When the first installment of the Action RPG Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing launched on PC a few years ago, I bought it, played it, enjoyed it…then never touched the two sequels.
I did pick up the “Final Cut” in a Steam sale, which combined all three games into one stupidly big mammoth game. But then I bounced off of it because I didn’t want to play through the content from the first game again to get to the stuff I hadn’t seen yet.
This past January, the third game in the franchise was a “free” Games with Gold game on the Xbox One. I love this genre, I had some time to kill, so I fired it up.
It’s pretty great! And surprisingly well-adapted to console in spite of its systemic complexities.
The gameplay has a weight and a strategy to it that makes it a little more involved than Diablo III or Titan Quest. That sounds like a slight to those other games, but I don’t mean it that way. Diablo is built around incredibly responsive gameplay, whereas Van Helsing has a little bit more weight and animation priority going on, like a Dark Souls game or something. This means you have to consider the statistics and the strategy of your actions a little more.
At first blush, this reads like the game just being a touch sluggish…but once I saw how much was going on behind the scenes, I was impressed. The UI is filled with information. There are skills to learn, each with numerous sub categories. There’s a base to manage, complete with NPCs you can send on different missions. There’s several different bars that build up during gameplay, and with different button combos you can add energy to different aspects of your attacks/abilities.
It skirts right up to the line of overwhelming, almost. The game even admits in an early tutorial message that things are very complicated…but also assures the player that it’s okay not to understand everything right away. And fortunately, this is true. The core gameplay is easy to pick up, once you have a good understanding of how relatively fragile the player character is compared to the average Diablo hero.
Van Helsing’s truest success is charm. It’s surprisingly funny and enjoyable at every turn, with plenty of good quips, and a light-hearted tone that will easily carry me through the whole game. I had a vague memory of this from playing the first game years ago, but I had forgotten just how good the writing was.
Katarina, the AI ghost companion you can fully upgrade who accompanies you on your journey, is constantly ready with a barb for Van Helsing, and their steady dialogue throughout the game helps the world to come alive in the way that only well-written games do.
Visually the game also impresses, in spite of clearly being a modestly-budgeted affair. The game has full support for Xbox One X, with three selectable resolutions that are actually called out by their specific screen dimensions (1080p, 1660p, and 4k).
Lighting, particle effects, and animations are all lovely, and characters remain easy to distinguish in spite of the chaos that sometimes erupts on screen. Enemy counts are high, with moments that rival good Dynasty Warriors skirmishes, and plenty of variety to bad guys even in just the hour or so I’ve played.
The music is great, and the sound mix is surpisingly open and dynamic. I wasn’t expecting the audio to be a highlight, but it’s been great to listen to with DTS Headphone: X 2.0.
A lot of passion, work, and talent went into the creation of IAOVH 3, and even though it doesn’t play as “precisely” as something like Diablo, it more than makes up for that with charm, writing, systemic complexity, and style. I’m glad I gave it a shot instead of letting it languish in the collection of free games I never get around to, and I’m looking forward to saying more about it in the near future.