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Chris Kavan's Video Game Reviews (462)

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Strange Brigade 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
Watch Dogs 2 4/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3/5
Metro 2033 3.5/5
South Park: The Fractur... 4/5
Sundered 3.5/5
Mass Effect: Andromeda 3.5/5
Life is Strange: Before... 4/5
God of War 4/5
Doom (2016) 3.5/5
Armada 3.5/5
Detroit: Become Human 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Horizon: Zero Dawn 4.5/5
Oxenfree 4/5
Murdered: Soul Suspect 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3/5
Celeste 4.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3/5
Just Cause 3 3.5/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5
The Incredible Adventur... 4/5

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The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing   PC (Steam) 

Final Cut is Incredibly Fun with Friends    4/5 stars

Diablo has been the go-to franchise for isometric hack n slash gameplay, but Blizzard has been dragging their feet and stretching out Diablo III for as long as possible. As such, there have been several different attempts to either compete or provide an alternative and Neocore Games threw their hat in the ring with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. Originally released in episodic parts (three to be exact), they eventually released a more polished version with all three combined in a Final Cut version - and is by far the best version to play.

Presentation: From 2013 to 2015, Van Helsing went through a few changes, but the final product in the Final Cut is certainly the version you want to play. The graphics look pretty good, with characters and enemies both having plenty of variety - Van Helsing can be played with a vareity of classes, and as you change armor/weapons, your look does change. Although your character portrait before you load the game is most impressive, the main game doesn't give you the ability to zoom in too much. The game also does a good job of changing up the settings, though most will be familiar (creepy forests, dank sewers, hamlets and such) to fans of the genre.

The sound is also adequate with the main characters (Van Helsing and his ghostly companion Katarina) providing the bulk of the major dialogue. Their relationship is one of mutual respect and aggravation in equal measure. Plus, Katarina is constantly trying to obtain various items throughout the game despite the fact, you know, she's a ghost. The rest of the voice acting goes from mediocre to excruciatingly bad - but luckily it's limited. The music is fine but nothing special. The ambiance is better, especially the creepy forest with random laughter and whispers - very effective.

The game does suffer from issues - more prominent if, for some reason, you play the episodic chapters rather than the Final Cut. We started with Episode One before one of our group was unable to even join the game again. And, for whatever reason, the difficulty was off the charts with an early encounter wiping us out multiple times from a just a usual pumped up enemy (not even close to a boss battle). Final Cut didn't have nearly as many issues, but there were still too many times a person got kicked and, if it happened to be the host, everyone had to start over. Luckily the game has a very good save system and I don't think we ever lost much progress, though it it took place during a crucial story point, some parts may have had to be re-played. The game also suffers from brutal loading times, so be prepared to wait a bit if playing with friends. I don't think we encountered any game-breaking bugs, it's just the networking that can be headache-inducing.

Story: Van Helsing, as the title suggest, follows the famous monster hunter (well, the son of the famous monster hunter) who carries on his father's legacy, along with a handful of other monster hunters. It essentially takes place in an alternative universe of Dracula, a kind of steampunk/medieval setting and Van Helsing, along with the aid of ghostly noblewoman Lady Katarina, return to their home of the (fictional) Borgovia to find things in shambles. Monsters are running amok, mad scientists create unnatural creatures and mechanical menaces in the city and a dark power seems to be behind it all. While Van Helsing does hunter monsters, not all monsters are, well, monstrous. You meet friendly vampires, werewolves and undead throughout your journey. The various episodes (as it was originally broken up) take you from the countryside, to the city (where General Harkar wages war) to a betrayal by a supposed ally that leads to a journey through The Ink - a kind of dark universe where things are particularly nightmarish. We played on the normal difficulty and had few issues with dying. The game throws out a few things to try - a tower defense portion that is mostly tedious, the ability to send out minions on quests and plenty of side quests. The game also tries a bit too hard to throw out irreverent humor - some of it is find, I mean references to Diablo, Lord of the Rings and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is at least in line with the genre, but it also makes reference to everything from Alien and Titanic to Half-Life - just kind of strange and unnecessary. While the story itself is pretty good, all these various asides actually detract and make me think of those terrible parody films that also try way too hard.

Gameplay: The hack 'n slash genre doesn't change much from game to game, through Van Helsing certainly throws in a lot of variety to the mix. First, classes - you have six to choose from. The original game only had three, with more classes being added until Episode 3 (and The Final Cut) give you access to them all. It is important to note that this means Episode 1 and 2 are incompatible with Final Cut - so don't play them unless you really like achievements - or want to idle Steam trading cards like I did. In any case, you have the base class of hunter/protector, the magic-based classes of elementalist and umbralist and the technology-focused constructor and phlogistoneer. Because every game needs a meat shield/beater, I chose the protector class. Surprisingly, my damage was nowhere near as high as other classes, through I could take a beating and keep on ticking as it were. Your ghostly companion also deals either melee or ranged damage alongside you. She can also pick up gold and items (though, be careful - as she is a little too good at picking up dropped loot) and even sell stuff back at town - though for some reason I didn't discover this until nearly the end game, which was a bummer at all those times my inventory filled up with absolute crap.

Once you have that down, the game follows a familiar patter. Kill, loot, upgrade, enhance - rinse and repeat. Van Helsing has a lot you can upgrade, however, with your standard attack/defense/health and a much more involved system of abilities, auras, perks - and more for Lady Katarina. At first these options are dizzying and it is easy to put points into useless or less useful things. Since you can only have three Auras, it becomes important to pick those most useful for your style of play - and abilities are much the same way. I found myself putting most points into ranged magic (ice, fire, earth) than up close and personal attacks myself - as they were much better at crowd control. Still, I didn't skimp on buffing up my basic attack - which is apparently dropped soon by most other classes, but I found worked just find provided I kept it upgraded as I went along. As Lady Katarina levels up, you can buff up her stats, have her further buff up your own stats or just invest in more varied forms of utilizing her attacks. Finally, perks, while far less common, provide a permanent advantage from bigger inventory to elemental attacks, health boosts and more. These can apply to Van Helsing or Katarina as well.

The loot system is also quite varied. You have a lot of slots (weapon, helmet, shield, armor, bracers, boots, belt, two rings, amulet and totem) while Katarina has her own weapon and armor along with two rings and an amulet slot. That is a lot - but the game is pretty generous with doling out the goods. Unlike something like Diablo where I felt I was replacing things every level or two, I actually stuck with a lot of equipment (especially rings, amulet and totem) for most of the game. There is also a way to enhance equipment - both by enchanting them with the gypsy character (costs money to put one on and more to replace it if you don't like it) and also by adding essences. Essences can only be added if you have essence capacity, some items come with a certain amount but you can add a bit on your own. Both options can make a powerful item even more so and the game let's you remove essences (without having the destroy the item, for once) and a blacksmith can even combine items to make up a (random) new item. I found this was the best way to replace equipment in the long run - though we didn't play enough to get into set items or legendary equipment.

While the game seems a bit too easy with four players, it also doesn't hold your hand and the upgrade system can be quite daunting when first encountered. In the long run, Van Helsing seems a bit on the casual side, though there is a hardcore mode for those who want to be tested.

Replayability: Great - with a variety of classes, lots of hidden content to find and plenty of challenges to conquer, Van Helsing provides you with plenty of opportunities to go back to the well if you enjoyed things the first time around.

Overall: For those who like Diablo-style hack n slash games, Van Helsing is certainly among the better offerings I have come across. It is fun, the loot system is good, the enemies varied and, aside from some networking issues, runs very well. It might try too hard at impressing you with its irreverent humor, but overall it's great alone or with friends - and, for those who want a challenge, it has all that hardcore stuff too.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Replayability: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5



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