The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing – E3 Preview
by Mark R
Professor Van Helsing – the mere utterance of his name will, depending on whether you’re a movie-goer or a page-thumber, conjure images of a romanticised larger-than-life gadget-laden hero or a stuffy academic with a nose for the books and a head for discovery. While Abraham himself rarely makes an appearance outside of Bram Stoker’s literary classic, with writers instead opting for distant relatives, presumably to avoid any backlash from die-hard fans, the family name of Van Helsing has become synonymous with fighting the forces of evil and Neocore maintain this precedent with their latest title – The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing.
Playing as Professor Van Helsing’s son, you are called back to the mythical Eastern European land of Borgovia by your old adversaries – the vampires – who are being terrorised and systematically eradicated by an influx of evil mutants, werewolves and all sorts of fantastical monsters, all of which have been manufactured by science. As is the tradition in story-telling, the vampires are unable to deal with this scourge on their own and have therefore enlisted the help of the famous, and fearless, world-renowned monster hunter but, with age setting in, he sends his son in his place. With an AI follower on-tow, the sarcastic and overly-critical ghost of Lady Katarina, you must make your way through the dark gothic streets in an attempt to curtail the evil incursion enough to discover the source and, ultimately, destroy it to restore peace to the vampires.
Even with such an early build on display, the level of detail afforded to the environment and characters is, at the very least, breathtaking. The cobbled streets are lined with gnarled, lifeless trees, silhouetted against Victorian-era streetlights and gothic grotesques peppering the flagstoned pavements, setting the perfect scene for this gothic action RPG. The fluid movement of the characters, even down to their idle-state animations, is beautifully executed, with Van Helsing’s wide-brimmed hat and flowing cloak both shifting effortlessly in the breeze while hell-spawned beasts dart around with an element of feral grace. Dynamic lighting does a fantastic job of keeping the game bright and colourful while never straying away from the gothic-noir theme and the various set-pieces we saw only serve to enhance the mood.
In terms of gameplay, this is more than your typical hack-and-slash and offers a Diablo-esque style with both the point of view and the looting aspect. As you progress through the game, your character will pick up experience points which can be used once the next level is reached – ability points can be spent to enhance either body, luck, willpower, or dexterity while skill points are used to upgrade your range, melee and magic fighting abilities. As with all good role-playing titles, Van Helsing relies heavily on foresight when it comes to apportioning skill points as, even with a perfect playthrough, players will only be able to learn a third of all skills on offer and will therefore have to carefully consider where each point is spent depending on which direction they wish to take their character.
As each enemy is targeted, they are named on-screen along with a health bar at the top of the HUD and, rather than have you discover their weaknesses on your own (read: die repeatedly until realising that you’re wasting your efforts by smashing their armoured face in), their vulnerabilities are displayed so you know immediately which approach to take, and which weapons will be most effective. Even with their attack modes and weaknesses on display for all to see, the larger enemies such as the Batrachiantaur were still tough to take down and, at first, seemed to be a level boss… until another appeared, and another, much to Chris’ chagrin, and my own personal amusement. In this pre-alpha stage, the mechanics are all very mouse-heavy and adopt a click-to-move style but this works well when Van Helsing is being ambushed by several Batrachiantaurs at once, allowing you to attack them by switching between sword, pistol and magic with a single mouse-click on each enemy.
With a co-operative multiplayer mode available, allowing four players to team up in battle, the advancing hordes will undoubtedly be taken out much quicker than in the single player mode although, with the vast number of enemies we witnessed at various times, this co-op feature could (hopefully) end up being akin to a modern take on the old arcade classic, Gauntlet where enemies would be spawned quicker than Baldwin brothers. It’s not yet clear if each player will be playing as a variation of Van Helsing or if other characters will be introduced to bring an element of choice but, if what we’ve seen so far is anything to go by, there will be much defiant yelling at the screen to be had.
Even with such an early build, it’s clear that the team at Neocore have poured their passion into Van Helsing over the last year, and this first demo has ignited more than a few sparks of interest among our E3 team. Visually stunning, beautifully executed and with an incredible amount of character, appealing to those with a dark side but not putting off those who prefer a more colourful environment, and with a party-based tactical RPG for the co-op lovers out there, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing should have plenty of replay value.
As Neocore’s first self-published title since King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame, Van Helsing looks set to put them firmly on the map with a PC and XBLA release tentatively scheduled for Q4 of this year. With no publisher forcing their hand, however, it’s been made clear that the game will only be released when they are 100% happy with it, rather than when they’ve been told to release it. Score one for the indies! For more info, visit the official site listed above or the Neocore Games website.
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