighting enemies as they walked along the path and got picked off by traps. It’s a fun diversion but only shows up maybe two times in the game total and I found the “werewolf in a box” trap to be hilariously over effective in holding enemies up until I could show up to mow them down.
I don’t know if The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing are actually incredible, but they are pretty good (though I don’t think “The Pretty Good Adventures of Van Helsing” has the same ring to it). The story is nothing, the menus need some work, and there’s a few gameplay elements I’d like to have seen refined. Yet overall, for $15, I found this a totally competent action RPG. It won’t knock Diablo off its throne, but it can at least get invited to the adults table.