Neocore Games is stepping into the fray that is the point-and-click Action RPG genre, and their first offering—The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing—is holding its own with the heavyweights. Right off the bat, one cannot play the game and not make at least some comparisons to the Diablo franchise. When I first started playing the game, I felt like Van Helsing is everything Diablo III should have been.
While that sentiment still beats within my chest, it’s unfair to both Blizzard and especially Neocore, to compare the two. Because Van Helsing follows the story of the titular protagonist, Neocore obviously had to eschew character classes. The character has so much backstory and lore before this that it would do the universe a disservice.
Because there’s only one class—hunter—Neocore gives players a plethora of customization choices when it comes to outfitting their hero. Skill trees are extensive; one to concentrate on his bladed weapon, one to concentrate on his firearm, and one for passive and active buffs. Van Helsing also has access to extra special buffs that he earns by gaining reputation points throughout the game. These come much slower than normal XP, so players must really mull over the choices to see what will suit their individual style of play best.
The story begins with Van Helsing—in this case the famous hunter’s son—travelling to Borgova to see what’s been plaguing the local populace. He’s accompanied by a ghost, Lady Katarina, who is bound in servitude to the Van Helsing bloodline. Katarina is quite the companion; she can attack with him, offer buffs during combat, and even be sent off to sell unwanted items. Like Van Helsing, Katerina can also equip some armor and weapons, but not nearly the amount her corporeal companion can. In the same vein, Katerina also has a skill tree, but it’s much more limited.
Neocore is shaking things up a little bit with the story here in Van Helsing. Yes, you have your usual monster types like wolves, harpies, undead, and Frankenstein—although they rarely are named exactly that way and usually have some very distinguishing characteristics or features that sets them apart from their literary and celluloid brethren. The game has a very gothic, techno-steampunk vibe to it. While at first you might think that it’s a bit too much, Neocore balances it out nicely and makes it all work. As a writer myself, I tend to scrutinize story and thus verisimilitude more than the average gamer, and I have to say that it fits really well. Yes, it’s fantastical, magical realism stuff, but isn’t the genre all about that anyway?
Combat is a fairly straightforward affair here, with Van Helsing using his aforementioned blade weapon and firearm. While there is variety in the style of weapon, I like the simplicity of choosing melee or ranged, which can be switched on the fly. I don’t know if this is a compromise that Neocore made when designing knowing that the game was also going to be ported to the 360, but again, I like it the way it is.
Monsters will flock to Van Helsing and Katarina like bees to honey, and it will only get more harried as the game progresses. It’s really not uncommon to have Van Helsing be covered in a sea of monster madness, blasting or slicing his way to freedom and victory.
If I had to get nit-picky, there are really only two issues I’d say that the game could have used work on. The first is wider array of enemy types, and the other is the few minor instances of backtracking that you are forced do in the game. These are niggling ‘complaints’ at best, and I certainly don’t believe that they detract from the overall experience. The backtracking is well laid-out within the story of the game, and it doesn’t feel like you’re doing it just to do it. The missions have legitimate reasons; it would just have been nice to do them somewhere else I hadn’t already seen.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Neocore’s great sense of humor. The witty repartee between Van Helsing and Katarina is nice, and doesn’t feel overdone. Neocore also found a good number of instances to throw in references to pop culture, especially the ‘80s. It was especially nice to see and hear these, and I want to personally thank them for that.
I’m still dumbfounded at how great of a game Van Helsing is. It isn’t that Neocore didn’t pour everything they have into this game—quite the opposite, you can tell—but that they did so at such a great price point. This game is currently retailing on Steam for about 1/3 the cost of Diablo III, and it certainly gives it a run for its money, if not beating it outright. Hell, the lack of frustrating DRM alone gives me warm fuzzies. This game should not be missed by any RPG fans, and quite honestly, is worth a look from gamers of all stripes. I may pick this one up on the 360 as well just to share the goodness with some friends when it’s released for those platforms!
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is developed and published by Neocore Games and is available to buy on Steam for the PC at $14.99. Xbox 360 version should be coming soon.
A downloadable code was provided to Save/Continue by the publisher for review purposes. Reviewed on the PC.