Today we’ll be looking at The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, a comedic take on both traditional Hollywood horror and the venerable addictive Diablo game type.
In general presentation (UI and camera management), Van Helsing follows the Diablo and Torchlight mold very closely. The camera is third person, viewing the world from an angled view that gives a wide view of the world and the army of baddies that inhabit it. If you’ve been a PC gamer for any reasonable amount of time, you’re well aware of the character management screens, inventory screens, and health and mana meters that make this style of game possible, so we’ll instead focus on the fresh things that Van Helsing brings to the mix.
The menagerie of monsters is vast and imaginative. There are toad creatures, slime creatures, mechanized men, and anthropomorphic rats, and floating betenticled brains. With a name like Van Helsing, you’re naturally going to see some of the creatures made popular by old Universal horror movies, but even in those cases there are fresh injections of originality. Sure, we’ve all seen a werewolf, but far more rare is the sparking electromechanically enslaved werewolf. Spiders are unavoidable in just about any game, but here you’ll be attacked by an assortment of shapes and sizes.
The environment, drawing heavily on traditional depictions of horror settings like Transylvania, impressed me with its level of detail. The plains are rippling and natural, and the brush that covers the ground reacts realistically to your combat; flame magic sears it away and leaves glowing embers at the edge of the devastation. The character animation impresses as well. Van Helsing himself visually displays his current load out, with a jaunty bowler hat and twin swords in my case (currently), and sporting a customized color scheme of your choosing. His sidekick, on the other hand, doesn’t reveal her equipment, but she makes up for it with entertaining animation and creative model swaps based on her current role in the fight. As a ghost, you’ll see her head floating a few inches higher than it ought to be separated from its shoulders by what was no doubt a guilotine’s slice. She adjusts her revealing top, fiddles with her bulky manacles, and otherwise makes herself busy when idle. If you assign her a ranged role or a melee one, she visually shifts to a suitably more threatening form with medusa or wraith inspired visuals.
While it is true to say that there are obvious (dare I say blatant) inspirations from the Diablo series, I feel the parallels bring it more firmly in line with the Torchlight games. At the core your job is to slice through hordes of enemies, causing them to erupt with gold and items. You’ll sift through the items seeking ever-higher stats, sell the ones that aren’t worth your time, and keep yourself stocked with potions to keep your mana and health high. Whereas Torchlight lets you pick a pet to help you on your adventure, this time you’ve got a ghostly pal. In many ways, this is an improvement. For one, it is a little easier to buy the concept of a ghost negotiating a price for a heap of used weapons (at least in this setting) than a dog doing the same.
Lady Katarina, as your sidekick is more formally known, has a remarkable range of behaviors, from gathering the gold from the level, targeting enemies who are weakest or most vulnerable, shopping for potions, boosting your defense, gathering items above a certain value, and a bunch of others. She’s a serious factor in any given fight, and she levels separately, with her own passive abilities, equipment, and attributes.
Your own leveling gives you ability points to boost the usual stats (including the all important luck) as well as skill points to unlock new attacks, auras (passive traits), tricks (spells that require only a cooldown), and other things to help you fight. These things can also be learned from certain NPCs. In the event you build your character poorly, the game allows you to respec, and if you’re a fan of a certain item, you can apply essences to help improve it (pending capacity). Killing impressive enemies builds your reputation, which in turn allows you to select perks like a second chance ability (auto-resurrection up to once every 3 minutes) or bonus skill points.
Death, I’m pleased to say, isn’t devastating, but it isn’t cheap either. When you die, you are given three options. Respawn at your lair for free, respawn at the nearest checkpoint for a fee, or respawn right where you are for a much larger fee. Your sidekick’s death just costs some time where she’s of little help.
Battles quickly become frantic slogs through huge mobs of creatures, but the developers did their best to keep things interesting. For instance, once you get to your Borgovian lair, you begin to see options like “upgrade generator” and “purchase trap”. It turns out you’ve got some Orcs Must Die-style Tower defense in your future. Likewise the built in fast travel system (ink gates) will sometimes pitch you to an otherworldly realm, forcing you to fight back to your lair against dark creatures and Monty Python references.
It keeps the main enjoyment of the Diablo/Torchlight games intact, while heaping on enough new content and mechanics to set itself apart.
The music has the monster movie/Eastern European fusion that the visuals would suggest, and the voicework is actually quite good. The chemistry between Katarina and Van Helsing is the sardonic banter of a classic action duo, with an interesting Australian vs. Transylvanian accent dynamic that made for some interesting exchanges. Some of my favorite lines have to do with her departure and arrival surrounding a request for her to go shopping. “You’re trusting me with your money!?” *Poof* *Poof* “Help, I’m a princes and I’m being held prisoner by a terrible man! If you save me… oh, it’s you…”Also, the fourth wall breaking townie who seems aware of me watching him and poking him was a fun touch.
You are Van Helsing, son of the more famous and more popular man of the same name. A monster hunter by trade, you have made it a point to answer the call whenever someone needs a big scary thing slaughtered. Lady Katarina is the ghost of a dignitary from an ersatz transylvania called Borgovia. It is the sort of place where vampires and werewolves are commonplace and among the more decent people you’ll meet. Upon arriving you discover that all of the proper monsters are on the run and taking cover thanks to a recent wave of mad scientist who have inflicted the wonders of science upon a place more comfortable with the supernatural. The “paranormal vs. science” rivalry was a fun one, and more fun was the setting itself. The bizarreness of the place is made aparent from the start, when Van Helsing is allowed to cross the border only because he is accompanied by the ghost of a noble.
Popular game types are popular for a reason, and emulating them isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is important is that you hit all of the notes that make the original formula work, and be sure to make your own additions to make the game feel like more than a rehashing of what’s been done before. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing brings a great personality and some fun mechanics to the party and is certainly worth a try for Diablo and Torchlight fans.
9.0 / 10: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a solid and fun implementation of Diablo/Torchlight mechanics, set in a humorous spin on a classic horror setting.