Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing (Xbox One)

This review has been at least a couple of years in the making, if not more. Ever since the mention of "The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing" coming to the Xbox 360, it's canceled release on said console, and it's later releases on the PC platform that is Steam I have waited anxiously to be able to play, and review a console version of it. It looked amazing in the shared screenshots that I viewed, and even in the developer diary videos that I watched which were constantly being posted throughout the game's lifespan. I'm personally a fan of the old Van Helsing lore, and even the questionable movie of the same name that starred 'Hugh Jackman". When 'NeoCore Games' announced that they'd be bringing the monster hunter to life in their own unique way I was stoked (Enter "Bram Stoker" Pun Here). The developers' vision seemed clear, and the gameplay looked promising. Unfortunately this hype that I built up over the years, and the longing to play the game was eventually met with the realization that the game's execution was far from being perfected. It's actually even far from being fully functional, to be honest. I suppose when you build up excitement for so long only to be able to play a version of a game that is so obviously flawed in delivery it adds a sort of salty edge to the deeply cut disappointment that comes with experiencing it first hand. Thus I find myself having to point out the many wrongs that I found among the few rights.

For those of you who have yet to play "The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing" let me just say that it's not exactly all about the original Van Helsing character, or his original storybook adventures. This game which bares the infamous monster hunter's namesake actually tells the continuing story of the Van Helsing lineage via the son who happens to have the same name. Along for the ride is a captured spirit in the form of "Lady Katarina". Together Van Helsing, and Lady Katarina embark on a journey to Borgovia to find out what sort of monstrosities are being created, and who is behind said Frankensteinian horrors. The games new lore picks up at a point in it's timeline where monsters, and men have made a pact of peace. They live among one another without issue. Of course with the recent unexplained monster incidents in play though this pact is broken, and the unlikely Van Helsing duo are sent to investigate. This is where you pick up the role of Van Helsing, and his otherworldly companion.

As Van Helsing (Jr.) you will basically be using your dual wielding attacks (a sword & gun), and mana driven magic along with your ghostly companion's capabilities in order to kill off hordes of relentlessly attacking enemies while getting to the root of the plot's given predicament. All of which is governed by a meticulous RPG management system that seems to be directly inspired by 'Diablo', or games like 'Diablo'. The main difference being the added companion management that goes along with your NPC assistant, Lady Katarina. Fans of 'Diablo', or rather 'Diablo 3' will immediately recognize the item, and equipment rarity as well as the accompanying character equipment diagram. They will also recognize things such as the village storage container, the portal hubs, the rarity ranked minions of darkness, and the partially top-down view of the game. All of which falls flat on it's face for a handful of different reasons. Reasons which I'll explain a little later on. While everything in the game does have it's similarities to games like 'Diablo' it is still explained as it should be through tiny text pop-ups, and detailed in-menu descriptions. Switching through the complex structure of menus will become rather cumbersome at times though due to said complexity. You'll be dealing with so much character, and equipment customization options that you'll often times become lost in trying to add stat points, and upgrades to your gear, and spells. The added fact that you can only carry a very limited amount of items at a time makes looting for those rarer weapons, and gear all the more troublesome.

The point to all of it is as I said before. As the younger Van Helsing you'll be tasked with traveling to Borgovia, and the surrounding areas in order to complete villager tasks, and to solve the ultimate mystery behind the Frankensteined monsters' aggressive behavior. To help you battle off the unforgiving, and immediately overpowered monsters that roam the land is a pistol, and a sword which can be switched by simply pressing in "L3". Along with these melee, and ranged attack options comes upgradeable spells as well as a governing meter of health, and mana in a display that's nearly identical to that of "Diablo 3". Of course as you confront the quicker, and more deadly foes with your assisting Lady Katarina (who also has spells, stats, and gear to upgrade) you will find that your health depletes rather quickly. Death is a certainty, unfortunately, and should you meet your demise on your outings you'll have to pony up some dough (gold) to respawn at one of three checkpoints. The nearest costing you the most coinage, the second a wee bit less, and the last a free sympathy ride back into town.

Beyond the basics of RPG management, and story progression through accepted quests (most quests are optional) Van Helsing, and Lady Katarina will get to enjoy some interesting conversations with the local monsters, and men who each have their own side of the story to tell. At first it's not clear who is in the right, or the wrong, but you will eventually come to know the truth if you can stick with the game long enough to figure it out. As far as spoken dialogue goes it is more akin to "Divinity: Original Sin" than it is the previously mentioned "Diablo". The vocal casting is diverse, and even witty at times. You'll definitely experience humor in some form or fashion as Lady Katarina, and Van Helsing ramble on about the business at hand.

Sadly the few good points that are the story, the voice acting, and the graphic representation are all dumbed down greatly by the abusive monster, and men AI. That, and the fact that Van Helsing has no evasive maneuvers to escape the repeated mob style attacks from overpowered enemies makes the game progression a truly grueling, and unforgiving task. Getting back to those bad points I talked about a couple of paragraphs ago ... You'll find as I did, if you dare to brave this mismanaged adventure that the accompanying Diablo-esque features fail in being what they were apparently meant to be. The gear/equipment system which is tied to the menus falls short of fulfilling it's function due to the fact you can't pick up, and carry a lot of items at one given time. This, and the added fact that the items that are dropped from some enemies are often times not immediately equippable makes surviving for the long haul a near impossible feat. They are usually of a higher rank, and do you no good against the onslaught of enemies that you are constantly facing. Another huge issue I ran into was the ineffectiveness of the health potions, and the short lifespan of Lady Katarina who dies just about as quickly as Van Helsing. In fact Van Helsing himself seems like a weakling instead of the great hero he is supposed to be due to the unbalanced monster AI, and his weak weapons. Lastly the frame rate dropping under the intense barrage of enemy action is not only noticeable, but it also effects gameplay to a certain extent. Van Helsing is slow enough without the lag as it is, and to have said lag keeping you from effectively fighting off your enemies makes for some truly trying times.

Though this game is currently free for Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers it does not gain my seal of approval. If 'NeoCore Games' is somehow able to fix the AI, and enemy issues along with the other problems I've mentioned the game might be worth it. For now though I can't even suggest playing it for free as all it will bring is aggravation. I still can't for the life of me figure out why they would include a respawn fee, especially one that gets cheaper with each respawn. That definitely needs to go. The inventory capacity also needs to be increased significantly. Please fix this game!!!

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