Whatís happened to vampires these days? All of those modern-day, sparkly gits from Twilight wouldnít stand a chance in a square fight with a classic Transylvanian (they only look hard in the films because theyíre fighting modern-day werewolves, which are just as ridiculous). Draculaís dad could totally have Edward Cullenís dad.
So when it comes to developing a game based on vampire-hunting, itís wise of Neocore Games to go back and focus on classic mythical monsters. Those guys are much more ferocious, and would actually give a demon-slayer like Van Helsing a decent challenge. But donít be confused - youíre not playing as Bram Stokerís Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Youíre playing as his wise-cracking son.
Heís a well-trained monster hunter, but quite inexperienced. No doubt the point of all this is to allow the player to truly grow with the character - for only when there is harmony between man and algorithm can true peace be accomplished. Or something. More likely itís so that Neocore can explore the Van Helsing
gothic universe a little more - while the world and main characters are influenced by Stokerís text, the studio has taken a fair amount of creative liberty with it.
But donít worry, there arenít any sparkly vampires in it.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
is set in the fictional land of Borgovia, where many monsters and creepy creatures roam the land. As you would expect, itís all very gothic and foreboding - part graphic novel and part noir in visual style. As Van Helsing Jr, your job is to dungeon crawl throughout the many sprawling maps awaiting you, leveling up your supernatural powers and collecting rewards as you go.
I played through a couple of work-in-progress maps - Rooftops and Sewers - and found myself frequently overwhelmed by monsters of all shapes and sizes. This is not going to be a game that holds you by the hand. But itís good for keeping a consistent level of tension as you explore crooked pathways and dilapidated tunnels. The level design is quite interesting too, with labyrinthine stages that didnít become overwhelming despite their complexity.
As with most isometric action-RPGs, your little Van Helsing can take advantage of loot picked up throughout dungeons, be leveled up to take on progressively bigger beasts and has his own skill tree where points can be spent to unlock innate abilities. These skill tree areas consist of body (strength), rage (a special state that can be activated if you happen to get into trouble), HP, Mana (spent on spells), dexterity, will and luck.
Along with spells and base stats, Van Helsing Jr can also wield two kinds of weapon - swords and guns. You donít need to worry about swapping equipment, as the monster-slayer rocks both kinds on his person at all times. Using each is a simple case of pressing different buttons for attack. Naturally, swords are best for crowd control and guns are more suited for long-distance foes and magic-based enemies. Each weapon type has its own Ďrageí ability which results in more powerful ammo being used.
During his gothic escapades, Van Helsing will bump into an NPC quest-provider named Borislav Tveter. Heís an inventor, and seems to be your only friend in the darkness. Seriously, everything else in the game world is a bad guy wanting to chomp the heroís face off. The missions I played werenít anything inspiring - fetch quests and hunting challenges mostly - but theyíre quite inoffensive.
For a studio that cut its teeth on the King Arthur strategy series, itís great to see Neocore ambitious enough to take on a traditional RPG like this. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
seems like it could entertain Diablo fans the world over - but the proof of the pudding is in the full game. Itís not due out until 2013, so it could be that the game will offer a much more enticing experience by its release date.