It turns out Van Helsing is dead. You are his son who takes on the famous name. You have received a letter asking for your help in the fictional East European city of Borgova. Van Helsing is an Action RPG (ARPG), so be prepared for a lot of comparisons as this game follows the template pretty closely.
The story for Van Helsing is fairly bare bones. Half of the game is spent getting to Borgova, and then the rest is spent helping out the rebels in the town with a mad scientist problem. I would usually be more disappointed about a minimal amount of story, but really in ARPG's of this style there isn't a need for lots of story.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an ARPG very much in the vein of Diablo, although Van Helsing more closely resembles Diablo 2 as opposed to the more streamlined and simplified Diablo 3. In his adventures Helsing starts off in more traditional settings for a monster hunter, with werewolves and a variety of creatures from east European folklore. As you move ever closer to Borgova the game changes from the ye olde village and caves, and places you in the middle of a steampunk styled city. I enjoyed the different locations in Van Helsing, especially after the halfway point of the game, and it was fun seeing what other monsters from folklore would show up next. Although in the game's final hours the number of new monsters slowed down and instead the game threw even greater numbers of the more frustrating enemies at you.
As with other ARPGs there is indeed loot, lots of it! You can't kill a group of monsters without an item or two usually for you to pick up. There is lots of comparing items as rarer items aren't named differently, you have to look at the stats. You'll sell most of the loot and by the end of the game not even bother picking it up as you stumble across weapons and armour that occasionally are way above the other things you're picking up. Because there are no other classes besides Van Helsing you won't need to collect different kinds of weapons or armour as the only restrictions are what level you are.
The most unexpected thing that happened during gameplay was that out of nowhere I was suddenly being asked to play tower defence style missions, taking elements from Orcs Must Die in having me set down traps between waves while I try and hold back the monsters heading for my lair. If there was a bit more polish put into this it could've been a great diversion, but the movement speed and map layout make the whole section annoying and outside of moving the game along, I avoided these sections.
Setting Van Helsing apart from other games of this genre is that Helsing is accompanied by Lady Katarina, a former noblewoman and witty ghost who banters with Helsing throughout the game. You can set her AI behaviour, whether she is responsible for melee or ranged attacks, and whether she should pick up items to save you the clicking. Like Helsing you can also put points into Katarina's stats and skills, although it mainly comes down to what buffs you want to enhance Helsing with. Taking one of the more useful features from Torchlight, you can also send Katarina back into town with all your useless items to sell. Although it feels a bit strange sending your female companion to do the work that is done by animals in Torchlight.
Be prepared for bugs with this game. The most notable bug I encountered was Van Helsing like a man possessed, deciding to fight against my controls and walked off in the opposite direction. He continued walking unburdened by things like walls, monsters, or whether there was a floor underneath him. This bug occurred twice and I was fortunate enough to be able to guide him back to where I was meant to be and continue, but it's not the only bug and at the time of review I was having issues with the game crashing around twice per game session. The worst bug I hit in the game was getting to the final boss. I entered the area and I suddenly appeared right next to the boss and was surrounded by a swarm of enemies that killed me as the boss gave his dialogue as I couldn't move. Other issues that have been arising in my time playing Van Helsing include lag in single player and unplayable co-op. Over the time I have been playing, NeoCore Games have been providing updates which will hopefully iron out most of the issues people have been having playing this game.
The graphics are good, the HUD is usual Diablo fare like most other games in this genre now embrace. The monsters look nice and awful as monsters should. Overall it won't wow you but there is some variety in environments and the steampunk areas have a lot going on in parts.
The music was fine, it felt suitable to the style of the game and at times reminded me of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies. The voice work was fine as well, most of the talking comes from Helsing and Katarina and it is usually witty enough to get a smile or chuckle out, although Katarina's dialogue outside of those conversations quickly becomes repetitive.
As with most RPGs of this style, prepare to click that mouse button a lot. A nice change was that I was able to use the keyboard to move Helsing around as I clicked on enemies to shoot at them. Using the keyboard and mouse at the same time still felt buggy, as sometimes Helsing would keep walking in one direction even though I had stopped using the direction arrows. Additionally you can program combos to the spacebar and make hotkeys for the different active skills you might have, which is useful if you intend to put full use to your abilities.
Due to the issues still plaguing the online aspects of this game I was unable to get into a co-operative game. Once it is fully functional you should be able to work with other Van Helsings to rid the land of monsters.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing could have lived up to its title if there had been more polish in the gameplay and catching more of the bugs before release. There is over ten hours of gameplay which is a lot for a game of this price. I completed nearly every mission and ended with about sixteen hours and that was searching every corner of every map. But until NeoCore release some DLC (which is coming at some stage) there is little replayability. But by the last third of the game I was hoping it would end anyway. Under all the repetition and bugs there is a playable game and it's not bad, it's just average and outstays its welcome before the credits roll.