The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Reviews

AuthorReview
Xpovos
538,667 (322,789)
Xpovos
TA Score for this game: 3,338
Posted on 18 January 16 at 17:50, Edited on 19 March 16 at 20:18
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The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing (IAVH) was first announced as an XBLA title due to be released in the summer of 2013. The developer, NeocoreGames, met that timeline for their PC release on Steam, but the Xbox version was delayed and delayed again until two and a half years later, we finally get this release for the Xbox One as a Games with Gold title. Meanwhile, the PC version has had two sequels. Now we get to determine if this port was worth the wait.

Van Helsing is a fantasy dungeon crawler with an isometric camera. If that sounds like https://www.trueachievements.com/Diablo-3/achievements.htm or Torchlight that's not an unfair comparison, these games have many things in common, even for games of the same genre. The similarities are so striking that it's quite likely that if you liked those games, as I did, you're almost certainly going to enjoy IAVH. If, however, those games are not your cup of tea, stay away, this is more of the same and the things that do differentiate this game from those will be unlikely to impress you.

Like those previously mentioned games, IAVH takes advantage of many of the concept advancements in the dungeon crawler genre over the past decade. You have a permanent companion who assists in combat, and just like Torchlight she can even make loot runs for you. These loot runs turn out to be even more important in this game due to some technical concerns I'll address in a moment. Where IAVH does differentiate some is in making this companion a much more integral part of the story. Lady Katrina is more than a pet with a backpack, she's a co-protagonist in the necessary story that strings together the episodes of monster slaughter on the true quest for ever-better gear. The relationship between Van Helsing, your protagonist with agency, and Lady Katrina is enjoyable to experience and their out-of-period banter helps to lighten the mood.

The setting plays an interesting role as well. The world they inhabit is a well-worn country of tropes. Werewolves and vampires, fae creatures and mechanical monstrosities all come together to attempt to slay Van Helsing in the clash of science and magic that is the perfect nexus for this faux-Victorian romp through Eastern Europe.

NeocoreGames, being based in Hungary, know the mythology of the region depicted well and take advantage of that, allowing the mythology to be deeper and more consistently interesting than many other games of this type. Unfortunately, there isn't as much lore scattered around the world to be found and experienced through multiple playthroughs as might be hoped, resulting in some limited replayability. Additionally, the game is quite short, a single playthrough will take not more than 15 hours, and quite possibly a lot less. This is true even if you take the time to explore and find all of the optional side quests and easter eggs, of which there are many. Overall, the total package is a good one for people, like me, who enjoy this style of game and where the setting sounds fun. Despite some failings, which I'll cover next, the game is well polished after it's PC release and refinement. Short version: if you liked Diablo and you liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or other similar stories, you're going to have a good time.

However, all is not well in Borgovia. I believe that a review works best by demonstrating where a game fails, so I will focus on the negatives because that will help you, as the reader, make a determination about whether these particular issues are likely to interfere with your enjoyment of an intrinsically fun game.

Since this is a port of a PC game, there are technical issues that a game initially developed for the Xbox architecture might not have.

Technical Issues
# Extraordinarily long loading times. These frequently last a full minute between exiting one zone and loading the next. This makes loot runs a painful experience and even generic questing frustrating. Lady Katrina does make this somewhat more tolerable, however, the interface for making this work is sufficiently clunky, and you can rapidly lose track of many optional sidequests by not making the return to town yourself. Loading screens are necessarily going to be a part of the experience, and sadly here a major detraction.

# Occasionally laggy framerate, particularly on larger maps or when swarmed with enemies. This is obviously the worst possible time for a game to become unresponsive. There is no reason that the Xbox One can't handle the requirements of this game, so these slow downs are even more incongruous.

# HUD elements are smaller than ideal and hard to see until you've become expert at the game and can quickly interpret the small icons.

# No local multiplayer. While the game supports multiplayer it's online only. This type of game benefits from couch coop options.

# Multiplayer seems prone to bugs. While I never experienced this personally there are many reports that attempting to play with friends over the network resulted in frequent crashes.

# One unobtainable achievement at release--later patched, which considering it is a storyline achievement indicates a lack of sufficient time spent testing the product.

# Inventory menus are touch and go. Using the sticks to select a category, the cursor sometimes seems to get 'stuck'.

# Occasionally Lady Katrina decides that she will do something other than what you selected from her options menu. This happens most often early in the game when you are likely to be shifting gear and other options more regularly. Once you get settled down into a mode, so does she.

Technical issues can be addressed with patches and some of these may well be in the items fixed in a coming patch. But the existence of so many indicates a rush to publication despite the more than two-year delay. It all adds up to a slightly disappointing package for gamers who have been waiting expectantly for this title and doesn't help in the goal of finding a wider audience with a GwG release.

While technical issues can be patched, gameplay and story issues generally can't, and IAVH has a few of those as well.

Gameplay and Story Issues
# Uneven voice acting. The major characters are well-performed. I personally found the intentional mispronunciation of certain words by Van Helsing's actor to be humorous, but it could be jarring if not understood as humor. Meanwhile, many of the secondary characters have voice acting that is just plain bad.

# An unintuitive skill-system that does not have a good tutorial. Tutorials exist in abundance for obvious tasks, or, at least tasks that are obvious for veterans of the genre, but the skill system which is new and reasonably innovative and which has far more moving parts than either Diablo 3 or Torchlight is never fully explained.

# While the story is never the reason a game like this is played, it's always better when there is a cohesive story that pushes the action along. Largely this game succeeds, but various elements do fall short. One example is the easily confusing nature of the names of things in the game. The action takes place in the country/region of Borgovia. However, we spend most of the game in the city of Borgova, which is Borgovia's capital. That's bad enough, but on the regional map we can clearly see that there is a river running through for which the city and region are clearly named: the Borgov river. These distinctions in ending may be completely in keeping with local language traditions, but are bound to cause a few raised eyebrows with the average gamer who is trying to pay attention to the story. I never found any inconsistency in the story or naming conventions, but considering the whole is fictional, there was no reason to have delved to this level of complexity without any additional pay off.

Final Thoughts

Van Helsing is a fairly short game. A single playthrough, about 10-15 hours is all that is technically required to earn all achievements, and while the game offers some end-game content to keep a gamer entertained after beating the story and earning all the achievements, most gamers will feel content to wait for the sequels, which again have already been published on PC, and which NeocoreGames has promised to port to the Xbox One as well. In practice, though at least two playthroughs will be required for most gamers, since starting on the perma-death "Hardcore" mode is not advisable for most gamers. Additionally, there are 10 missable achievements which could foul up a gamer unfamiliar with the game or story. All told, average adventurers can expect to spend 25-30 hours en route to a full completion. For the low price of free, this becomes a great value, and additional DLC offers new character classes and sidequests which for a nominal fee can increase the replayability, but sadly they come with no additional achievements.


Now that the unobtainable achievement has been fixed, there should be no reason for anyone to avoid playing this game, and most gamers should have a good time in playing the game, even with the noted technical and other issues, unless they dislike the genre. For fans of the genre, the game is a largely well-executed time waster. While not as polished as Diablo, or as straightforward as Torchlight, the difficulties are fair and fun, never becoming completely trivial, except perhaps on "Casual" with a strong build. Some technical issues are not unexpected in any game, particularly a port, but they do mar the overall feel of the game which is quite good.

My Rating
4 stars: "Very good game. Some more significant (relative to 5 and 4.5-star games) flaws such as bugs/glitches, plot holes, etc. But the backbone is extremely enjoyable. Appealing, particularly to genre fans."
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