Click, click, click, click... Just a second. Click, click, click... No I'm not playing Diablo again. Click, click, click, click... OK fine, I'll stop and give my review of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. Click, click, click, click... I promise. Click, click, Oooo... click, click... Just a little more. Click, click, click, click...
You play as Van Helsing, not the great Abraham Van Helsing who fought Dracula and put into place the "Pact" the keeps a peace between man and monster. No, you play as Abraham Van Helsing's son. His first name is up to you, but every non-player character (NPC) will only call you Van Helsing. Your father has received an urgent letter from Borgovia, the capital city of Borgova, asking for help. An evil scientist has created machine men and machine-controlled monsters which have taken over the capital. Since your father is retired, he has you go in his place. You set off with Katarina, a ghost who has sworn an oath of protection to the Van Helsing family.
That is just about all story you get. There is just enough to keep you moving from place to place, with most of its elements being quite forgettable. Small elements do pop up, such as finding out your father did forge a peace between man and monster in Borgova and that the evil scientist was one of the original group of people he put in charge to oversee the peace. Overall, there really isn't enough here to carry the game alone on story, so it comes down to gameplay to save the day.
Controls and Gameplay
Thankfully, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing developer, Neocore Games, focused their attention here. My review copy is the PC version so it plays with keyboard and mouse. Also there is an Xbox 360 version. Most of the moving and attacking is done with the mouse. The game is a Diablo-esque action role playing game (ARPG), a sub-genre of ARPG that has been growing with the popularity of not only the Diablo franchise but other similar games such as Torchlight and Path of Exile. So like all of those games you will be doing a lot of clicking to move and fight.
Unlike those others, you do not start with a predefined avatar class. Your Van Helsing can be tailor-made to what suits you best. If you want a fighter who specializes in up-close melee weapons – no problem, you can build that. The same for a ranged attacker who casts spells… You get the idea. Neocore goes a little old-school here. As you gain experience you acquire ability and skill points that you can spend on your abilities and skill trees respectively. Your skill trees then further break out to melee attacks, ranged attacks and spells allowing you the freedom to build Van Helsing as you see fit.
You can also distribute ability and skill points for your ghostly companion, Katarina. She does participate in combat, but only as you designate. She can be a full-on attacker, a defender, or a pure ghost who buffs your skills and defense. She also has inventory space to help you carry loot and you can even send her back to town to sell loot for you.
There is a multiplayer co-op, but here is where things take a turn for the worse. I tried it out with a friend. First he had a problem finding how to join my game. When he eventually found the multiplayer section and tried to join my game, it immediately crashed. Hard. After closing all the errors and starting up another multiplayer game he attempted to join again – and again a crash. When he started a game and I tried to join, the same story – another crash. We then looked up errors on Steam's and Neocore's forums. To Neocore's credit they are very active on both of these forums and are aware of the problems. Eventually, we tried an old game tester trick; click ignore on the errors since the game was still running while the errors popped up. Surprisingly, we were able to play for quite a while before our game crashed completely. Up to this point, we have been making private, friend's-only games, so we tried a public game. Same errors, but again we clicked ignore and continued to play. Because it was a public game we didn't notice at first when a third person had joined us, he just suddenly was there. We kept playing until a fourth player joined, then we started to experience lag that eventually ended with a game crash again. We decided to call it a day after that.
Graphics and Sound
I would describe the art style of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing as gothic horror meets steampunk. You have your classic werewolves, harpies, goblins and such, alongside gear-driven machine men and monsters. The outlying areas have the look of haunted forests and marshes, while the city of Borgovia looks like an early Industrial Age European city.
The music and sound effects fill out the horror feeling of the game. The voice acting, on the other hand, ranges from good to cliché. When I hear the first vampire speak I half expect him to either break into a fit of counting or offer me a bowl of chocolate cereal with marshmallow puffs.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing hovers in a weird zone. It is in a sub-genre that is seeing quite a few games still defining what makes Diablo-esque ARPG, but at the same time it's called Diablo-esque for a reason. The Diablo series has set most of the definitions so far. Van Helsing has things going for it. The story may be thin, but the gameplay is fun. The multiplayer may be buggy, but Neocore Games is aware of the problems. They are very active in fixing the bugs and vocal about workarounds in the meantime. This is the mark of a developer that cares about its product. Huge kudos to them.
I am currently about 14 hours into it and have only finished the first act. I have just arrived to the city of Borgovia and they have introduced a new gameplay element, tower defense. It's a mini-game they have introduced in your secret lair that occasionally comes under attack (which in turn makes me wonder how secret the lair is if the monsters and machines know where you are to attack). You can set up traps to thin out the groups of monsters as you wade in to finish them off. I'd say about 10 of those 14 hours was straight playing, so once I got going it was kind of hard to stop.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is certainly entertaining. The witty dialog between Van Helsing and Katarina reminds me of buddy movies, and there are fantasy and sci-fi in-jokes laid in generously throughout the game, both of which make for a slightly fun little hunt on its own. The dialogue and humor don’t make up for lack of story, but they do bring smiles. The addictive single player side of the game is carrying it until Neocore can fix the problems of the multiplayer. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has potential, but is seriously hindered by bugs and lack of a defined story, I give it a 3 out of 5. But I reserve the right to upgrade that score.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is available now. For more information see the Neocore Games website.