The traditional action-RPG experience and what is sacred to it is, for the most part, set in stone. The isometric camera, stat increases on level up, new skills, tons of loot with each miniscule bonus making one item infinitely more worthwhile than another, all of that good stuff. Games like Diablo and Torchlight embody that experience, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing endeavors to join the diagonally-skewed club. You play as the great Van Helsing’s son, Van Helsing, in a world overflowing with the occult surrounded by the marriage of science and magic that could be considered fantasy steam punk.
As a bit of a disclaimer, developer Neocore Games is still rather early in the development process, so our hands-on is of pre-alpha gameplay. In fact, not only did we have to use a keyboard and mouse to play, they still haven’t decided on how to map the controls to the controller. This puts a shimmering asterisk on all of our experience with it seeing as the way a game controls is of grievous importance. That said, what we experienced hinted at something solid and enjoyable, albeit at the moment not particularly unique.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a loot and scoot. “Loot and scoot, you say?” Yes! Loot and scoot. You’ll play a single character who challenges a ridiculous amount of enemies with the guise of saving the world, or defeating some sort of prime evil, but really you just want to get stuff as quickly as possible. Shiny, pointy things with blades that burst into flame, or guns that fire poison bullets, or a hat that somehow makes your electric explosions particularly more electrifying. Van Helsing will scratch that itch to kill things which test your abilities in order to grow more and more powerful.
To facilitate the aforementioned looting and scooting, Van Helsing must have ways of gaining and demonstrating power. The tried-and-true is here with the multi-tiered loot system of rarer loot being more powerful, with the weaker “mob” enemies dropping crap and stronger enemies with special mechanics dropping gifts from on-high. Most of the actually interesting mechanics in this game are variants of traditional Action RPG formulas and while they don’t revolutionize the genre, they’re different enough to require some getting used to and provide a marginally different action RPG experience.
Van Helsing has both a mana and a rage gauge (that’s certainly fun to say) which he uses to cast spells and trigger weapon-based abilities. The spells are your dungeon-variety elemental spells, and while their effects are satisfying so far there’s nothing stunning about them. The weapon abilities modify your basic attacks with either your sword or gun, imbuing the attacks with magic or modifying a single-target shot into a spread. To supplement these abilities are catalysts, minor-to-significant boosts that are distributed throughout your repertoire as you see fit. For instance, if you’re about to fight a boss, you can put all of your catalyst power into a weapon ability that does tons of damage to a single target, then set your catalysts back to a variety of area-of-effect spells when you’re fighting large mobs of enemies.
Van Helsing killed all sorts of creatures of the occult, tons in fact depending on what fiction you read, but for whatever reason his mark is hardly left on this world as it’s rife with evil creatures. Perhaps he hyperbolized his stories a bit. Since his time, however, magic and science seem to have a stronger partnership going. We’re not sure how thoroughly this theme permeates the setting of the game, but the attendant at the demo told us it will be a strong thematic focus. Beyond the steam punk however the game’s environment is pretty drab occult: stone roads, iron fences, creepy trees and a thick, pervasive fog which probably smells like old leather.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is by no means near completion, clearly there’s much work to be done and the mechanics featured in our demo will likely grow as the game shapes up. Our demo with it was enjoyable and there’s a solid action-RPG foundation here. In fact, the foundation is so solid Neocore Games could stand to benefit from pushing the envelope a bit more considering how seen-before much of the actual presentation of the game is. As it is now, players will want to play this game, and they will play it until their looting compulsions have been satisfied and fun throughout, but for this game to go from want-to-play to need-to-play we’ll need to see more.