Van Helsing is a strange character. I mean, it’s a weird name for one thing, but he’s also a character that has been adapted in so many ways. There’s been deadly serious versions, absurd parody versions, and Hugh Jackman-wielding-an-automatic-crossbow versions. There’s a lot of range there, but The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III mercifully glues its tongue to its cheek.
It makes this clear early on, where you encounter a vampire in a prison cell called “Daywalker” who, the game explains, was locked up for not paying his taxes, or when you help a nervous prison guard through his first time torturing someone – that someone being you, of course. The jokes, whilst a little hit and miss, do their best to keep you going through the story of the game, which is unfocused and messy at the best of times. Situations often feel contrived to pad out the game’s length, especially since locations are often never even mentioned until seconds before you’re sent there, often to find something you didn’t know you needed before that very moment.
Dialogue that isn’t trying to be funny is clichéd and almost entirely exposition, not to mention inconsistent. Van Helsing himself is all over the place; one moment he’s talking about how killing hundreds of monsters is no reason to lose all his humanity to justify helping someone, the next he’s shouting “No!” in someone’s face to make an over-the-top joke about RPG characters constantly taking side quests from random people. The voice acting is pretty good for the most part, usually best when you stumble onto a particularly odd side quest giver, but even that is missing occasionally on a few small side conversations.
Actually playing this action RPG is also a mixed bag. Aiming with a ranged attack is frustratingly inaccurate, sometimes targeting an enemy who is directly behind the one intended, which means Van Helsing walks closer to get into range and gets a taloned claw to the face for his trouble. Many enemies have auras, such as a poison cloud, which is fine, but the overlapping effects from multiple enemies can lead to near instant death, which makes dealing with them tedious when your character class primarily uses melee. It’s frustrating because there are satisfying mechanics in play, such as some attacks adding Shadow Marks to enemies, which can then increase damage from other attacks, or be left in place to cause passive damage.
The skills system is also pretty mixed. Most of the actual upgrades are small and incremental, making them impossible to get excited over because they make little tangible difference to gameplay. Then you have to do the same thing for your ghostly companion, Lady Katrina, whose skills provide similarly tiny upgrades that have a minimal effect whilst playing.
It’s not helped whatsoever by the UI, which seems to be doing its best to be another adversary you have to vanquish. It’s poorly laid out for console, so you’re dealing with multiple tabs when you level up, when really they should be combined into one, resulting in lots of needless fiddling. Add to this the fact that you level up very quickly and I actually found myself getting annoyed when it came time to choose my skill and attribute upgrades, which is the polar opposite of what you want from the genre.
Another core pillar of modern action RPGs is the loot, and this is apathy incarnate. It’s rare to find an upgrade, and even when you do, it’s almost always another tiny improvement. Despite this, side quests will have you gallivanting about a map you’ve already cleared on the promise of something interesting, like a cool looking ghost who’ll help out in an upcoming fight only for it to betray you, only for that reward to be some gold. Cool.
You can use that gold to upgrade or purchase equipment at your underground base, where you can also send a pet out to find loot, forge weapons and armour, enchant them, and more. There’s quite a few things to do here, but they feel a little half-baked, like the ideas weren’t given enough time to be fully fleshed out, or be given half-decent interfaces. Thankfully, they are not required to progress so you can ignore them.
Occasionally, you may be called back to base for a side mission to rescue a kidnapped ally, or even for an Orcs Must Die-style tower defence game. This has you placing a limited selection of towers and traps to help defend against waves of enemies and it actually works reasonably well, but still not nearly as well as the games that inspired it.
Outside of all this, the game looks pretty good. Character models are solid, spells looks nice and glowy, and texture work is sharp, with only a little blurriness spotted rarely in the distance. One area that is lacking is animations, as even Van Helsing’s attacks look stiff and weak. The in-game cutscenes are a little poor as well, consisting entirely of character models standing still with a talking animation while the camera zooms in very slightly and waves around them like the cameraman is a bit tipsy. More impressive are some of the aesthetic choices taken in the design of the world, featuring some excellent environments such as the Spectral Provinces, which is an area made of floating islands that are connected by magic bridges under which huge rocks float around in the background.
Unfortunately, there are some bugs and technical issues as well. When the action picks up, particularly with spells, the frame rate will drop noticeably, though thankfully not quite enough to affect gameplay. Also, there are enemies who seemingly ignore my character’s cloaking ability, despite no indication that they are supposed to be able to do that, and when I use an ability that summons two minions, they spend a good 15 seconds just standing there not even attacking anything.