(Review) The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

Here's my review of Van Helsing, an action RPG that just came out on Steam. 

Original review with lots of pics at: http://www.gtmsanctuary.com/2013/05/review-incredible-adventures-of-van.html

 

What I like about this game:

- Amazing industrial environments

- Great soundtrack

- Tearing multiple enemies in one hit with a blood gulping pop

What I don't like about this game:

- Lack of polish

- Forgettable characters

 


Gameplay & Story

Core Gameplay

I'll refer to this game simply as Van Helsing, as the full title of this game is unnecessarily long and cliched. Van Helsing is an action RPG. Naturally, everybody will think of Diablo when they hear that. Although Van Helsing does have many similarities with games like Diablo or Torchlight, that's not actually a bad thing when the gameplay itself is pretty fun. And the gameplay is what you might expect from a game like this: it's the kill-and-loot-everything-in-sight, with some occasional manage-inventory-and-create-stuff thrown in. It's a fun and familiar formula that fans know and love.

Van Helsing does have one major difference between games like Diablo and Torchlight - the levels are not random and monsters do not respawn. I can see how that might be a major issue for some people, as you can not farm for loot and experience. However, I would actually say that this type of gameplay works for Van Helsing, as the looting system is limited. You get your fair share of standard loot (standard-white, magic-blue, and rare-yellow) from enemies, but the special (brown or dark green sets) loot can only be obtained from special enemies (yellow or mission-specific), which if you kill, won't respawn. At least that's what I think, since I've never seen any standard enemy, even the strong ones, drop unique loot. So unless the developers decide to make enemies respawn and have unique loot drop from standard enemies, farming for loot and experience is pointless.

The Skills system feels a bit off. You get two skill trees - one focused on melee, and one focused on ranged attacks. Both of them have some strictly magic skills, which is one of the things I find odd. Why not just have a separate magic focused skill tree? Each skill has one or two sub-skills which are unlocked at levels 5 and 10 of that particular skill. And each skill also has three special moves which require you to use your Rage meter. I'm still trying to figure out how that Rage shit works. I think it has to do with the amount of monsters you kill in a short duration, I don't know... Anyway, another thing I have an issue with when it comes to skills, are the prerequisite skills that have to be unlocked before you can take the skill you want. Ok, I get level requirement, it keeps some powerful skills for later portion of the game, fine, but why do I need to unlock some sword skill to unlock a magic skill which has absolutely nothing to do with that sword skill?! There are also some passive skills for both skill trees, and then there's also the Tricks & Auras tree, which is also a set of passive and other skills which you can buy. Why are they separate? Magic skills are thrown in with the melee and ranged skills but passives are separated in 3 different trees? Maybe it's just me and maybe I'm just nitpicking, but that skill system feels weird to me.

One other weird thing I found has to do with achievements. "How can achievements be weird?", you might ask. Well, achievements are usually given when you actually "achieved" something. In Van Helsing however, you get them every 5 minutes or so for some of the most trivial shit ever! There's an achievement for simply watching a cutscene, there's an achievement for finding 3 locations, there's an achievement for killing certain number of enemies, there's an achievement for killing any unique monster, there's an achievement for completing an easy side quest, there's even an achievement for killing a chicken! I'm surprised starting a new game doesn't earn you a fucking achievement! You'll earn most of these by simply playing through the game, not doing anything special. Honestly, I wanna feel like I actually did something for achievements, not treated like every kid at one of those bullshit "you're special" seminars!

In Van Helsing, you play alongside your companion - a ghost named Katarina. Besides her spouting some funny and smartass lines, she's actually pretty useful in-game. She works more or less like a pet from Torchlight. She'll attack enemies and/or provide some defensive perks and can be sent to town to sell your loot and buy some basic necessities. Unlike pets in Torchlight though, she can also automatically pick up certain loot. This comes in very handy all throughout the game as it minimizes useless loot and saves you time from having to pick up all of the minor loot like potions and gold.

Overall, the gameplay does feel like your typical action RPG - you run around and explore large areas while obliterating hordes of monsters with every step and taking their loot. Then selling said loot before doing an encore of the same process in a different setting. Yes it's repetitive, but it's the good kind of repetition that's actually fun.

NOTE: There is a co-op component to the game, but I have not played it yet. I'll update the review in the coming days.

Story

Obviously you play as Van Helsing, a doctor and a monster slayer, along with your ghostly companion Katarina. You received a letter from someone from an East-European country of Borgovia about an ancient evil rising in the land, and of course, being a badass monster hunter you had to travel there. The gameplay begins after some bandits raid your carriage outside of Borgovia. Throughout the game you begin to uncover who is actually responsible for all of the evil being in and around Borgovia, and you hunt that person down.

So, yeah, the story is nothing really special. But then again you never really get a half-decent story with these action RPGs. It's always some "evil" that's rising somewhere and you're the only one who can stop it. The story is just there for the sake of a story. There is one thing that bothered me right from the beginning though: right at the beginning of a new game, it tells how Van Helsing and Katarina have traveled all across Europe from London to Borgovia, and about their adventures and legendary monster-slayings throughout, before actually getting to Borgovia, etc. So why the fuck couldn't we have THAT adventure instead, or before the Borgovia adventure?! That would've been pretty damn awesome to experience and see all the different places of Europe in that setting. Maybe we'll get some DLC later but it seems like the developers have missed a great opportunity. It's disappointing, but I wouldn't say that it's a legitimate issue.

What is a legitimate issue for me are the boring and completely uninspired characters. Aside from Van himself and Katarina, there are absolutely no other characters that stand out. Everyone is just there to progress the already stale storyline. At least Van and Katarina are pretty good characters. Van actually has a voice! Amazing! A main character in an action RPG with a voice?! Unheard of! But seriously, I'm tired of playing with silent protagonists who either unquestionably take orders like a fucking dog or telepathically transmit all their thoughts to other people instead of actually talking! So it's definitely nice to finally play one that speaks. Katarina is the other interesting character. She speaks with a fake Russian accent and will often comment on missions, people, the environment, whatever. One thing I don't quite understand though, why does a ghost character need to have such big titties?! Why is it that developers almost universally make big-tittied female characters? I know sex sells, but it's not like Katarina is on the front cover or the main character of the game. It's tasteless and unnecessary.

The whole game, including the story and pretty much all side missions will last you only about 15 hours or so. Sure that's pretty short for an RPG game, but you have to remember that this is a $15 game.

 

Graphics & Animation

Graphics

This is one of the highlights of Van Helsing - the visuals. One of the reasons I didn't enjoy Torchlight 2 as much as I wanted to, was because of cartoony visuals. I wanted to play an action RPG with realistic visuals. And this is one area where Van Helsing stands out. Although the visuals might not be completely realistic - don't forget, there's magic and you're killing monsters; the overall look is much more realistic than the likes of Torchlight or Diablo. Aside from that, I think the centerpiece of Van Helsing's visuals are the striking industrial environments. The middle and later portions of the game take place in massive factories and laboratories, full of immense moving machinery, electrical spires, and giant tanks filled with some kind of liquid. There's an area that's basically a massive fortress with a bottomless pit. A city full of beautiful classical architecture, plazas, parks, and monuments. It's simply a joy to play in those areas. With that said, it's also a shame that there's no point in returning to these areas aside from the visual appeal.

Characters look nice and detailed. Weapon, magic, and other effects look great. The whole game just looks awesome.

Animation

Well, it's an action RPG with a top-down viewpoint. These type of games aren't really known for their quality animation. And this game is no different. Animation in Van Helsing is unremarkable. Everything is about as basic as it can get.

 

Sound & Music

Sound

The sounds of Van Helsing are somewhat of a mixed bag. The weapon and magic sound effects are pretty good. They have those powerful sounds which feel like you're actually hitting something. The voice acting is great for Van, Katarina, a talking cow (yes, a talking fucking cow), and the final boss, but it's absolutely horrible for everybody else. It sounds like the voice actors were either bored and were forced to read their lines or were told to do a completely bonkers exaggerated versions of the characters they're supposed to represent, e.i. - that vampire character sounds like the Count from Sesame Street. I've also had some sound issues in general. Sometimes things just get way too loud, and other times the sound would cut off entirely. One good example of the former is the difference in environmental sound between a giant open blast furnace shooting a wall of flame and melting everything in its path, and a small bog full of frogs. The furnace is barely audible while the frogs will blow out your fucking speakers!

Music

Music of Van Helsing has that typical aRPG vibe to it - it's a mishmash of classical and folk music. It's kind of hard to describe, but if you've played Diablo and/or Torchlight, you know the sound. Even though most music in Van Helsing does sound pretty damn good - it definitely adds some atmosphere to the game; my issue is that there is only one single track for each level, so while it may sound great, it get's repetitive after a while.

 

Conclusion

Van Helsing does have its share of issues. However, the developers of this game are very supportive and actually update the game almost every day. Even without the support and updates, Van Helsing is still a good game, especially when it's only $15 on Steam. While the story and most of its characters are forgettable, the gameplay is actually fun and I feel like Van Helsing deserves a weekend playthrough or two.

 

I'd appreciate any comments or criticisms about the review, my site, whatever.

Also, if anybody else got this game, anybody wanna do co-op?