By Tom Tolios / December 30th, 2016
The world itself is more complex that it appears at a glance. At first, the game feels purely like a classic gothic horror adventure set in the tried and true Bavarian trappings that have been host to such stories throughout the history of the genre. But it doesn’t take too long before you start to see the shades of grey between the black and white, as monsters will communicate their suffering at the hands of mankind to you and seemingly innocent spirits in need of repose shift into hellish monsters once you’ve granted your assistance.
Whether or not the storytelling direction of Van Helsing is inspired by the morally ambiguous conceits of The Witcher and Geralt’s own discerning nature relative to his world is unclear to me. Don’t get me wrong; deconstruction of a genre can be useful, but only in small doses and only through certain methods of delivery. When everything becomes a deconstruction, nothing is a deconstruction anymore, and that’s another pitfall that Van Helsing comes precariously close to tumbling into. This has been done before, and so recently that it’s instantly going to draw comparisons. As a result, I was unfazed by the supposed abominable behavior of humans or the misunderstood nature of monsters. This has been done too recently in a different game to feel like anything other than an imitation.
I will say that the art direction and aesthetics are pretty good in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut. The environments are finely textured and detailed, with plenty of beautiful buildings, trees, bodies of water, cave formations and the like to look at. Character models are great, even though I feel they always suffer when they’re so small on the screen, a natural limitation of the action RPG genre. Still, everything is colorful and vibrant, and you get enough from Van Helsing’s world that you’re never stuck looking at the same thing for too long. Enemy variety is solid as one might expect, but only if you pretend this game was made in a vacuum; the monsters are garden variety for this genre, if not this game itself. Some of the steampunk mutations leave a bigger impression, however.
The voice acting is good but it is also, like so much else about this game, exactly what you expect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard characters in similar genre fare wax on about the problems they’re facing, all the while robotically repeating the same four or five gestures they’ve been programmed to cycle through. Rather than becoming involved in the story that the NPC was relating to me, I found myself wondering if this is what this genre has come to; programming in all the familiar clichés and hoping to strike a chord with the consumer. I think changing to a different perspective during these interactions or adding more animations or doing something –ANYTHING- different with the NPC interface, might have helped. The fact that I regarded all of this with glazed over indifference may indicate I’ve played too many video games. It also indicates that the developers relied too heavily on convention at key moments where Van Helsing needed a dramatic turn.
The music is pretty much what you expect of this genre. Gentle strings, flutes and chords that never really rise in pitch or reach any manic crescendo. This is a challenge of music composition in any game in this genre because you have to construct it in such a fashion that allows for open world exploration and player agency. When a developer specializes too much with the music in a video game, they venture from the notion of allowing the player to tell their own story in favor of dictating it to them. This can work in video games, but one of the mission statements of any action RPG is player freedom, and this doesn’t just extend to the mechanics. The mood and pace established must serve to enhance freedom of movement and choice in order to be considered a worthy attempt. Or you could just go insane on the production values, but not every game can be such a many-headed beast. Nor is it necessary to make the attempt.
One last note about this game having the descriptor ‘Final Cut’ attached to the title. Originally, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing was released as a three-part game, with each chapter building on the last and adding more features consecutively. Final Cut gives you all three chapters in one package, enhanced and rebalanced character classes, daily quests and timed events (for those that want to log in and play in an ‘online’ state) and more difficulty modes. So if you’re at all interested in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, the Final Cut is definitely the way to go.
Ultimately, I found the 30 hours or so I spent playing The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut to be a competently designed experience but lacking in any dynamic or innovative execution. Maybe NeocoreGames felt they were appealing to a certain demographic when they made their final design choices, and that’s entirely understandable in a precarious market where you need to rely on certain tropes in order to target a ‘guaranteed’ return. It just would have been nice to see them challenge the conventions a little more.
This game is currently available for both Microsoft Windows and Xbox One, although the price fluctuates based on whatever sales and seasonal events include it as part of the bargains. I want to stress that this is a well made game and this is not a criticism of NeocoreGames’ talent. They are skilled developers. I just would have liked for them to be a bit more experimental, maybe even dangerous, with their vision.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Pages: 1 2Microsoft WindowsMicrosoft Xbox OneNeocoreGamesSteamsteam gamesThe Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut