The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
Hands-On Preview
"Stat hounds, obsessive compulsive looters, and gritty gamers should all find something worth tackling here."

With Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile ever-at-odds and their fans just as vicious as the games themselves, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing strides daringly onto the scene with a few tricks up its sleeve. For those who've read Dave Yeager's excellent preview from last year's E3, everything has remained the same, but with some brow-raising additions as Neocore Games' rustic hero nears his debut.

Though I am no aficionado of the mythos, the charming, Indiana Jones-esque opening instantly drew me in with excusable exposition. Van Helsing has hung up his hat, but his son is primed and ready to pick up where pops left off. He's not alone, however; Katarina, a ghost who Van Helsing Sr. rescued from Borgova joins to offer support, having sworn fealty. What follows is what one might expect from a savage landscape peppered with villages: denizens living in strife, somehow surviving among werewolves and sentient monsters. Of course, when Van Helsing arrives, everyone has a task or two in waiting.

Some of the tasks offer interesting choices that may impact Van Helsing's relationship with his companion and those he encounters, but I can't say for sure at this point. Though the game follows the typical formula of exploration fueled by fetch and murder quests, the gameplay has maintained my interest thus far. As Yeager noted in his preview, rage supplements ability usage, giving skills perks to further enhance them. At first glance, the options for customization seem wanting, but when one considers that each ability can be amplified by three different combinations of abilities, the strategy becomes evident.

Equipped with sword and musket, players can explore either tactic without being locked into a class. This may help or hinder replay value depending on the balance between these strategies and complexity of enemy AI. As of yet, the enemies are ruthless, but Katarina can function as a valuable asset — or a meat shield. Though her AI enjoys various customization options, including the types of loot she picks up and fighting style, I never noticed her do anything extraordinary during the heat of battle. Like Van Helsing, she hosts static abilities, but she functions more as a miniature version of her master. With a full playthrough, our two heroes may entrance and entice.

Every stalwart hero needs suitable regalia to match their talent, and this Diablo-style action RPG suits up nicely. Socketable items are a staple of this sub-genre, but The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing deviates from this slightly in that items contain a capacity for essence. After some exploration, players stumble upon essence items and items woefully without. When the town alchemist is unlocked, players can dabble in different types of customization involving essence, but what this eventually boils down to is varying values attached to certain stat upgrades for weapons and armor, each with its own essence capacity, though this may become more complex in time.

Stat hounds, obsessive compulsive looters, and gritty gamers should all find something worth tackling here. With a strong foot out the door, Van Helsing's adventures are sure to challenge the grandest myths and legends of our time. Though I've only experience a few hours of gameplay, I thirst for the hack-n-slashery that Neocore Games has carved up.

E3 2012: Hands-on
"Some fun new mechanics and a real sense of humor... could make this one worth checking out."

Neocore Games has their work cut out for them, entering a very crowded Action RPG market with their upcoming title The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. We got a look at a playable pre-alpha build of the game at E3, and while many of the gameplay mechanics felt very familiar, there are a couple of elements in this one that may make it worth a look later this year.

The story of the game follows the son of the far more famous Van Helsing. The younger Van Helsing is attempting to establish his own legacy as a monster hunter, and his timing is just right, as new terrors are emerging in the night. The game has a very steampunk feel to it, with the monsters who all have strange things grafted onto them and look like the result of science experiments gone horribly awry. Van Helsing himself wears the classic wide-brimmed hat and wields both a sword and a gun in the demo.

The tone looks to be wry and light hearted as well. Van Helsing is accompanied by a ghost named Lady Katerina who is apparently quite critical of the young monster hunter and his flair for the dramatic – he is always willing to strike a pose before slaying his foes.

From a gameplay mechanics perspective, much of this seems quite familiar. You have health and mana, you can map attacks to the left and right mouse button, and you do a lot of killing monsters and taking the stuff the falls out of them. There are a couple of newer things that do look like they have promise, however. There are three skill trees in the game, but each skill appears to power 3 related abilities. Those 3 related abilities are powered by a third consumable resource called Rage, which functions like Health and Mana but is filled up by hitting enemies. Rage fills quickly and can be spent on one of the 3 abilities tied to a skill or attack. For example, we were able to use Rage in the demo to add Crushing Blow to our standard melee attack – this made our very next attack deal more damage than normal. You can mix and match rage to create more powerful attack combos as well. Since this was an early build, there were only a couple of skills we actually got to see, but the concept shows a lot of promise.

Another differentiating feature for Van Helsing involved some of the enemy immunities. The immunities the enemy possessed were not just element based (fire resistant, lightning resistant, etc.), but were also location based. Some of the foes we encountered had "front immunity," for example, making it necessary to maneuver behind them to do damage.

Even though The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing seems unlikely to make huge strides forward in the Action RPG space, some fun new mechanics and a real sense of humor in the setting and dialogue could make this one worth checking out as 2012 progresses, especially if they give it an attractive price point. Neocore Games is looking to release this title on the PC and XBLA in Q4 of this year.

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