The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Neocore Games
Release Date:2013-05-22
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Items in the game come in four qualities -- normal (white), magic (blue), rare (yellow), and epic / unique (brown) -- and there are also set items (green), which give you extra bonuses for the more items in the set that you wear.  There are also essences that you can insert into some items, which add extra bonuses.  To help you out with this equipment, you're given a stash in each town, which is shared between all of your characters, except your hardcore characters, who get their own stash.

Finally, Van Helsing also includes a mini-game of sorts.  When you reach Borgova, you take over your father's old secret lair, and then a couple of times during the campaign, Fulmigati's minions attack you there, and you have to play sort of an Orcs Must Die tower defense game to drive them away.  This mini-game allows you to place traps in the rooms and tunnels leading up to the lair, and it also involves a couple of quests so you can improve the electrical generator in the lair and place more traps (the generator can do other things as well, and so you have to balance the defense of your lair with the other benefits).  Sort of sadly though, while Neocore added "scenarios" to allow you to play certain campaign maps with higher level creatures in them, they haven't yet provided a way to repeat the tower defense mini-game, and so if you play it and allow a couple of enemies to get through, there isn't any way to get it "just right" short of starting a new character and playing half of the campaign again.

Campaign

The campaign in Van Helsing starts out really well.  The first two maps are chock full of interesting things to see and do.  There's an old coin that allows you to make a wish at a well, there's a scarecrow that triggers a mini-boss fight, and there are statues that can be rotated, rune stones that can be activated, and a big red button that can be pushed -- all for surprising results.  You can even find weapon oil, which allows you to pull Excalibur (and a King Arthur game reference) from a stone.  But unfortunately, once you get to Borgova, this sort of detail goes out the window, and mostly all you do is slice and dice your way through a slew of monsters.  This sort of imbalance is true for a lot of RPGs -- mostly, I expect, because the first zones are around the longest, and they're often used to test out things in the engine -- but the problem is more pronounced in Van Helsing because the Borgova part of the game is twice as long as the other part.

Luckily, the humor and banter in the game make up for a lot of its deficits.  Van Helsing and Katarina have lots of funny conversations, like when you get a quest to pick flowers, and Van Helsing grumbles the entire way through it, or where Katarina tries to convince Van Helsing that she's "corporeally impaired" rather than "dead."  There are also tons of funny references to other games and movies, including Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  But interestingly, despite many common themes, I didn't notice a single reference to Twilight, and I'm not sure if this is a sign of Neocore's age or of its good taste.

Problems

Of course, Van Helsing isn't perfect. The scene transition times are very slow -- especially these days when most action RPGs handle them seamlessly.  The three movies in the game don't have subtitles.  Katarina's battle AI isn't especially good (enemies often telegraph where they're going to attack -- like with Igors and their blinking red bombs -- but Katarina always ignores this and stands right where she's going to take the most damage).  The camera angle is fixed (all you can do is zoom in and out), and the maps are fixed, but you're still presented with a lot of bad camera angles, where it's tough to see what's going on, or where the game thinks you're trying to click on something in the foreground.  And for some reason, while the game always started out great for me, after playing for about 45 minutes, my frame rate would drop in half, and I'd have to exit the game and re-start it to fix the problem.  Combined, these problems aren't great, but they're not a serious drag on the fun of the game, either.

Conclusion

Overall, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a pretty entertaining game, especially for a $15 budget title.  There are some parts of the game that could work better, but the setting and the dialogue make it worthwhile.  In fact, about the worst things I can say about Van Helsing is that it's too short.  The campaign only takes 20 hours to complete, and once you defeat the final boss, that's it.  There isn't really anything more for a character to do.  All you can do if you like the game is create a new character and play the campaign again.

I played through Van Helsing twice, once with a "normal" ranged character and then once with a "heroic" melee character.  Those two games were more than enough for me to say that Van Helsing is worth the price of admission, but for others you might be happy to hear that the game also comes with a cooperative multiplayer mode, where you can play the game with your friends -- or random strangers.  In other words, if you enjoy action RPGs at all, then Van Helsing is an easy game to recommend.