Back in 2013 when Neocore Games first put out The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, I immediately found myself drawn to its great style. Unfortunately, I never saw much beyond that as life was just too busy for me to sit down and play the little known Action RPG. By the time I’d reached a point where I could commit myself to a game, Van Helsing had already fallen into the obscure gray-linked corners of my Steam library, never to see the light of day again… Or at least get downloaded again.
Over the past couple years, Neocore has released two more entries into the Van Helsing line up. As a thank you to fans, they released Final Cut, a compilation of all three games and their DLCs. The collection includes various fixes and tweaks to the overall game. Having never played the original, I can’t really attest to what’s new outside of listing verbatim the blurbs written on Neocore’s website. In a way, this allowed me to have a fresh experience, playing Van Helsing in its best possible condition.
This was a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, Van Helsing is arguably the greatest and most competent Diablo clone ever developed. On the other, it’s just that; A Diablo clone. As a fan of Action RPGs, it’s impossible not to be aware that almost everything Van Helsing does well, has been done better before.
Everything from its loot-based equipment, to its end game dungeon runs are almost an exact copy of Blizzard’s own trilogy. At the price point of £29.99/$44.99 (Free if you owned the original trilogy, which comes out to around £40/$60, £55/$75 with DLC), it actually becomes a question of whether you should just get Diablo 3 instead.
This isn’t a new thing. Many action RPGs have taken advantage of the road Blizzard paved with its titular titles. What makes it so obvious in Van Helsing is how much Neocore really tried to set it apart. Let me be clear in saying Van Helsing Final Cut isn’t just a great game, it’s a fantastic game. I loved every moment from start to finish. But, it’s the classic story of Icarus flying too close to the sun. The sun being Diablo and Icarus being Van Helsing. The games are so similar with one very obviously taken influence from the other, that the otherwise small issues in Van Helsing become big glaring problems in comparison.
Like I said, though. Neocore definitely tried to set it apart. Most obviously in the aesthetics, one of the things it actually does better. Beyond the fact that the game just looks good, everything is uniquely designed. Borgovia, the game’s setting, is an incredible gothic-noir styled steampunk world, filled with robotic soldiers, Victorian-era streets, and underground labs filled to the brim with horrifying experiments. While enemy variety is sparse towards the beginning, every new introduction of beast and ghoul is an absolute visual treat. You’ll be fighting flying turrets in one room, only to find some kind of abomination with chainsaws for hands in the next. Van Helsing takes more chances with its visuals than anything else, and it absolutely works.
In addition to the look of the game is the narrative presented by the two protagonists, the son of Van Helsing, and Katarina, his ghostly companion. Besides the two having great, referential and hilarious banter between themselves, their perspective on everything happening around them is a unique take on what’s otherwise just three separate “There’s a bad guy, kill him” stories. It’s a Harold and Maude level of chemistry, rarely seen in games. The two make fun of each other, give each other advice, and fight alongside each other. Their individual arcs weave beautifully in between each other, creating an awesome story telling dynamic. I’d love to give you an example, but every moment is best left for you to discover on your own.
Unfortunately, gameplay is where the metaphorical wax wings start to burn. You begin the game by picking from six classes. While the high number of choices seems like a great addition, they all unfortunately bleed into each other in one way or another. I look at it as rather than having six classes, there are only two or three, with different specializations. In addition, the individual skill trees, while technically different from each other, are essentially all the same, sans a few specific skills here and there. There’s always the single target skill, the AOE skill, the summon skill, etc. To the game’s credit, each class is visually interesting, with one being a fighter in full plate mail, while another is a scientist walking around in full power armor. I ultimately picked the bounty hunter as my main class simply because he was the only class that wore Van Helsing’s signature hat.
Actually playing the game is a different story. As mentioned, it’s totally competent, and even enjoyable at times. You’ve got your left and right-click mapped to different skills, and various others mapped to your number keys, typical to the ARPG style. A unique facet is the rage meter, which allows you to dump points into various abilities tied to your skills on the fly. This could mean making a grenade you throw have a larger explosion radius, or just simply increasing the damage of your attack.
Quest structure is a little generic. You click on individuals with a green exclamation mark over their heads, follow an objective marker, and then click on the individual with a green question mark over their head to complete the quest. Unfortunately, a lot of quests have no objective marker. This promotes exploration in the world, of course, and there are actually a ton of secrets and jokes to find through this exploration. But, sometimes you just want to know where to go so you can move on rather than wandering for what could be hours.
There are different activities to break up the gameplay. You have the option to perform in tower defense mini-games to protect your secret lair from monsters. It’s actually kind of a cool little mode to play if you’re feeling bored from the regular quests. There’s also a troop manager mode, similar to those in Metal Gear Solid 5 or Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, where you can send different soldiers on quests and level them up accordingly.
These side activities, while entertaining, don’t really detract from the overall problem, though. I felt like I was playing Diablo the entire time. Even with its aesthetics and story presentation, I half expected Deckard Cain to show up at any moment and ask me to listen to him. To look at Van Helsing unbiased like this, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece of the genre, and deserves high praises just for that. But, for all its sloppy seconds and used structures, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the end that the developer didn’t try to evolve beyond just being another clone.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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