The story of Van Helsing is a curious one. Originally created by Bram Stoker as the nemesis to the infamous vampire, Dracula, Van Helsing has gone from a mild-mannered doctor who liked the odd steak to full-blown, all action monster hunter who tackles everything in his path.
It’s no real surprise then that the character has been subject to a bit of Hollywood over the years although it’s more of a shock that it has taken this long to hit the Xbox gaming world. Quite a few folk were excited to see that the PC hit The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing would be coming to Xbox One, and be initially offered gratis as part of the Games with Gold benefit. You can’t lose, right?
Despite its obvious RPG roots and the nagging feeling that it’s been made on a Diablo III template, you can’t help but have a little reservation initially about The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. You’re really only given the title character to play as and although there’s some attempt at making the character individual, you’re only really looking at a change of initial clothes.
There is one principal class in the core game, with a further two being added if you purchase the two additional DLC packs that were available on release. The game, just before this, complained about there being more than one controller being attached, when there wasn’t, but this was only a minor annoyance.
Once you’ve dressed Van Helsing appropriately you get to hit the wilderness and all of the Eastern European folklore monsters it contains, and it contains a lot of monsters. The game takes a third person isometric view centred around the main protagonist and his ghostly companion, Katarina. The main problem that I have with the view is that you cannot pan around Van Helsing, at all. This could spoil the game somewhat, with the pan function being a staple of the majority of RPG’s of this nature, and you could marvel at the scenery. Oddly it doesn’t break the enjoyment. It does make it more challenging however, not that it needs to be more of a challenge.
The graphics in-game are great. The characters are well animated and are pretty responsive when it comes to fighting style and you’ll find yourself running around picking fights with pretty much everything that isn’t human in the game. There’s a lot to do and plenty of quests to fulfill in a storyline set in several locations in the fictional country of Borgovia. Each location is linked either by a portal system or by simply moving to the exit on that particular map and each setting has someone you could talk to in order to get more quests on the go.
The majority of these quests are the usual fight specific nasty monster or talk to that particular character, either of which will see you trekking across the wilderness trying not to get mauled to death too many times. This brings me neatly to the main element of the game; the combat mechanics.
Fighting monsters in Van Helsing is a fairly intuitive blend of ranged weapon attack, usually a set of pistols or a rifle, and a melee option, like a huge sword. The attacking options are assigned to specific buttons on the controller and you get pretty much free reign when it comes to assigning them. Unfortunately, this is not well communicated by the in-game pop-up tutorial. In fact, the tutorial is fairly unhelpful when it comes to understanding the levelling and stats system. The best advice I could give any player new to the game would be to concentrate on levelling up one main attacking skill. Either become a crack shot or a master swordsman. Don’t try for both, you’ll end up getting your behind kicked.
Speaking of getting your behind kicked, the sheer volume of enemies you’ll face will cause you to die. Lots. There were times when facing an equivalent level boss or Ink Gate boss where you feel more than a little overwhelmed. Wait, Ink Gate? Yes, Ink Gate. These are another of the loosely explained parts of the game that could do with a little more in the way of information. I found out a little too late that opening an Ink Gate will usually launch you into a boss fight with a nightmarish creature from more folklore. This hands you more opportunities to die. In fact your backend gets handed to you on a plate so many times, I’m surprised it’s not on the specials board. There’s actually a softening blow to all this.
Each time you die, you can respawn in pretty much the same place, with the enemy at the same energy level for the cost of a little bit of gold. I’m not quite sure which god agreed to this state of affairs but it’s welcome because, as I may have already mentioned, you will die a lot.
The audio on the game is fairly standard for a game of this nature. The most annoying part of the audio is Van Helsing’s fight partner, Katarina, a blue-blood ghost that’s attached itself to Van Helsing for some unknown reason. Katarina whinges and whines her way through attacking enemies and acting as decoy for the monsters that will surely turn on you next. The oddest thing about Katerina overall is that she takes damage and becomes useless to you if she takes too many hits which is odd for a ghost. Thankfully Katarina can spawn a few friends to help with the carnage with a frantic tap of a button.
The control method isn’t without it’s quirks though. As with most other RPGs you have health and mana potions but to take them, you have to tap the D-Pad. The problem with that, is that the up button on the D-Pad will teleport you back to the City. Teleport back and any monsters you’d killed have usually, annoyingly, respawned and you’ll probably die once more.
Neocore Games state the game should offer around 10-12 hours of gameplay but this can be expanded with its co-op or competitive multi-player options and full exploration of the countryside and side-quests.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing overall isn’t a bad game. It suffers from some poor controller layout and a few annoying glitches in the gameplay. The storyline links the game together but could have benefited from some further attention to detail. Some quests are also a little under-explained, as are the hints in the tutorial. In the end, I turned this off. The key to enjoying this game is to develop a strategy that allows you to collect the multitude of loot available with the least amount of dying. This sounds easy but is harder than it looks. My personal strategy was to develop the ranged attacks and take them out from distance. After the first few hours of gameplay, this seems to make the game easier, but you have to stick at it. Give The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing a go, especially if you have Gold membership, glitches aside, there’s the makings of a decent RPG hiding with the monsters in the bushes.
Thanks to Xbox and Neocore Games for their support
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