The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, created by Neocore Games is an Isometric Action RPG with skill slot-based combat. The term “Diablo clone” obviously comes to mind when thinking of this game. The story revolves around Van Helsing and his ghost friend Katarina, as they follow the escaped “Prisoner Seven” (which took place in the last game). Luckily the story reinforces the events of the previous game, so there wasn’t really a moment where I was lost. However, that really didn’t do much to make me actually care.
The design of the game is, unfortunately, not unique at all. It’s a Diablo-clone, and apart from a few aspects, there’s very little change from that formula. It feels as though they didn’t quite understand what made Diablo a good game to start with. There’s loot collecting, but each new piece of armor or weapon never really brought much satisfaction. All the weapons you collect function exactly the same, even down to the animation and sound. I played as a Hunter; the ranged gunslinger-type character. There are two types of guns…pistols, and rifles. There’s nothing different about them, however. Pistols aren’t generally faster than rifles, nor do rifles do more damage. I suppose there could be some subtle difference, just not one I’ve noticed.
As in Diablo, there is a place to which you can return between missions. In Van Helsing, it’s your secret lair. Here there are various actions you can take. One is to send your secret army out on missions. You choose one of four Generals, each with a different ability to complete the job. Unfortunately, there really isn’t one General who is better for the job than any other. They each say they’ll complete the mission in a different way. But once the job is finished, you’ll get a generic completion message and collect some sort of reward. Actually, I was never really clear about the reward itself. Your General levels up, but that never seemed to matter.
Another mechanic worthy of mention is Resurrection. When you die, you can either “res” back at your home base, or for a fee, you can re-spawn within the current map level itself. This system doesn’t seem to punish players enough for dying. Perhaps a monetary deduction would add more incentive to stay alive! Along these lines, the only thing worth spending in-game currency on is enchanting your items. That worked out well enough; it just seemed like an odd limitation.
The design concept behind the game is fairly interesting (I love cheesy Gothic horror) and although this game could have done it so well, it didn’t. It failed to revel in its own cheesiness. I just felt awkward about the whole thing. The characters constantly drew attention to tired, boring “tropes” and made self-referential jokes. I feel like I would have enjoyed the setting a lot more had it just gone wholeheartedly for the cheese, instead of trying to look cool by calling itself out for being so cheesy. My advice: Embrace the setting of your game. Don’t try to set yourself aside from it with forced humor.
The game’s graphics are not that great. They feel slightly worse than Diablo III, which came out in 2012. The character models all look pretty choppy and without much detail, especially at the comfortable distance required to play the game. I honestly didn’t notice any change in the appearance of my character until halfway through the game. On top of that, there wasn’t any change to the ghost girl Katarina, even when you modify her equipment.
The challenging aspect of Van Helsing is weird. At some points, the game was insanely hard. I had to restart twenty times before getting past certain sections while having to use my entire array of skills and rage augments. On other levels which seemed difficult (like the last level and boss), I breezed through with no problem; I simply spammed my most basic attacks. The res cost for the last boss is free at lower difficulties, so you can just attack him until you die, and then re-res for free again. At higher difficulties, there is a res cost.
There really isn’t much replay in the story mode of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, unless you want to try it with each of the six character types. The one place I thought the replay value was going to be highest was in the multiplayer, and I was genuinely curious to try it out. However, there is a level cap of 27. I was right around there when I actually beat the story mode. So in order to play multiplayer you must beat the main story. And I’m sure for some, they won’t even make it to 27 by that point. Once I had my character to Level 27, I went back to try some multiplayer. There are several options. There is a multiplayer story mode, which isn’t level-restricted, and there is player vs. player (PvP).
For PvP, there are two variations. There is an “all-against-all” combat arena, and something called Touchdown, which is an objective-based mode focused on getting a ball into your opponent’s goal. I waited endlessly in the multiplayer queue, I eventually gave up. No one seems to be playing Van Helsing multiplayer. It’s a veritable ghost town. So I recommend getting together a group of friends who have all made it to level 27 in order to play it.
Going back to the mechanics, they are fairly simple if you’ve played Diablo. Click to move and main attack, right click and 1-6 do all your other attacks…fairly easy. The game does like to think it’s a lot more in-depth than it actually is. It has a character sheet with tons of numbers on it showing all your various stats, but really there are only four you should care about:
Body-ups (melee damage and health)
Dexterity-ups (ranged damage)
Willpower-ups (mana and magic attacks)
Luck-ups (gold find)
Everything else is superfluous. Like I’ve said already, there are a few things that change it from the Diablo formula. One slight difference is a rage meter that fills up with each kill you get. You can then hit one of three different buttons to augment a skill before casting it: Spend some rage, make an attack stronger…or spend some rage, add a status effect to the attack. At first, it was a little confusing, as I thought those augments stayed with the skill for a period of time. But once a skill is used you must hit the button again to reapply the augment. This would have been alright had the augments actually been interesting. But no, the most interesting they ever got was adding status effects, and of course, this didn’t do anything to change the look or animation of the skill being cast. There are also passive abilities you can add to each skill to make them better, but once again they aren’t interesting nor do they change the look of anything.
The audio of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III is hit-and-miss. Some of the music is pretty good, and the rest really doesn’t add much to the setting, though. It’s mostly just there to be there, rather than to enhance the mood. On the other hand, the voice acting ranges from mediocre to terrible. Van Helsing’s character has a pretty standard gruff guy voice…nothing noteworthy. The ghost Katarina has a terrible fake Russian accent that I eventually got somewhat used to. The side characters are where the voice acting really tanks. Most of them are failed attempts at any sort of accent, or they simply opt for standard American voices. For me, this makes the bad voice acting much more noticeable.
The game’s content is definitely acceptable for everyone; there’s really nothing offensive here. However, whether people should play it is another issue. The game, save a few scarce moments, really feels like much more of a drag than anything. The level design is mediocre and the waves of monsters all just feel the same. It’s a grind of a game, and there are times when the number of monsters on-screen is insane. If that’s your thing, more power to you!
Overall, Van Helsing is more or less forgettable. The interesting moments are drowned out by the frustrating elements. The story doesn’t tell us anything new, and the gameplay is everything we’ve seen before in the genre. As long as you don’t mind rehashing The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III is pretty good, here you go. If you want deviation, look elsewhere.
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