Next up in my quest to clear up my backlog was The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. It’s an action role playing game, developed by Hungarian indie studio Neocore Games. The game is based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. The action RPG genre is one that always catches my attention so I am a little surprised that it has taken me this long to finally give Van Helsing a try.
The game draws inspirations from the trials of a young Van Helsing, the son of the Legendary Vampire Hunter, Abraham Van Helsing, from Bram Stoker’s book. The story is set in the 19th century gothic-noir times. Whilst the game is based on the book, it’s not strictly in the same fictional universe, just a similar one set in a twisted 19th century Europe with monsters, magic and technology. The game’s setting is Borgova, the gothic capital city. The main protagonist, the son of Abraham Van Helsing, is to rid the city of invading monsters.
The story did get a little complicated about halfway through, which did cause me to lose some interest in the plot. maybe it would have helped if I had read the book, but that shouldn’t really be a requirement for any game. That being said, the story is really not one of the key features for this game; it’s merely a backdrop for the gameplay and can easily be skipped if you so choose. All relevant information with regards to quests and missions can be found in quick texts in the UI menus so you don’t need to pay close attention to dialog boxes or cutscenes.
However if you are interested in the Val Helsing lore, then this is definitely the place to start. As this is the first game in a trilogy, then it may be in your interest to pay a little more attention to the details the story has to offer in case you end up playing the rest of the series as well.
Van Helsing released on PC just over four years ago now, so as you’d expect the graphics do look a little dated for today’s standards. Sadly I couldn’t play the game in a higher resolution than 1080, but the advanced graphical options allowed me to squeeze every last drop of graphical fidelity out of this title. Where I felt let down, though, was the game’s performance. First of all I experienced stuttering when explosions or other high-intensity special effects occurred on screen. I might expect that if I were playing the latest and greatest in terms of graphics on a low-end graphics card, but I was playing a four year old game on a 1080 SLI setup. Obviously this has not been optimized properly - if you head on over to the forums, I am not the only one complaining about this problem.
On top of these graphical issues, the biggest problem I had was with Directx 11 mode. The game defaults to Direct 9, which is perfectly fine, but take my warning: do not turn on Directx 11. It absolutely breaks the game and it took me over an hour to fix it. All of the graphics just break; you can’t see a thing on your screen apart from what looks like a mound of mush just floating around. No problem, eh? Just close the game and turn Direct 9 back on. Nah, not today. The main menu is so completely broken at this point that it wouldn’t even let me select Direct 9. After searching online for an hour I finally found a fix that took me into the depths of my computer’s registry. I’ve never had to go to the registry to fix a game’s bug before. I could forgive the need to delve into .ini files but not the innards of my computer’s registry settings.
But, you may be wondering, how does the game look? Well, it looks fairly basic. Nothing really stands out. It’s a very average looking game. Character design is OK, it was nice to see my character’s model changing when I put on different pieces of equipment which you would think is standard but sometimes games just have you look the same regardless of what you wear.
The use of special effects and lighting makes up for the fairly basic textures and animation used throughout the game. The game’s world is very dark and gloomy, but when you do get to see the lighting in action it does look fairly impressive.
The game has a decent soundtrack that helps set the mood and draws the player in. The voice acting is, again, average at best. The main character does have some very cringy lines at times, and sometimes I had to wince in fear that an even cringier line was coming. Your main character’s side kick is very… I want to say Hungarian, since that is where the developers are based. They really try to drive that home with the accent used here. I’m not really sure why, because it didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the game. With that being said, it is nice to see a game like this have voice acting. They could quite easily have made you sit there reading through walls of text instead.
Sound effects are pretty bland. Gunshots all sound the same regardless of what weapon you have equipped; swords all sound the same too. This came across as very repetitive towards the halfway mark, and I would like to have heard something other than the same two sounds over and over again.
I played Van Helsing on single player mode, and, even though I haven’t really been too positive in this review so far, I actually had an absolute blast playing. The addictiveness of the gameplay hooked me completely. The nature of the combat was so easy to grasp, especially with a controller, that I couldn’t put the game down. I actually managed to finish the game in one sitting - something I very rarely do these days. A single playthrough on normal difficulty took me just under ten hours, but a single play through is not where this game ends. Much like Diablo and other games in this genre, you can simply crank up the difficulty and keep playing.
Now the actual gameplay is very similar to other action RPGs. Hack and slash anything that comes in your way as you explore dungeons and levels completing quests and looting gear. If developers ever want to make your game an absolute time sink -- add gear drops in, they seriously make any game better.
Your character wields a gun for range, and a melee weapon for up close. You can use your ranged weapon in melee too, which is something I did more often than not. These two different combat styles allow you to build a character you want to play. With a fairly in-depth skill and talent base system, you can really delve deep into customizing your character exactly how you want. I went for a build that focused on range combat, and keeping enemies at range. Towards the end of my playthrough this really came across as being pretty overpowered; enemies no longer posed any sort of threat at all.
As well as being in control of the main character, you also have a sidekick following you around... yeah, the Hungarian chick. Think of this character as a pet in WoW. They’ll do all the grunt work like looting gold, potions, and junk items, as well as attacking any foes you attack yourself. Whilst she isn’t exactly a powerhouse in combat; she does act as a diversion and tank of sorts, which allowed me to shoot enemies at range.
Quests in the game aren’t very taxing to figure out, either. Whilst the game isn’t very clear mechanic in showing you exactly where to go, you can pretty much work out any quest’s destination out by reading the two or three lines in your journal. It’s well worth completing the handful of side missions throughout the game too, if not for the store then for the extra experience point rewards.
I can’t really think of any negatives about the gameplay, it’s a very polished combat system that had me wanting more right from the start. I played the game with an Xbox controller and it worked very well. Normally I opt to use keyboard and mouse for this style of game, but I didn’t feel at a disadvantage at all.
Van Helsing does offer cross platform multiplayer and co-op, however since the game is four years old now, don’t expect to be able to find a match straight away; you may have to convince your friends to pick up a few copies of the game if that's something you want to experience.
This first installment into the Van Helsing trilogy has really drawn me in. The ease of gameplay and pure excitement it brought me is more than enough for me to say this is a good game. It does have some technical flaws, but I might just have been unlucky, and thankfully was able to solve most of my problems too. I guess that’s what you get for playing a four year old game on a modern day rig.
For the regular retail price of $14.99, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is well worth your time.