The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing (PC) Preview
How we, as a society, have failed to make the quintessential Van Helsing game is beyond me. Yes, there was that tie-in to the abhorrent Hugh Jackman film of the same name (which was actually a pretty solid Devil May Cry knock-off, if you ask me). And I guess you might count appearances in Dracula-based or inspired titles, but as the de facto vampire hunter, you’d think someone would’ve given the guy his due props. (On that note, we totally need a werewolf game, like X-Men Origins Uncaged but instead you’re a werewolf. But I digress.)
Enter The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing from NeoCore Games, the Hungarian development studio responsible for the well-received King Arthur role-playing games. Stop me if you’ve heard this before (or if you think you accidentally clicked on my Path of Exile preview). This is a fantasy action-RPG, played from an isometric viewpoint, featuring skill trees, Gothic-inspired monsters and creatures, dungeon/forest crawling & loot. It’s one of those games, I know, but bear with me here and by the end of this preview, I might have you convinced to give Van Helsing a shot.
Full disclosure here: you’re not actually playing as Abraham Van Helsing, the Bram Stoker creation who has been portrayed in film by Sir Lawrence Olivier amongst other distinguished actors. Instead as his son, who you’ll be able to name at the outset (I chose Gabriel because I refused to Stephen Summers ruin a perfectly good character). Still, the junior Van Helsing is just as capable a vampire slayer as his father, depending on what kind of hunter you want him to be.
The game is set in the fictional realm of Borgova, where Van Helsing & his ghostly compatriot, Lady Katerina (more on her a bit later) arrive to bust some ghosts and other otherworldly creatures. You’ll travel through dense forests, forbidden swamps, hellish underground caverns, all in the name of protecting the human race. Of course, that means a lot of clicking on your mouse to attack oncoming enemies and collecting loot after skirmishes. Left-click is your primary weapon/attack, while right is your secondary/support attack. You have your hotkeys for mana & life potions, switching weapons, etc, but where Van Helsing gets really interesting is in the customization of your character.
Because you can only play as Van Helsing, there are no “classes”, per se. However, you can opt to build your Helsing how you see fit with two different skill trees, one for close-range combat and the other for ranged attacks, with alternate attacks and magic abilities unlockable in both. Though it would be more beneficial to stick to one tree, you can mix and match your abilities as you go along, in case you want more of a balanced protagonist. Your companion, Katerina, acts much like the pet dog in Torchlight, though infinitely more awesome because she’s a ghost. That said, she has her own inventory slots for weapons and gear, plus you can send her to town to sell off unwanted items for quick cash. On top of that, she’s a support character and you can choose how you want her to help you in battle. Want Katerina to attack the weakest characters with ranged weapons? Or maybe you’d rather she’d act as a melee fighter? You can customize her at will in her own sub-menu, which is a smart addition to the genre.
The “Rage” system implemented in the game is another striking feature. The more Van Helsing attacks/slaughters his enemies, the more his “rage” meter will fill up. As the player, you can use hotkeys to siphon this rage to power a special ability for your equipped attack. Furthermore, the player can set a 3-string “combo” with these special abilities and perform them mid-battle with the space bar. Consider this: I opted to outfit my Van Helsing with a rifle and lightning attack. I set a combo which would make the lightning fork through enemies (slowing down the weaker minions in the process) plus activated a 100% attack boost to my rifle (you can enhance the ability up to three times) which I used to take out the more formidable baddies. Mixing and matching different combos, abilities, strategies mid-encounter is a total blast.
The first time I played The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, I was given a brief hands-off demo by Linda Bozoradi and Orsolya Toth from Neocore. They both emphasized the Slavic Mythology-inspired world & creatures, with werewolves and ghouls being the most prominent enemies in that particular section of the game, though I wouldn’t be surprised if vampires and other creatures of the night appear later in the game. Linda also shed some light on the relationship between Lady Katerina and Van Helsing. Katerina was a ghost who was saved by Abraham Van Helsing and is now bound to his legacy, and so she accompanies the junior Van Helsing in his travels. “Snappy dialogue is key”, Linda mentioned to me during a fairly amusing scene with Katerina and Van Helsing riffing off one another, Katerina mentioning that they could fly over a broken bridge with ease, before realizing that Helsing was but a mortal being without supernatural powers like flight. Katerina is a pretty stellar foil for the grim, slightly cocky Van Helsing, making pithy remarks when sent off to town to sell items (“But I’ll miss all the fun!”) or when seeing a man hanging from a noose (“You should take one home for your collection”). It’ll be interesting to see how this relationship continues to play out in the actual game.
I was a bit blase towards the preview build of Van Helsing after the demo with Linda and Orsolya, if only because I felt like I saw what I had needed to see and was unwilling to get into one of those types of games again. And of course, some 3 ½ hours later, I reached the end of the preview build, waiting for more. I’m still a bit confused as to why this game in particular grabbed me. It doesn’t have the AAA production values of a Diablo or Torchlight and it doesn’t seem to completely reinvent the genre (from what I’ve seen). But something about the devotion to the mythology, the character interactions, the easter eggs and the highly polished core mechanics kept me going and I’m totally thrilled about that. You should already know if you want to play The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing or not, and if you do, you will not be disappointed. Even if you don’t, you should probably give it a shot. It’s got werewolves, man.
(Here’s the latest trailer for the game, focusing on the “Rage” system.)
Before I forget, there were a few other points that I followed up with Orsolya about concerning the title:
– The game is shooting for a late May release on Steam for $15 (pre-orders available in the near future) with the XBLA release to follow at an unspecified time in the Fall.
-Though I didn’t get to try it out myself, I was told that the XBLA version will be similar to the Torchlight XBLA release from a couple years back, with the game being made with the controller in mind.
-Steam version will have controller support but most likely not at launch.
-There are no plans for PvP multiplayer but 4-player co-op will be available at launch for the Steam version.
-Mum’s the word on post-release campaign content at this moment.