By Tom Tolios / December 30th, 2016
|Title||The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut|
|Release Date||11/6/2015 (Steam), 12/1/2015 (Xbox One)|
|Platform||Windows PC, Microsoft Xbox One|
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut is described by developer NeocoreGames as a ‘gothic-noir’ action RPG, which is code for ‘steampunk fantasy.’ That’s fine by me, since I like me some genre mashups. While I don’t consider such a pairing to be unconventional in this day and age, it can still serve as a solid springboard for innovative stories. The real question is whether or not its wild ideas can leave a favorable impression. To wit: can this game’s creative direction overcome the mundanity of the genre’s mechanics?
Now let’s be clear: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing does not possess ‘bad’ gameplay by any means. Quite the opposite, in fact. You get your choice of six classes, from frontline melee to ranged spellcasters, each with their own specific twists to give them a distinct feel and embed them in the world they inhabit. While the particular quirkiness of each class helps to define the trappings of Van Helsing, I didn’t experience any sense of wonder at considering each of the options. The process of creating your characters is so rote that it failed to leave an impression. At this point, reading the flavor text associated with each character archetype in any game just doesn’t spark my imagination. Telling, rather than showing, is still a cardinal sin in fictional endeavors as far as I’m concerned.
I chose the melee class to start with (although I did dabble with some of the other roles later on), since I wanted something simple that wouldn’t distract me from the things I needed to pay attention to in Van Helsing; namely, everything else the game had to offer. Right from the start, you’re paired up with a spirit named Katarina, and she’ll exchange dialogue with your character to help further flesh out the lore and setting. You are the son of the legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, the famous literary character from Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula, which I suppose lends an air of credibility to your role and activities. But at the end of the day, I found this relation to be a strain on the game’s identity; it might have been better served forging its own path completely. Marrying The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing to an overused public domain work dilutes both the source and this ‘spinoff.’ When everything is tied to Dracula, does it even matter anymore?
Katarina’s thickly Romanian accented comments will also serve as comic relief throughout the game’s events, as she quips occasionally in order to establish ‘witty repartee’ with the protagonist. While I didn’t find this off-putting, most of what she had to say never really amused me. Just the idea of the ‘snarky sidekick’ is so formulaic that unless something special is happening here, it’s not going to enhance the experience. The dialogue isn’t bad, but it just feels forced and unnecessary. The reasons for her presence are transparent right from the start (no pun intended), and given that NeocoreGames seems intent on presenting the setting as something new and fresh, conventional ideas are more readily exposed. She’s an attractive design with lustrous hair adorned in an elegant low cut dress, and she floats ethereally beside you as you navigate through the game. Her presence is clearly intended to give the proceedings some charm and pluck, since monster hunting can be a monotonous and lonely business. Unfortunately, she just falls short of achieving her intended purpose as a companion character since she came off as so formulaic to me.
If you’ve ever played games like Diablo or Torchlight, you know exactly what you’re going to get with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut when it comes to gameplay. Every element you could possibly expect from the action RPG genre is alive and well here; map exploration, enemy hordes rushing you from the edge of the screen, item drops and loot questing, a hub where you can trade goods, enhance equipment, flag side quests and so on and so on. Your character’s inventory menu even has a square-based grid where you can swap out equipment via dragging and dropping, and opening Katarina’s menu allows you to do the same for her. When speaking with vendors, right clicking on trash you don’t want instantly sells it and there are even buyback options as long as you don‘t close the interface. This all smacks of being so familiar that it almost felt like I wasn’t experiencing a new game but a reskin of something old. While not disappointing and ably executed, there just wasn’t anything original here.
I’d like to say that the action is where the game shined, but I can’t. Like everything else, it just felt like a retread of things we’ve come to expect from action RPGs. Movement and attacks are both executed by pointing and clicking, and the left and right mouse buttons can be mapped to different attacks you purchase as you level up. Katarina will transform into a demonic shape and fight beside you, auto-attacking until the threat has passed and then reverting to her more human appearance. If you’ve played Torchlight and remember animal companions from that game, the principle is the same here.
Character evolution also follows in the well worn footsteps of this genre’s giants. When you gain levels, you get to spend your new experience points, as well as Katarina’s, to enhance health, attack strength and so forth. Your character also has a skill tree where new abilities can be purchased and upgraded, and as one would expect from such a system, increasing the level of the powers you’ve unlocked will grant access to more specialized enhancements for them. They’re the standard expected collection of abilities and perks, from area of effect strikes to blows that debuff and damage the enemy over time and/or heal you with each hit and so on and so forth. Some abilities strengthen your defense and resistance to ongoing effects as well.
Of course, you’ll find totems, chests, corpses and boxes strewn all throughout the lush pseudo-European countryside to open and loot as well, sometimes granting powerful upgrades to your existing gear set. And as you might expect from a game of this genre, there is a global treasure chest in the town where you can store items you’d like to share with your other characters, for those of you who want to experiment with the different classes and builds. I think this is a generous element to add to any game of this genre, as those who are compelled to tinker with what Van Helsing has to offer will be rewarded for anticipating future playthroughs by preserving the more valuable treasures they’ve earned.
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