Van Helsing’s no newcomer to popular fiction. Movies, comics, anime, games, you name it and, more than likely, he can be found. Every form of Van Helsing offers something a little bit different, as well. Some use Van Helsing as a surname for a family full of hunters, while others star the main man himself. One thing that is constant between the different iterations, however, is how skillful the family is at kicking some mad monster tail. Funny thing is, this piece of ripe gothic fiction is rarely found in gaming, which, when you think about it, seems abnormal! Who doesn’t love destroying monsters, attaining glory and leaving after it’s all over with a tale forever told in history? Well, folks, the wait is over thanks to indie developer Neocore Games’ The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. And now, the question we’re all waiting for is whether it’s a worthy title in the vast and growing area of gothic fiction?
In The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, you play as the son of Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing character from his literary classic, Dracula. By no means is it directly related to the book, though the character and overall lore is derived and inspired by the original Helsing. Anyways, young Helsing is heading out on an adventure to the fictitious, gothic Eastern European setting of Borgovia with little knowledge of what to expect. There will be monsters needing to be slain, though, so wherever monsters are a threat, he’ll come a running. Little does he know that the adventure that fate has thrown in front of him will rival those of his father’s, if not surpass some of his greater known ones. And, while the tone may sound serious, it’s actually far from it. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has an excellent balance of seriousness and downright hilarious humor. Anything that comes off as being dramatic will shortly be followed by a slew of smart chatter between Van Helsing and his ghostly companion, Katarina, or the colorful populace of Borgovia; the writers at Neocore have a nice sense of humor. This hodgepodge of elements mixes together nicely, and forms an engrossing, detailed atmosphere that cannot be found elsewhere.
Unlike the complexity of the wacky world of Borgovia, the combat is quite the opposite. There’s only one class in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, though it has some branching options, like magic, range, melee or a sampling of all three. Each branch plays differently and requires different strategies, so the lack of actual classes isn’t too much of a downfall. When you think about it, it fits together with the classic Van Helsing of yore. I mean, he was a well-rounded, hero skilled in melee and ranged combat. There’s a little bit of mystic magic thrown on top of it, but nothing like that of a masterful sage. Unlike most ARPGs out there, the skill selection is rather skimpy, but it has the necessities that you can imagine for each playstyle the game offers. Just don’t expect the towering lists that games like Torchlight or Path of Exile have. One cool thing, however, is the complete control you have over Katarina’s combat style. She can either focus on melee, range or sport Ghost Form. Melee and range being self-explanatory, Ghost Form has Katarina providing you with buffs and support rather than actually proving her mettle in combat. This makes your ghastly companion more than just a meat-headed AI, but an actual partner that accompanies you in your endeavors. Also thrown into the mix is a fun and well-implemented tower defense-style minigame. It’s a little later on when it becomes available, but it’s definitely worth the wait. By no means is the combat bad — it’s fast, fluid and fairly simple. It’s just, in today’s standards, it’s a little slim compared to some of the offerings from other games in the genre. One thing that isn’t slim, however, is the mountainous amount of loot littered throughout the land. Everything from run-of-the-mill weaponry to the epic weapons of legend, there’s loads to go around. There are also shops you’ll come across in your travels that will allow you to augment your weapons or even transmute them together for your very own creations. The only downside is their appearance changes aren’t as drastic as their stat changes are. The isometric view helps to not detract too much, but when you see an epic piece of mail look the same as a standard set, it makes the epic piece seem not quite as special.
To go along with the quickness and fluidity of the gameplay, the game controls nicely with the mouse and keyboard. And, for anybody who’s a controller junkie, you can even plug in a joystick. While I prefer the classic keyboard/mouse combo, the controller support was a nice addition, and is completely customizable. More ARPGs need this feature just for that occasion when you just want to lay down and enjoy the game instead of sitting upright for hours on end.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing features top-notch sound design, as well. Just by listening to the actors and the chemistry they create between characters — especially between Katarina and Van Helsing — you can tell there was much care put into this area. The music also features a nice, European string arrangement similar to the likes of Sherlock Holmes that fits in perfectly. Last, but not least, sword clashes, magical eruptions, gun shots, grunts, growls and screams are all icing on the cake that is the excellent sound design. Like I said above, Neocore Games put care in this department and every aspect shines brightly because of it. The world of Borgovia is also fleshed out further with some pretty nice graphics that are easy on a decent computer build. Even lowered graphics still get the job done fairly well. This is something I really liked about The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing; it’s not hard to run, and still looks nice on most computer builds. It’s probably due to my mixed history with PC gaming, but, whatever it may be, Neocore Games made the game compatible; and I commend their effort.
Along with the usual single player or co-op campaign that offers about 16 hours of fun, there’s a nice bit of end-game content for hunters looking for more adventure. Once you reach level 27 and beat the game, new modes will unlock. One is a challenging scenario mode which puts players in levels filled with unique objectives, epic-leveled loot and high-leveled enemies and bosses. The other mode is the harrowing neverending story mode. While it appears to be a slightly harder New Game Plus, it slowly becomes an incredibly difficult romp throughout Borgovia. What makes it so difficult? The fact that enemies are higher than the level 30 cap your character is limited by. It’s doable, but, boy, does it require an impeccable strategy. Thankfully, both of the modes do feature co-op, so you won’t be forced to ride the struggle bus alone.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, though limited as an ARPG, offers a fun, loot-filled adventure through the mystic land of Borgovia. It’s fast combat, great character chemistry and fully fleshed-out world brought something new to the table that scratched my itch all the way to the end. Van Helsing’s incredible adventure, however, is far from over. Neocore Games unleashed the second installment last May (you can read my review here) and the final installment is currently in development as we speak. Best of all, you can pick up both of the adventures for $14.99 each (http://store NULL.steampowered NULL.com/app/215530/) on Steam (http://store NULL.steampowered NULL.com/app/272470/). So, what’re you waiting for? There’s monsters to hunt!
Copy purchased by reviewer.