Every once in a while, review codes turn up at TSA for games that have been around for ages. It’s something that hasn’t been helped by the many releases in the series, with three games coming in staggered releases across PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. In fact, I assumed this was the trilogy encompassing Final Cut, which has been on Steam for over a year, but it soon became apparent that Neocore have decided to release the three games on console as Extended Editions in turn. Given the full trilogy Final Cut is sat in my Steam library I was surprised that a similar release was not forthcoming here
So The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Extended Edition (a name both to conjure with and to artificially pad out a review’s word count) is the first of the three and the sole entry on PS4 right now, as it lags behind the other platforms. It’s also out on Xbox One as of April, where the second game released in October of 2016, and the whole trilogy is already out on PC. Is this making much sense?
Van Helsing is a fairly traditional Diablo-style action RPG which translated into clicking things until they were dead and pressing keys to activate special powers and spell in its original PC form. What helped it to stand out from the crowd of Diablo clones was its Gothic atmosphere and knowingly self-referential writing. These aspects remain in its console form and ensure that the game feels like a well-made Penny Dreadful reskin of Diablo III.
All of the expected Gothic tropes are present, from werewolves (not swearwolves) and spiders to vampires with outrageous Lugosi-esque accents. Van Helsing also benefits from not taking itself too seriously, displaying a refreshing awareness of its own generic extremes. Not all of the pop culture references were effective, but equally they didn’t result in the game feeling like one of the terrible parodies popularised by Scary Movie et al.
You don’t actually play as the better known Van Helsing, but his son who is called into action by a cry for help from his father’s home town of Borgova, capital of the confusion inducing Borgovia. This game centres around your journey to Borgova and then your attempts to track down Professor Fulmigati, and is therefore a relatively self-contained story in the trilogy. That said, the plot soon becomes almost irrelevant as you move from area to area slaughtering hundreds of enemies along the way.
Whilst your character is the young Van Helsing by default, you can choose one of three skillsets or classes to focus on as you play. These are the weapon specialist Hunter (warrior), spell wielding Thaumaturge (mage), and technologically minded Arcane Mechanic (no direct equivalent). As is usual with action RPGs, loot for other classes will drop and taunt you with its inability to be used. Indeed, much of the loot is pretty useless and exists purely to be carted back to the stores and sold. This is a shame, as this genre lives and dies by its looting.
The bulk of the game involves taking out mobs of low-powered enemies, with the occasional stronger boss enemy thrown into the mix. There are also more unique boss fights to overcome, usually involving finding ways to attack huge creatures whilst fending off more mobs of cannon fodder. These larger bosses were generally enjoyable and the puzzley aspects provided a nice change of pace from the predictably repetitive combat.
That repetition isn’t necessarily a criticism – action RPGs are what they are – but as the game progresses it feels as if it is artificially increasing difficulty by way of attrition. Mobs become larger and hitpoints increase, but the tactics don’t really change. I found sniping to be most effective with the occasional melee flurry to clear the way, but the skills do allow for alternative approaches. Although the controller layout has been well designed I found myself longing for a mouse and keyboard as that setup just feels more intuitive for Diablo-likes, in my opinion.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the game, however, was the introduction of your companion, Lady Katerina. Assisting you from beyond the grave, this spectral aristocrat lends a suitably sophisticated air of Gothic style. She can also be levelled up, equipped with weapons (which I only discovered deep into the game) and assigned behaviour. Whether you want her to take on enemies whilst you hang back or focus on healing you, by and large she works well as a companion. One particularly nice touch is the inclusion of characters who you can talk to in order to re-spec and reassign your skills – a feature that encourages experimentation and fine-tuning ability selection.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Extended Edition is a good action RPG that is a welcome addition to the PS4, but is held back by some uninspiring loot, uneven difficulty and the decision to release the trilogy one game at a time. This version does include all of the enhancements from the Final Cut, but it’s difficult to recommend buying this alone when the full trilogy is so often discounted on PC. Given the likely future releases, I fully expect this to appear on PS+ fairly soon. So unless you have completely rinsed Diablo 3, and are bored of Alienation but desperate for more loot, I’d stake clear of this until the full trilogy is released.
Version tested: PS4