The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a bit of a mouthful to say for a game title. Thankfully, I can just say Van Helsing and be done with it. It’s a small, indie hack and slash RPG offering that does well in terms of building mythology in its world and allowing a player to be immersed in it, but unfortunately fails to nail really good gameplay to keep the player clicking (and monster hunting) away.
The premise of Van Helsing is quite good and fun. You are the offspring of the legendary character Abraham van Helsing, first presented to the world in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. In this game, you journey to the fictional eastern European country of Borgovia to investigate reports of monsters in the city.
You’re free to give a name to…yourself but there’s not much else you do when creating the character. There’s good and bad to this lack of customisation, but realistically, since you’ll spend most of your time zoomed out to get a good tactical overview of the environment around you, you’re not likely to notice much difference in character appearance. That said, changes in your currently used inventory will show up on your character so there is some visual variety.
One good feature I really liked in Van Helsing is that you’re not alone on your adventure. Your companion is a thickly accented ghost called Lady Katarina who can assist you in combat as well as act as a courier with inventory items you might want to sell but can’t be bothered using a town portal for. This maximises the amount of time you spend in the game monster hunting rather than fiddling too much with your inventory. It’s definitely a useful feature and I hope more RPGs can do this in the future without having companions become too game breakingly powerful.
As I said before, the world building in the game, such as the graphics, the story and the voice acting and music are done very well. There is professional voice acting for most of the characters and quests in the game and the banter that randomly occurs between van Helsing and Lady Katarina is entertaining and thankfully, not repetitive. The art direction fits the gothic, 19th century European period that the game is set in and it is beautifully presented.
The only thing that isn’t done quite so well is the combat interface. While leveling up and assigning skill points is relatively self explanatory, the combat interface isn’t so intuitive past the basic controls of primary and secondary attacks. That’s because there is a set of three attack charges that you can adjust, but it’s not clear what they do as even filling up the charges, attacks seem to do the same damage and move at the same speed as per usual. Maybe that’s a part of the manual I should read, but it would certainly help if a tutorial covered the interface in general at the start of the game.
Finally, we arrive at the combat in the game. While monsters have some great designs, the main issue is that there are great hordes of them and there’s not too much variety. What it feels like when you find a group of them is van Helsing and Lady Katarina walk into a group of monsters and you have to just keep clicking until they’re all dead. Furthermore, you can’t really keep consistently hitting the same target because they can clump up very close together, so invariably, you actually end up taking more damage than you would otherwise because you stay in combat far longer than you should. This is not fantastic design and other hack and slash RPGs don’t have this problem, despite their monster/demon hordes also being quite large.
If you can get past its foibles, Van Hellsing offers a fun story and great world building, but slightly annoying gameplay and unintuitive control interface. However, it is definitely something of a good first effort in the category and hopefully can be improved upon if a sequel ever comes out.