I’m going to be very blunt with how I start this: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is the single biggest clone of the Diablo series that I have ever seen, down to even the design of the UI, menus, and everything. If I squinted a bit; I might as well have been playing an “always online DRM-free” version of D3. However, with that being said, VH turned out to be a ton of fun and one of the few games I have played this year where I actually had a hard time stopping (perhaps due to the Diablo-heavy gameplay, which in itself is quite addictive).
I’ll try to end the comparisons right there. Regardless of any similarities, VH is still its own game and deserves to be reviewed as such. As its own game, VH actually can give Diablo III a run for its money. It simplifies the action/hack-and-slash/looter/dungeon crawler formula to a more palatable, “arcadey” approach. Case in point; you don’t get to choose from any classes. No barbarian, mage, etc. You are Abraham Van Helsing (son of the famous vampire hunter) only, and he starts the game as is. You can eventually choose to focus on upgrading one of two distinct skill trees, which basically are your ranged and melee options. You also have a variety off perks you can learn which offer, uh…perks such as increase magic absorption or extra Rage. This lack of customization may turn off some players, but again, this is not meant to have the sort of depth that Diablo is known for. Here, you are expected to grab your guns and sword and start slaying.
Along with Van Helsing, you also get a NPC partner in the form of Lady Katarina. One of the better NPC characters I have experienced (along with Bioshock: Infinite’s Elizabeth), Lady Katarina actually is quite useful to have around and doesn’t really get in the way. She’s a fierce combatant and will also provide some exposition on the different towns you visit, make some pretty interesting quips on your choices, and my favorite ability, she can also take loot back to town and sell it for you while you stay behind and explore. You can customize all of Lady Katrina’s abilities, inventory, and combat roles however you see fit; I liked to use her as a ranged attacker supporting my “jump into the fight with swords blazing” style.
At its core, the gameplay is pretty much what you would expect; a 3/4, top down click-fest. You go from area to area clicking where you want to move, left clicking to attack, and right clicking to unleash a secondary attack. Your primary attack is typically a basic melee and can be swapped out with a ranged, gun-based attack with a simple button press. Secondary attacks are generally more of the magical variety, such as lightning strikes. With each kill, you build up Rage, which can then be activated for added attack effect. When you activate your Rage, you can use up to three additional abilities for each of your primary and secondary attacks.
When not killing enemies, you’re organizing your inventory, adding points to your skill tree, or milling about town selling, buying, and crafting new equipment. It’s not an encyclopedia’s worth of depth, but it’s certainly more than just popping in a quarter and playing for 5 minutes. There’s a bit of replayability in the form of a tower defense mini-game in your lair (once you unlock it), and while that’s a good bit of fun, it feels strangely out of place. The mini-game itself is pretty cool and actually quite addictive, but it feels like a case of “we need to spice things up otherwise the game will too repetitive; hey, I know!”
The thing about the game that I like is that it’s not particularly story-heavy. Now, anyone who knows me knows that to me, the important thing in modern gaming is story first, everything else second. I’ll be the first to admit to the importance of a good story, but someone times I just want to turn my brain off, kill a bunch of things, and move on. While VH does offer a plot, it’s not anything to wrote home about and certainly does not carry the epic weight of something like, say, Diablo III. This works in its favor. As of now, I spend a lot of my free time (whenever I get the rare opportunity to enjoy any free time), firing up the game, slaying some monsters, then backing out again for another day.
Graphically, the game actually looks quite nice when all the settings are pumped to the max. It’s not exactly Crysis 3, so you don’t really need a top of the line rig to accomplish that. There’s a nice variation of environments, and some cool magic effects that really pop off the screen. Character designs look good enough from afar, but the sign in screen at the beginning of the game reveals some blockier textures. Animations are smooth throughout the game, though there is a bit of stuttering once the enemies start to fill the screen. It does end up becoming a slight annoyance as VH tends to throw quite a bit of action at you all at once. The game has, on occasion, nearly frozen when I had dozens of enemies attacking, loot being spit up with each kill, and the blood explosion animation that accompanies a critical hit while using Rage all going on at once.
It’s not a game that is going to revolutionize the action RPG genre, and on more than one occasion I found myself scratching my head, wondering how Neocore got away with making a game is so similar to the Diablo series. But all that aside, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a fun, addictive hack and slasher that, despite its low price and seemingly “out of nowhere” release, is a game that I would highly recommend.