Abraham Van Helsing. A character created by Bram Stoker, best known as a vampire hunter and the archenemy of Count Dracula. The modern versions of the character depict him as more than just a vampire hunter; he's your go-to guy for monster-slaying and an expert on the occult. The character has rarely been seen on video games but now the indie game developer Neocore Games is bringing him to the PC with their latest game, The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing.
The game takes place in 19th century Europe and starts when Van Helsing is summoned to Borgovia (a made-up country) to help the local Resistance trying to get rid of a mad scientist who's making a mess of the place. In the absence of the big man Abraham himself, his son [PLAYER NAME] Van Helsing sets out instead with his ghostly 'friend' Lady Katarina. What follows is a pretty straight-forward hack'n'slash adventure as the player tries to thwart the plans of the (now insane) scientist; no greater-than-life emotions or epic moments and the ending was quite disappointing also, awkward even. This doesn't stop you from enjoying the 20 (or so) hours it takes to finish the game though.
The gameplay is your basic computer action-RPG; you move Van Helsing around by clicking your mouse and keeping the mouse button pressed moves the character automatically in that direction (you can also use your keyboard to move around, which is a plus). You collect loot, talk to NPCs and attack enemies by (surprise, surprise) clicking the mouse button. Keeping the mouse button pressed makes Van Helsing continuously attack the enemy. Slaying enemies and completing quests grants you experience. Enough experience and your character gains a level (up to a maximum level of 30, 20 for Lady Katarina). Nothing new to players already familiar with games like Diablo or Titan Quest.
During level up you gain ability and skill points which you can freely distribute. There are four different abilities; Body, Dexterity, Willpower and Luck. Body affects your melee attack damage, available hit points and defense value, Dexterity affects your ranged attack damage and dodge value, Willpower affects your available mana points and spellpower value (which determines the effectiveness and damage of your spells) and lastly Luck affects your magical item and gold find ratio and your dodge and critical hit chance values. The skills have three different categories which are Mystic Warrior (melee skills), Occult Hunter (ranged skills) and Tricks & Auras (passive skills and spells).
Mystic Warrior skills include stuff like improved parry for your swords and devastating melee attacks, Occult Hunter has skills that improve the effectiveness of your guns and different kinds of ranged attacks and Tricks & Auras has passive skills (Tricks) that for example improve your gold find chance and Van Helsing's equivalent for spells, called Auras, that have your basic things like healing and such. The Tricks & Auras are learnt from special NPCs. Distributing enough points to a single skill improves that skill even further and allows you to unlock special attributes for that certain skill. When you spend enough points on a single skill category (10% of the maximum to be precise) you unlock a special skill for your character (like extra hit points), making concentrating on single skillset very useful. The active skills (special sword attacks for example) use Rage which is replenished by defeating enemies. There are also special perks available that include stuff like another inventory page. These perks become available as you progress through the game and you can select a new perk for your character when your reputation level increases. You gain reputation by defeating unique enemies and by completing quests.
Your AI companion Lady Katarina has the same set of abilities but her skills are a bit different; most of them are used to boost Van Helsing's stats, like defense. You can also adjust Lady Katarina's behavior; you can decide whether she uses melee or ranged attacks, set her preferred target (always attack the most weakest enemy for example), what kinds of objects she is allowed to collect and the rate at which she uses health and mana potions. The companion AI seemed to be a bit broken since when I set her to use ranged attacks she just stood there, doing nothing. She also has a nasty habit of running into every single trap she sees so it's suggested you keep her stocked on health potions. This doesn't help much though since she still keeps dying every 5 minutes, which is quite irritating.
The enemies in the game are based on mythical beasts like werewolves and such and later on you'll be fighting mechanical contraptions like ornithopters. Some enemies have a special title; a Veteran werewolf for example is a lot tougher than your average werewolf. There are also bosses around which are usually a lot bigger than the other enemies (not including the most hilarious boss, a rabbit(!)). The enemies always come in big groups making targeting a single enemy almost impossible; you're constantly attacking the wrong one. This is especially true with smaller and faster enemies (like the ornithopters), targeting them is a gruesome task. Sometimes when you kill an enemy with a critical hit the enemy is sent flying across the map, which looks ridiculous. You can easily switch between your melee and ranged weapons by simply clicking a button. The weapons in the game include rifles, pistols and swords. Each weapon has a DPS (damage per second) value so you can easily see which weapon does the most damage over time.
The armors and accessories in the game include things like capes and rings; all these items have a rarity value which basically shows how rare the item is. As with weapons, the armors and such also show the changes that would happen if you wear that certain item making choosing the best equipment easy and effortless. The inventory management is extremely streamlined and simple and you can even send Lady Katarina to sell off any excess items and purchase potions. Very handy, especially later in the game when your inventory is constantly full of items. Some equipment and weapons have Essence capacity and you come across special Essence items along your travels. These Essences can be put in a Laboratory into any item that has enough Essence capacity and grants the item special properties, like extra poison damage. You can also combine items of the same rarity level in hopes of getting a better item and Enchant them for added bonuses.
The levels in the game are quite big and have a variety of settings; you traverse across swamps, gloomy streets of an industrial city and sometimes you visit a special world called the Inkworld. The Inkworld is a place where the monsters spawn from and exploring it is a nice breeze from the main levels. Most levels have special portals which allow you to teleport to a previously activated portal, making traveling to already visited places easy. Luckily you're rarely obliged to visit a level where you've already been. There are also NPCs around the levels but the dialogue in the game isn't exactly worthy of an Academy Award. Especially the responses of Lady Katarina burn your nerves; the 30th time I heard "I bought shoes for myself" when she came back from shopping I almost turned my speakers off. The game is also full of funny culture references; one message board for example had a wanted poster of missing a ring, coming from a set of 20 (an obvious reference to Lord Of The Rings).
The sounds and music in the game do their part and the voice-actors are decent. The graphics on the other hand are excellent; the levels are filled with nice looking details and the character models look beautiful, especially some of the bigger enemies are absolutely gorgeous. You could never guess this is an indie game by looking at the graphics. There are very extensive graphical options available and the game even has SLI and Crossfire optimization (not that you need a SLI/CF system to run it properly). The minimum requirements are pretty low, you only need a 2GHz dual core, 1GB of RAM and a 8800 (this card never dies) or a HD3850 class graphics card to run it. As with most games, my rig had no trouble running the game with maxed settings.
Overall the game is fun to play and shows that even indie games can meet the quality of games developed with big bucks. The graphics are on par with most modern games and the action and gameplay in the game (even with the targeting issues) along with the easy to use inventory ensure the game is very accessible and you'll enjoy finishing it. Add the low price (15€/$20/£12) and the fact that the game can be played cooperatively with a friend into the mix and you'll have a game that gives most other indie games a run for their money. I highly recommend anyone interested in action-RPGs to purchase this game. You won't regret it.