The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing really wants to be as good as Diablo III. All the pieces are there too. An action RPG loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel in which you collect hundreds of pieces of steam punk loot to take out armies of monsters sounds like a must-buy on paper. I really want to like this game for the concept alone. But unfortunately, The Adventures of Van Helsing suffers from so many design flaws and technical problems that it’s virtually impossible to recommend.
Unless you want to spend extra money on DLC, you’re stuck with only one class at the start of the game, the default Van Helsing. That’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Most games only feature one playable character, but it’s highly unusual for an action RPG which usually features a choice between three or four classes. And in this case it’s a bad sign about what to expect from the rest of the game.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing tries to separate itself from other games in the genre by letting you switch between either melee combat or gunplay on the fly. The X and B buttons control your attacks, and these work well enough. Clicking the right stick switches from swords to guns, but almost every time I did this, the game froze for at least a second. That’s an unacceptable performance problem.
Action RPGs are among the most addictive games out there, but Van Helsing’s combat is more frustrating than fun. You’ll often be swarmed by a dozen enemies (or more). In a game like Diablo, this is usually when it’s at its most fun as you tear your foes apart with a high-level weapon and a couple spells. But in Van Helsing, weapons and spells feel woefully underpowered, and too many foes act like bullet sponges. You will die so many times that eventually you reach the point that it’s just not even fun to keep playing. And it’s not like death is a key part of the gameplay as it is in games like N+ and Super Meat Boy. This is just a badly designed game.
You do have a ghost companion who supposedly helps you in battle, but I found her to be completely useless. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing feels like it was made by people who watched a lot of Diablo III in action, but never actually played it themselves to see what made it good.
As to be expected in a game like this, there is a lot of loot to collect, and I found myself regularly upgrading my character with new equipment, yet he still never actually felt more powerful. Your inventory is also much smaller than in other action RPGs. You’ll likely be dropping equipment long before you’ll make it back to town to sell it, and there’s no fast travel portal option like in Torchligh and Diablo III.
Inventory suffers from one other problem too: User interface. Even after several hours of playing, I was having trouble understanding how to access and upgrade my abilities and equipment, which is something I’ve rarely experienced in more than two decades of console gaming. Everything about the game feels like the developers just didn’t quite have the money or talent to pull off their good ideas.
Ultimately, it’s just not a very enjoyable experience, and if you’re thinking about dropping $20 on The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, you’d be much better of putting that money toward Diablo III instead.
Van Helsing gets points for the gothic setting, which is a nice change of pace from the fantasy worlds of most action RPGs. But beyond that, the monsters aren’t terribly inspired. Werewolves are just big brown wolf creatures that anyone could have come up with. Harpies and demons look like how everyone envisions them. Compare Van Helsing to Bloodborne on PS4, which shares similar inspirations, and it’s clear that NeocoreGames just didn’t have the talent or the ability to accomplish what it was trying for with Van Helsing.
To top it off, the environments barely push the Xbox One’s graphical power compared to what we’ve seen in other games, yet there’s still slowdown during battle, and lengthy loading when moving between areas. This looks and feels like an Xbox 360 game in every way. Considering that it was only released on the Xbox One, there’s no excuse for that.
The voice actor for Van Helsing does a good job, but everyone else sounds like the understudies for a community theater production. Most of their performances are laughably bad. Music is made up of string and piano melodies that often seem like they’re trying to mimic Diablo III, but just aren’t as good as what you’ll hear in that game. At least none of it is distractingly bad though. But some times you enter areas where there’s just no music, which is disappointing given how any sort of gothic music would fit the game well. But again this shows how badly NeocoreGames bungled the job. Weapons and spells sound OK, but lack the “oomph” that makes combat feel solid in similar games. You might as well be swinging your sword at air as slashing into a demon.
If by some chance you do like what’s here, you’ll be able to spend dozens of hours gaining levels, unlocking new abilities, and picking up more loot for your character. There are even two other classes for you to try out besides the basic Van Helsing character, but they’ll each cost you $3.99, which seems ridiculous when having multiple classes to in the main game has long been a staple of the genre.
Realistically, you probably got this game when it was free as part of Games with Gold in December, so you’ll play it for a couple of hours because of the interesting premise, get turned off by the atrocious combat, and then delete it from your hard drive forever because it’s so offensively bad. I certainly don’t plan on going back to it now.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg