The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Review
What would you get if you took Diablo out of its Medieval-esque setting and plopped it down into a steampunk world in which mad scientists are brutal dictators? And what if that steampunk world were overrun with the creatures of darkness and magic that haunt European folklore? And what if the only hope for the good people and vampires of this blighted land was Bram Stoker's heroic Dracula hunter, Van Helsing (or rather his son)? Those are probably the questions the developers of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing asked themselves when they set out to create the game, and it's a good thing that they did because there aren't many Diablo clones that I've played that are as fun as this one.
The game is set in the mythical land of Borgovia, which for all intents and purposes may as well be a neighboring region to Transylvania. The steampunk science that has swept over the land has become as much of a nightmare for the Borgovians as the werewolves and other dark creatures that have gone on the warpath in the face of this wave of maniacal industrialization. The younger Van Helsing arrives to help the locals, because, well, that's the sort of thing that he does and he's good at it, but he doesn't come alone. His constant companion is the ghost of a noblewoman, Lady Katarina, who while quite useful in a fight, always seems to get the better of him in their playful verbal spars.
I was continually impressed with how well the game crafts its world and story, especially when most games of this nature feature a throwaway generic story that barely goes through the motions of creating a narrative. The dialog is also well-written, and can be pretty clever and entertaining at times with Katarina getting many of the best lines.
As for the gameplay, it is pretty much a Diablo style click-fest, so if you don't enjoy that type of gameplay in the first place then The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing won't be for you. Van Helsing can arm himself with both a gun and sword, switching between ranged and melee stances at the press of a key. Ranged attacks are best for peppering a few enemies with fire before the real fighting begins because a very high percentage of the enemies in the game rely on mob attacks. Even when you do find yourself facing a group made up of exclusively ranged attackers it best just to charge into them yourself because the melee attacks tend to be quicker and hit for more damage. The game does have a skill tree system in place that makes it possible for you to spend all of the skill points that come with level advances on ranged attack skills, but since so many of your enemies will be right on top of you within seconds of the start of a fight, you'll be making things difficult on yourself. The game does have a large variety of enemy types in it and enemies do have their own special abilities, but that variety doesn't really translate into too much variation in the game's battles. While this is basically par for the course in these types of games, I did find that I was slightly disappointed that the battles didn't require any variations in tactics. The game does have a few boss fights that require you to do more than click your way through mobs of monster flesh, and as such these tend to be enjoyable and more challenging encounters.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing comes complete with just about every feature that has appeared in action-RPGs to date. In addition to the aforementioned skill trees, the game includes socketed weapons and armor, extensive achievements and stat-tracking, and the like. Katarina serves as your quick-witted pet with her own skill tree, and you can set her attack behaviors, have her equip gear, and serve as your mule to run gear back to a vendor to sell. There's not anything that stands out as particularly new or innovative, but the game is pretty full-featured and all of those features are implemented quite well.
One of the things that gamers love about games like these is the loot, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing certainly delivers in this regard. There is an impressive variety to the weapons and armor that you'll find during your adventures, and this variety goes beyond the name and stats for each item - the game includes a large array of art for those weapons and items. Unfortunately, this art is best enjoyed while looking at your inventory. Van Helsing's love of wide-brimmed hats and capes means that there's not much variation to how he looks in the game no matter what you have equipped. It would have been nice if the variety in loot translated into a variety of looks for Van Helsing, and if the game included armor sets (or their hat and cape equivalents).
It should come as no surprise to you that the game includes health and mana potions, but what is a little surprising is how readily available these potions are and how many of them you can have in your inventory (hint: they stack at 100 per slot). While it is possible to get yourself backed into a corner and completely mobbed to the point where you can't outlast the cool down period between potion uses, for the most part it's hard to die in a game that allows you to spam health potions. Not that some players won't complain about this, but I found that this took some of the challenge out of the game.
The game support up to four players in multiplayer, although it's a bit odd that each player plays as Van Helsing. Multiplayer works well and all, but the way the combat works in the game and the fact that everyone's character is more similar than different makes the multiplayer experience feel more like an overly crowded version of single player than anything else.
Overall, I had fun with Van Helsing and it provides a lot of gameplay for a title that can be had for under $20. If Diablo style games aren't your thing, you'll want to give it a pass, but otherwise it's worth adding to your game library.
Final Rating: 80%. The famed vampire hunter channels Diablo.