The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Review – A Ghastly Time (PS4)
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing originally released on Steam in 2013. Almost four years later, the PlayStation 4 is now seeing the game in a port by Neocore Games. Transitions from PC Action RPGs are rarely smooth, with Diablo III being almost a lone exception. But can this monster hunter rise to the challenge?
A Simpler Time
In The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, you play as the son of the famous vampire hunter of the same name, tasked with continuing in your father’s footsteps. The game takes place in the fictional area of Borgova, the capital of Borgovia. It’s your standard gothic steampunk kind of setting, perfect for the world in which stories like Van Helsing are told.
The best part of Van Helsing may be the story. The game doesn’t take itself seriously for very long, and you can usually find odd, dark, and/or twisted humor peppered throughout whatever new scenario the titular character finds himself in. All characters are voiced surprisingly well for a budget title, including a two-headed cow and other fitting NPCs. You can tell the developers have a love of this sort of lore, because it has been built up to a higher standard than you’d expect to see. The back-and-forth banter between Van Helsing and Katarina can actually get a chuckle out of most every gamer, as some of the humor touches on the world of gaming, and more general nerd humor.
Graphically, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing doesn’t really boast anything incredible. The world is largely static, and background textures can even get blurry in certain locations. Developer Neocore Games does offer PS4 Pro support, which includes three different visual modes (assuming you’re on a 4K TV set). “Better performance” locks the resolution to 1080p, while targeting 60 frames per second. “Balanced” renders at 2880×1620, while aiming for 50 fps, and “Better Quality” shoots for a full 4K resolution, but stays at a locked 30 fps. Honestly, it feels a little like overkill given the dated presentation on offer here, but supporting the latest and greatest 4K console will likely pay dividends, both in consumer purchases and development lessons for Neocore.
The PlayStation Experience
Further enhancements for the PlayStation platform include the use of the DualShock 4 in a few ways. The lightbar pulses various colors depending on what is going on in-game, such as red for when you are hit, green when idle, and blue in the menus. Main characters also call out to you on the controller’s speaker when they’re out of potions or can’t perform a certain task, which is a useful addition that can add to immersion.
Speaking of audio, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing includes a fitting soundtrack. The music mostly takes a back seat to the action, but it fits right in with the game’s atmosphere. There’s an epic sense of foreboding, and the soundtrack can take you right back to the turn of the 20th century, when the night was truly terrifying and beasts roamed the lands. There’s no shortage of grotesque sound effects, either, when you encounter giants, rats, witches, vampires, and other creatures of the night.
One area that can be notoriously hard to get right in an isometric action RPG such as Van Helsing is the controls. Here, it appears, the game is a victim of its own over-zealousness. You see, the action in Van Helsing can actually get pretty hectic. Upwards of 50 enemies can be thrown your way, with hundreds of damage indicators lighting up the screen at once. While Van Helsing can automatically target the nearest enemy, there is little you can do to dictate which specific enemy he should be aiming at.
Under-Utilized Analog Stick
This brings us to the game’s most grievous design mistake – the right stick is mapped to practically nothing. During main combat, only moving the right stick down does anything at all. Even then, it merely brings up your quest journal, which you can get to from the touchpad menu! Using the right analog stick to aim would have helped this game’s playability so much more than just bringing up a menu. As it stands now, your best bet is to mash the action buttons and try to aim using the left stick. There’s not even an indicator to show which enemy is selected.
Control issues aside, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an action RPG, with all the tropes that come along with that genre. You want loot? Van Helsing has it in spades. Hundreds of enemies rushing you? Check. Character customization in the form of weapons, accessories, magical items, and more? You betcha. A bunch of character classes to customize and master? Well, actually, Van Helsing only features a small selection of classes, but you’re likely to find one that can suit your play style.
As you play the game, you naturally will level up. However, you have a companion character, named Katarina, who is a ghost destined to help the Van Helsings, perhaps for eternity. She starts out just as weak as you, perhaps even weaker since she has no body. But eventually she can become a pretty potent sidekick. Katarina also provides the comic relief seen throughout the game, and some of her lines are actually pretty good. She has various skills that can be upgraded to help Van Helsing, through things as straightforward as buffing you up, to becoming a damage sponge for you, or spooking enemies paralyzed.
Many Avenues of Attack
As for Van Helsing himself, well, there are a lot more options here to upgrade and play with. You can upgrade your basic stats, such as HP, mana, etc. But you can also upgrade your class-based skills, such as the creation of ever-more-powerful mechanical creations to fight by your side if you choose the engineer-type class. Auras serve as passive skills, of which you can only equip two at a time, but which can be combined in different ways. You can also gain perks, which are earned after amassing enough reputation through clearing quests. These are usually permanent boons to your player or to Katarina, and are generally larger rewards than you’d otherwise see in regular leveling. This all makes for a fairly robust ARPG…if only the control scheme would behave.
A handful of hours into the game, you’ll unlock a secret lair, and with it, a metagame. Suddenly, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing becomes The Incredible Tower Defense of Van Helsing, and you are tasked with readying your base’s defenses, and then fighting waves of enemies. It almost feels like a different game, and since the base is grid-based, your lack of precision aiming is less of an issue here. Honestly, the game truly shines for the time you are playing this mode, and it feels like more of the game could’ve taken place here rather than outside the base.
An Almost Complete Package
Multiplayer is always a welcome addition to action RPGs, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing includes this functionality. Unfortunately, this does not include couch co-op. Unlike similar games in this genre such as Diablo III, Gauntlet, or even Dungeon Hunter, if you want to play with another person, they’ll have to own an additional copy of the game, as there is no splitscreen option. It’s a shame, but not entirely surprising given this game’s budget price.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing will sate the ARPG fan’s appetite, but only just. Those looking for an entertaining story will find plenty to like here, but you’ll have to slog through some uninspired combat in order to get to the good parts. A mid-game tower defense mashup freshens things up a bit, but a poor control scheme will lead you to wonder how much better the game could have been. Still, at only $19.99/€19.99, if you think you can deal with some annoying controls and otherwise average RPG action, the surprise metagame in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing might be worth the price of admission.
Review code for The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.