Abraham Van Helsing was first introduced to the world in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. He's a Dutch vampire hunter with a vast array of skills and a practically never-ending sequence of letters after his name that highlight his various qualifications. While not a huge hit at the time, Dracula became more successful after Stoker's death, and Van Helsing was such a popular character that there have been tales told about him in the subsequent years in further literary works, as well as graphic novels, movies, and of course, video games.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Extended Edition is the latest video game to use the famous monster-killer's name, only this time around we're not playing as the Van Helsing we all know and love, but rather his son who is taking over the family business. It can be hard to live up to the reputation of a famous father, and if this game is anything to go by, perhaps old Abe should come out of retirement for one last job - his son just isn't up to the task.
The game begins with Van Helsing Jr. and his ghost friend Katerina travelling to a place called Borgova on the hunt for a crazy old scientist. It plays like a more light-hearted version of Diablo; the dark lore thick with hell and demons has been replaced with pulpy monster hunting and some fairly lame jokes. But where the appeal of Diablo lies in slick, well balanced combat and a thoroughly rewarding loot system, Van Helsing flounders in these regards, and the haphazard, threadbare narrative will likely fail to give you the urge to continue playing beyond the tedious opening levels.
Combat in Van Helsing is largely bereft of merit. The enemies all behave in pretty much the same way, and the battling rarely gets more exciting than filling in a spreadsheet. Something is running towards you so you shoot it, and if it gets too close then you slash it. Rinse and repeat. After a while you don't even need to think about it -fighting becomes routine. At the beginning of the game it's a boring but mostly inoffensive hack and slash affair, as you deal with mobs of enemies using your swords, guns, or magic, in exactly the same way, over and over again - but then the experience takes a sinister turn when the title starts throwing unfairly overpowered baddies at you with reckless abandon, and the mobs grow in size and frequency.
There's nothing wrong with a challenge, and that's certainly preferable to monotony, but the game doesn't feel well balanced at all. As the number of enemies increases, and their health bars become obnoxious, it can all become a bit exasperating, especially since the combat, fundamentally, never really changes. There are attempts to mix things up later in the game with some tower defence sections that feel bizarrely out of place, but they're little more than quickly passing diversions before getting back to the grind.
It's disappointing that the presentation of the game is so uninspired, given the rich heritage of the Van Helsing character. The Eastern European setting and catalogue of monsters that the hunter of the supernatural goes up against should be a feast for the eyes, but even if you ignore the questionable textures on display here, the design of the levels you'll traverse and the creatures you'll fight remain unimpressive. Voice acting is similarly charmless, and, as mentioned, many of the gags fall flat.
We ran into a couple of bugs while playing the game that you should probably be aware of if you're planning on picking this up. Katerina just straight-up froze a few times, which isn't a massive problem in the fairly forgiving early levels of the game, but later on it could mean a game over. We also had one full on crash, and experienced some prolonged load times.
There's a kernel of an idea buried within The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing that has potential. The son of a legendary vampire killer continuing where his father left off is at the very least a vaguely compelling starting point, and the action RPG genre could certainly benefit from some more humorous titles to serve as palette cleansers between all the hell and death and misery. Van Helsing's lighthearted tone certainly helps it to stand out from most games in the genre, but neither the battle system or the narrative are interesting enough to make it worth persevering with the other.