The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 8

While there is no danger of this game dethroning the Diablo series it is a solid action role playing game set in a unique gameworld. The mixture of steampunk and gothic elements offer some bizarre enemies and interesting locations to explore while the action never lets up. The complete pack also adds some essential DLC for extending the longevity and variety of the game.

Gameplay: Traditional action role playing done right.

Graphics: The visual style is nice and the creature designs superb.

Sound: Great voice acting, meaty sound effects and some nice tunes

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The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

Developer: NeoCoreGames | Publisher: NeoCoreGames | Release Date: 2013 | Genre: RPG / Action / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Trouble is brewing in the city of Borgova and an urgent request for help is sent to Van Helsing. Unfortunately, the legendary monster hunter is retired, but his son, eager to follow in his footsteps sets out for Borgovia. Accompanying him on his journey is Lady Katarina, a ghostly apparition that swears allegiance to the Van Helsing family and is just as good at killing monsters.

The popularity of Diablo means that there is no shortage of games seeking to capture the entertainment and addiction that the popular action role playing series has provided players over the years. What is surprising is to see such a great offering coming from a relatively small Hungarian Indie developer.  The team has already proven that they can take existing material and turn it into something unique with the King Arthur role-playing wargame series so I was interested to see what they would do with the Van Helsing source material.

The name Van Helsing is synonymous with vampire slaying, but in a surprise twist the game only features one bloodsucker and he is an ally. Instead, it would seem that Borgovia has fallen victim to a mad scientist whose bizarre experiments and Steampunk creations are running amok. The story is pretty unique and it is a pity that it is not fleshed out more as it definitely had a lot of potential. It essentially boils down to Van Helsing killing anything that moves while performing quests for anyone with an exclamation mark above their heads.

The game opens in the wilderness where you have to battle your way towards a small town, but by the time you reach Borgova you’ll find yourself in a creature infested Steampunk metropolis. Fortunately for Van Helsing, his father built a secret lair beneath the city and it is from here where you will launch your missions against the mad scientist. Although the game is a traditional action RPG the lair can be upgraded with traps for a rather neat tower defense mini-game where you have to repel waves of attackers. I guess Neocore only tested the waters with this feature as there are only two instances during the story mode where it occurs, but it is a load of fun and adds something unique to the experience. As this is the first game in a planned trilogy, I’m sure future installments will integrate the tower defense missions even more with the role playing gameplay.

Most of your time in Van Helsing is spent fighting hordes of bizarre enemies. When I say hordes, I mean it as this game delights in throwing seriously large groups of foes at you. Don’t expect to just go strolling across the map while taking down enemies. I had to pick off enemies from a distance, weaken the ones closing in and then use hit and run tactics to whittle down the mob without getting swarmed to survive most of the time. Fortunately you don’t have to fight alone as Katarina is by your side all the time and has no qualms with getting her hands dirty. You can specify whether she should be a melee or ranged fighter and she has her own inventory as well as skill tree. The complete pack adds the “Blue Blood” DLC which makes her an even more formidable foe with a new, separate skill tree.

Van Helsing is no slouch himself and can attack with swords or guns. In my playthrough I let Katarina handle the frontlines while I hung back using ranged attacks and magic, but you can also push all your points into melee skills and take the fight to the enemy. While only the hunter was available initially, two more classes, the magic-wielding Thaumaturge and Arcade Mechanic have been added as DLC. After completing the game with the Hunter I checked out the other two classes and they are sufficiently different that I might just sneak in another playthrough before the sequel is released. As you level up you can choose new skills for your character as well as tricks and auras to help during combat. Killing powerful monsters increases your reputation which unlocks perks. There is also a “Rage” meter that enables you to enhance your standard attacks with some nice modifications. All in all there is enough variation in combat to prevent things from degenerating into a boring click-fest.

The game is viewed from a top down perspective and a lot of detail has been lavished on the locations and enemies. The color palette is a bit muted bit it fits the gloomy and foreboding locations well. I cannot praise the creature designs enough as Neocore has crafted some very unique monsters to battle. Initial clashes with generic monsters, beasts and mythical creatures soon give way to atrocities created by the crazy scientist. Headless humanoids with whip-like tentacles, lumbering abominations wielding cannons and clockwork soldiers armed with tesla rifles are just some of the critters that you will be facing. Even the traditional enemies are given a Steampunk makeover so if you think werewolves are tough, wait until you face a pack that has been enhanced with electricity.

There are multiple difficulties, but even on “Normal” my Van Helsing succumbed to his wounds a few times. Upon death you are given the option to respawn on the spot at a cost or for free back at your lair. You can also opt for the “hardcore” mode where death is permanent, although this is probably not a good idea for your first playthrough. Neocore has added some new content since the initial release, such as the scenario levels and neverending story mode as well as respawning monsters to boost the longevity of the game. I spent close to twenty hours exploring the gameworld and I am still not tired of the setting so the game definitely offers a lot of value for money. There is also a multi-player mode where up to four players can take on the monsters together.

The best part of action role playing games is the addictive loot gathering and Van Helsing certainly has no shortage of booty. After an encounter with a large monster mob the ground usually looks like the aftermath of a Mardi Gras party. The ever useful Katarina can be instructed to pick up items and even nip back to the shops if your inventory is full or you are running short on potions. Van Helsing can be equipped with cloaks, weapons, armor, boots, gloves and hats although the visual changes are minimal. I would also have liked to see more unique looking or named weapons as after a while everything started to look a bit generic.  You can combine old gear to forge new items back at your lair or use “essence” to imbue certain items with new enhancements. Hopefully these two features are more fleshed out in the sequel as there is a lot of potential. I should also mention that for the most part the side quests are a bit limited and mostly involve killing or collecting.

Neocore has done a great job with the audio and the voice acting is spot on. Van Helsing sounds suitably heroic, but Katarina steals the show with her thick accent and snarky remarks. The banter between the two main characters is usually quite humorous despite the dark nature of the story. One side quest, involving flowers that had to be picked had me laughing out loud because of the chitchat between Van Helsing and Katarina. The non player characters are all voiced and some like the vampire are pretty memorable. It is a pity that the story is rather bare bones as I would have liked to talk some more with certain characters. The sound effects are solid and the music very appropriate. I played the game using the traditional keyboard and mouse setup, although there is also support for controllers. The game features a whopping 99 Steam achievements and also supports steam trading cards.

To be honest, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a game that slipped under our radar until announcements for the sequel started trickling in. As there are plans for a three part trilogy, I wanted to check out the first title in the series to get a feel for the game. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked however and I can definitely recommend this game to all action RPG fans. It is not only a great game in its own right, but if the sequel is going to improve and add to the formula then we are in for a treat.

*Review originally published July 2013.

System Requirements

  • OS:Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8
  • Processor:Dual Core CPU 2.0 GHz
  • Memory:1 GB RAM
  • Graphics:Nvidia 8800 GT, Intel HD4000 or AMD HD3850
  • DirectX®:9.0c
  • Hard Drive:20 GB HD space
  • Sound:DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card
  • OS:Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8
  • Processor:Quad Core CPU 2.0 GHz
  • Memory:2 GB RAM
  • Graphics:Nvidia 275 GTX or AMD HD5770
  • DirectX®:9.0c
  • Hard Drive:20 GB HD space
  • Sound:DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

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