This article is no longer being updated and may be out of date, or otherwise inaccurate due to the passage of time. For a current review, see The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an action role-playing game developed by Hungarian development studio Neocore Games. I like ARPGs, I like monsters, I like steam punk, magic and weird science and not surprisingly, I really enjoyed all these things rolled up into one game. The action may start a little slow, but whether you are looking for your next fix after Diablo, Torchlight and Path of Exile or would like to try the frantic clicking everyone always seem to be raving about, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has much to offer.
Reasons to play it
A Classic ARPG
I keep thinking of Van Helsing as a piece of a genre instead of a standalone game. It uses the action RPG formula so well that I see the form, and it is a beautiful form, above everything else. It has the talent tree, the interchangeable combat skills (applied through an interesting PowerUp system), the vendors, small village hubs, crafting, a ton of loot and throwaway guns and gear as upgrades arrive very quickly one after the other. It may not have the variety in character choice and classes that I would expect, but that will only matter to a small subsection of players. The player that figured Diablo was just beginning at the end of the first play through, will be much disappointed, but for those who thoroughly enjoy the genre without replaying the same content, this is a perfect fit. It has all the elements players can dream of and yet none of the cost, both in time and in-game currency.
Tower Defence as a hidden gem
The tower defence part is a lovely twist and deserves a mention on its own. It added tension, richness and a splash of strategy to a game that I was already enjoying. Waves of enemies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine and I really hope to see this part of the game expanded in future updates.
It may start a little slow with plenty of left clicking and nothing else to do other than stare at the user interface with puzzlement wondering how the combat actually works and whether I am doing it right. It can’t be just left clicking with the occasional right click, can it? The answer is yes and no. After many hours I was still only using three buttons in combat, but it was no longer random click-click-click-tap-clicking. It had meaning.
The longer I play The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, the more my admiration for its complex simplicity grows. It is just three buttons really, occasionally maybe five or six, but that is not the point. In fact, those few buttons makes it very accessible and so easy to remap to any device I want to use. The skill of combat occurs outside of combat. It is in the talent trees and out of combat set-up and tweaking. It is the decision whether to use Rage or not, whether to add mana regeneration as a skill or simply to rely on a mana potion and stack more damage – it is the type of decisions that make ARPGs fun to play. It is your brain that requires the lightning fast reactions not your fingertips and even then, you have time to plan so that even with a sluggish brain drunk on lack of sleep, it is still possible to discover and overcome the challenges Van Helsing set.
Room for Improvement
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has its share of small frustrations. It starts slow, has frequent long loading screens and odd small design decisions. Currency becomes irrelevant pretty quickly as everything is cheap, the level cap at 30 limits the skills that can be unlocked, the reputation skills are limited to ten and it is very frustrating to unlock new skills at the point where you can no longer spend any points on them (and there is no warning early in the game that I saw that cautioned me on spending points frugally)
Co-op isn’t working well
I was deeply disappointed when I set out on the co-op path. I had assumed that one of us would be Lady Katarina, but no, two Van Helsings and two AI Katarinas materialised. The lack of other playable characters and customizable features does not affect the single player much, but it shows in the co-op. I am perpetually confused which character is mine when there are two similar avatars on the screen and when they are nearly identical, it is at times impossible to tell.
There is a colour option to change the colour of the clothes, it didn’t work in co-op, leaving us with two twins. I think 4-player co-op with Van Helsing quadruplets has to be pure chaos. Also, the co-op did not work. NeoCore Games are working hard on fixing the issues, but at the moment, multiplayer is very much broken.I tried many times over many days and each time the experience was the same.
Create a room and wait. Half the time an error message pops up: “You can’t join this game because your character hasn’t reached this point in the story yet” even when both characters were new and just created. After hitting okay, a second message pops up: “Connection refused. The server may not be available or full.” If I made it into the game, the second player, usually the player who did not create the room, disconnected within minutes. Most often, before the first cut scene that is seconds into the game. The co-op is obviously not ready for public consumption.
The classic weaknesses of a classic ARPG
It tries to tell a story, it really does, but it doesn’t do it very well. There’s something about an evil scientist and although I did uncover a secret lair in the second act, the stereotypical characters, copious fetch and kill quests and predictable plot leaves much to be desired on the narrative front. However, it is not a genre known for great story telling and the steampunk style enemies, grotty landscapes and skillful clicking defines the game and that is after all what an ARPG is all about.
Photophobia (Light Sensitivity)
It is reasonably accessible if you have photophobia, a common symptom of migraine, autistic spectrum disorders, cataracts, colour blindness, dyslexia or traumatic brain injury. Although the lightning spells are bright, they are located on a small part of the screen and there was very little screen wide flicker, flash or other bright visual effects.
It is very accessible if you suffer from simulation sickness, motion sickness induced by video games. There are almost no triggers.
Low Vision and Visual Field Defects
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is moderately accessible if you have blurred vision, visual distortion, tunnel vision (peripheral field loss) or blind spots in your visual field. The menu system and user interface (UI) is well designed and uses large icons and standard or larger text size against a high contrast background. In-game elements are easy to see on default settings and interactive elements are shiny and labelled. Temporary information is displayed in the middle of the screen and hard to miss, but there is also the option to turn it off. The cursor is gold coloured and large, but I still managed to loose it in combat, which is difficult all abilities revolve around the cursor. My work around was to jiggle the mouse either until I could spot the cursor again or until the name and health bar of the enemy I was mousing over flashed up, at which point I knew I was hitting something.
The weapon indicator is a bit harder to notice. The highlighted weapon is the skill you have at the moment, but the highlighting is not very bright. I struggled at times to discern from the UI which weapon I had, but as there is only melee and ranged, it is rather easy to look at the character and see if they are holding a sword or a gun.
Colour Blindness (Colour Vision Deficiency)
It is very accessible if playing with a colour vision deficiency. All components of the UI is labelled on mouse-over, so even if you cannot tell the difference between the coloured health and mana pots, the left pot is health and the right is mana and once you have checked which is which, it should not present any issues. the only use of colour alone as an indicator is for the gear type, but as all gear have detailed stats on them, the type is not something that I paid much attention to.
- Floating Text Size adjustable with slider
- Highlight Items (Names of items on the ground are always shown)
- Adjust Map Opacity with a slider
- Display Enemy HP Bars
- Adjust brightness, contrast, gamma and saturation each with its own slider
- Set Resolution from drop down box options
- Quality level can be set with 6 settings of which one is a custom advanced setting
Subtitles & Closed captioning
All dialogue has subtitles integrated in the user interface and I had no difficulty playing without sound, however there are no subtitles for the opening cinematic.
Reliance on auditory cues
For those with tinnitus or a mild to moderate hearing impairment, audio is easy to follow with no excessive background noise during cut scenes or pivotal conversations. There are multiple sliders to adjust the different types of sound and I never felt as if I was missing anything or that I needed any sound or audio cues to play.
- Volume adjustable with six sliders
- Tick box for High Quality Audio
Quick reflexes and instant reaction time is not required and there are no quick time events (QTEs). Help is available to make it easier with multiple difficulty settings and combat structured around out of combat planning and not instant reflexes. Some timing is needed to make full use of all the combat abilities, but there is no timer to beat and plenty of options to help keep you alive if you are struggling with combat. Van Helsing and his companion can both be set to automatically use potions and both carry survival traits in their skill trees that make it easier to play.
Precision (Manual Dexterity)
A moderate level of precision is needed to complete the game. It is a point-and-click game and movement as well as all combat revolves around the cursor. The cursor targets are quite large, there is no need for head shots and enemies arrive in large densely packed groups making it easy to hit them even just by moving the cursor where they are. Anyone who lacks precise muscular control, often a result of partial paralysis, tremors, spasms or other involuntary movement should not have issues as long as they can control basic mouse movement.
It is a title that offers a 7-10 hour long campaign, but personally I have logged double that and I have not quite completed it. It can be played for any length of time, just portal back to town when it is time to take a break. For those with chronic fatigue or pain conditions who need frequent or unplanned breaks, the option to pause any time is very useful. The game saves automatically at checkpoints and I never lost any progress teleporting to town before quitting.
Complexity of Controls
The controls employed are ingeniously simple and easy to use with only a few single press buttons pressed repeatedly or held down one at a time. It can be played with a keyboard and mouse, a controller, a mouse only or with other USB device that has a cursor and a few buttons. It can easily be played with one hand. Point-and-click to move, there is no auto run key, but clicking on any part of the screen will have Van Helsing automatically run there, even if it is a round obstacles, which is very helpful.
- Auto pick-up Potions
- Windowed mode option available
- Fully-remappable keys
The language used is secondary school level and provided as both audio and text. Text is in an easy to read font and format, but on a timed display to match the spoken dialogue. Writing or typing is optional for chat.
There is no complex puzzles, combat sequences, mechanics or strategies to learn. There is a single currency and quite a large inventory (but with an option to auto-equip upgrades) a map to explore more than navigate, only a handful of quests at any one time and only a few active abilities. It is easy to play with what is on the screen and there is very little need to memorize anything in any great detail.
Calculations and Currency
The only mathematical requirement is that of the currency, but as Van Helsing is rich very quickly from all his adventuring, players can soon afford everything to their heart’s desire and there is no real skill involved in managing the budget. In-game support is also available with colour-based indicators (red is a downgrade, green/blue is an upgrade or + and – signs) for upgrades as well as the option to automatically equip upgrades. Someone with dyscalculia or anyone who struggles with mathematics should not have great difficulty as long as they have grasped the basic concept of money buys nice things.
Complexity and Support
The game menu, mechanics, plot and game controls are easy to master and with both a basic and advanced tutorial (both are optional and can be turned off), easy to learn. Action RPGs are complex things, but The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has managed to make it as accessible and easy to traverse without losing the feel and nature of the genre. It is an exemplary demonstration of accessibility weaved into a game without alienating more experienced players.
It is a single player campaign with scripted NPC interaction and optional multiplayer through up to four player co-op.
- Show Basic Tutorials
- Show Advanced tutorials
- Auto-equip upgrades
- Floating battle info
- Display or hide enemy hit point numbers
- Display or hide allied HP Bars
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a lovely action role-playing strategy game with all the trappings and trimmings the genre brings. It is ideal for newcomers and yet at the same time it feels like a trip down memory lane for those who haven’t played a great ARPG very recently.
It is also an accessible game with only a few obstacles tied to the nature of the game, but despite limiting some of the traditional choices, it remains a complicated game that does require some precision with the mouse cursor. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it and despite its flaws, particularly long loading screens around every corner, it is an absorbing adventure with all the clicking my heart could desire and a tower defense match to boot.
Product: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing | Developer: Neocore Games | Publisher: Neocore Games | Platform: PC, Xbox 360 (XBLA) | Genre: ARPG | Players: 1-4 co-op | Version: Europe | Release Date: 22 May 2013 | Content Rating: (Rating Pending) | Retail Price: £11.99