This debut ARPG from Neocore Games tries some exciting and different things.
By Bane Williams on May 29, 2013 at 11:56 am
If you look at the top Action-RPG makers of today, they all started in a similar fashion. All began with a release that was lacking in a few core features and technical polish. Both FATE (precursor to Torchlight) and the original Diablo had a number of annoying niggles that were ironed out with future games. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing feels just like that… an extremely competent and pleasing experience with just a bit of fraying around the edges.
You would be wrong to think that in a game titled ‘The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing’ you would play as the famous Dutch doctor himself. Instead you play as his son, following in his fathers’ monster-slaying footsteps. The game begins with a solid cinematic that explains who you are, and also a little bit about your companion, the yet to be departed ghost, Katarina.
Katarina follows you throughout your adventure, and she is probably one of the best designed companions an Action-RPG could ever hope to have. In addition to providing great dialogue as well as your standard array of loot holding and selling services, most of her AI can be customised so that you can determine which tactics she uses, at what hp she uses health potions, and even what loot she will automatically collect for you.
While you don’t choose a character in the game, you do have a fairly indepth skill tree which lets you specialise in swords or guns, with a variety of magical attacks thrown in. Each skill that you choose has a number of additional modifiers you can unlock to use during battle. Want that fireball to be larger? No worries. Want it to do more damage, you can have that too. Combine both effects? Certainly. All this you can do on the fly in combat without missing a beat.
Another thing that really stands out is the environmental design. The game looks astounding, being set in a fantastical gothic-noir universe with all kinds of clockwork beasts and weird scientific contraptions. Neocore studios fits in this bracket between AAA studio and Indie Dev, and combines the polish of the former with the daringness to try something different of the latter.
There are a few grievances with the game, however. Any replayability is thrown out the window with its linearity and lack of monster respawn. You could go and play it on a harder difficulty, but it isn’t as simple as importing your pre-existing character into it. Still, this does allow you to experiment with different builds over the course of a few games.
There is a distinct lack of feedback to the game as well. When I hit a monster with a powerful blow, it doesn’t interrupt their animations even some of the time. It feels kind of like an old game, Gauntlet, where the monster will ceaselessly attack you until it dies regardless of actions on your behalf. Some of the skill animations are quite basic, and don’t rightly match up with how their skills are described.
One of the most interesting concept of the game, its skill modification and augmentation, is only worth using while in a troublesome fight thanks to powerful passive abilities that trigger off you having a full rage meter (the resource you expend when adding modifiers to skills). Additionally, there is often no difference in visual aesthetic between a normal attack and an augmented attack of the same type, despite all the crazy variations you can come up with — it truly seems like a missed opportunity.
Also worth noting is that due to the camera angle you see much less of the action below you compared to above. You can frequently see enemies before you are within range of them if they are above you, whereas they can frequently detect you before you see them if they are below. A slight playstyle adaptation can give you the advantage most of the time here, but it feels like a design oversight.
That being said, the game provides a lengthy, relatively polished experience, with well over 15 hours for an average gamers first run through. There is a lot of love shown throughout the world, and sidequests that you might not even realise exist on your first playthrough. If you pay attention to the world around you, you’re likely to see some clever pop culture references and get some occasional fourth-wall-breaking dialogue to boot.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has its issues, but they feel comparable to those of most developers after their first attempt at making an Action-RPG. It is great to look at, fun to play, but lacking in a few minor areas such as core replayability and a balanced skill system. The game has a lot of potential, and it is very possible that this is the start of something beautiful… something you might want to be a part of.
- Huge amount of graphical polish and detail
- An ARPG companion that is both functional and cool
- Ability to change skill effects on the fly to suit situations
- You can freakin stop time itself
- Lacks replayability through static (non linear) maps and no monster respawns
- Skills lack balance, frequently there is only one or two skills worth using
- Animation level is not varied, monsters almost never stagger under attacks.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is out now on Steam for $15.
This review copy was provided by the developer.