the incredible adventures of van helsing III
Bloodsucker-bashing RPG lacks bite
Contrary to what 2004’s totally lousy Hugh Jackman film told you, everyone’s favorite old-timey vampire hunter isn’t a dashingly handsome Australian asskicker. In the gruesome, gothic world Neocore has created for its
Diablo- aping action-RPG sequel, Abraham Van Helsing can take many forms. A teleporting soldier; a wiry spellcaster; a shadowy stealth specialist; hell, even a mechanical man who has more in common with Optimus Prime than Nosferatu. Honest Abe certainly is a multi-talented monster murderer. It’s just a pity the core gameplay in The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing III doesn’t offer nearly the variety provided by its six distinct combat classes. Unlike the excellent Diablo III: Reaper Of Souls, Neocore’s tongue-in-cheek adventure never quite knows how to pace itself. First released on PC almost three years ago, Van the Man’s somewhat clumsy, relentlessly repetitive quest already feels like a fanged relic in need of a good staking.
From the get-go you’re immediately thrown into the deep, drowny end of Van Helsing’s world; a series of sidequests are laid out at your beastie-thrashing feet while you’re still fumbling around, trying to get used to the game’s cluttered controls. This sensation never really fades.
A Grimm reality
The realm of Borgovia has at least been constructed in imaginatively eclectic fashion—one moment you’ll battle hooded zealots in a creepy, mist-filled forest ripped straight out of the works of the Brothers Grimm, the next you’ll be finding demented clowns in the world’s least wholesome fun fair. The changing sights provide constantly evolving window dressing, but no amount of location changes can mask the fundamental sameyness that makes Van Helsing III’s combat a chore. For most of my time with the game, I play as the Umbralist class: a sneaky fighter who can briefly disappear, and one who’s altogether useless at close range. Because this stealthy sap quickly gets overwhelmed when creatures invade his personal space, you constantly have to stay on the move, peppering enemies with projectiles from range. The trouble is, the game throws such an overwhelming amount of enemies at you, all the running and gunning quickly becomes more exhausting than trying to swim across Lake Michigan in trunks made from granite.
The lowest ebb comes during a battle so prolonged, it makes the Civil War look like a blink-and-you’ll-missit playground scuffle. Now, trying to take out a portly circus master who
“Unless you’re starved for Diabloesque action, there’s little to recommend here”
can barely move should be a delicious slice of gothic gateau; and it would be if the swine wasn’t flanked by dozens upon dozens of cronies. Make no mistake: Van Helsing III chucks a lot of onscreen enemies at you.
How you’ll cope with such overwhelming odds partly comes down to which class you choose. After spending hours with the Umbralist, I wish I’d swapped over to the Protector or Phlogistoneer sooner. The former bulky knight is a hard target to hit, mostly because he can teleport like a chainmailcoated Corvo Attano. As for the latter metal man, his range of artillery strikes, rocket barrages, and an extra toasty flamethrower make those heaving crowds of critters considerably easier to deal with than the skulking shadow stalker. Stupid Umbralist. Still, even the better classes fail to paper over the samey cracks, and fights rarely force you to switch up your tactics.
As uninspired as its tiresome skirmishes quickly become, Van
Helsing does deserve credit for its writing. While the main plot—which sees the monster hunter seeking vengeance against his old ally, Prisoner 7—is functional at best, moment-to-moment scripting is strong. The game’s cheekily playful, sarcastic tone plays well, and Abe’s relationship with his sidekick Lady Katarina (a spectre who assists you in fights) is both breezily likeable and surprisingly tender at points. In short, the sharp script deserves better than the blunt fights that drag the rest of the game down.
Unless you’re absolutely starved for Diablo- esque action, there’s little to recommend in Van Helsing III. Of course, many of those reading this may have already downloaded the game—it was free to Xbox Live Gold subscribers throughout January. If that’s the case with you, it’s just about worth a few short hours of your time—the script and cutely drawn locations undoubtedly pull their weight. As a package, the game is also bolstered by four-player co-op and a skittish eight-player PvP battle arena. Still, no amount of padding or smart one-liners can truly save this tedious, vamp-slaying slog.
left The Phlogistoneer is hands (and steel shins) down the most fun class. far left Peter Cushing never had problems quite this big.
right This is what we look like when we see a clown, too. Admittedly it doesn’t happen very often.