I like monsters; let’s face it, most gamers do. Specifically killing them. So here I am with the third in a series of games based on the most famous fictional monster hunter ever; Van Helsing.
However, the name and profession are really where the similarities with the character originally from Bram Stoker’s Dracula end. Realistically this series, developed and published by Hungarian Indie Studio NeocoreGames, has more in common with the 2004 film starring Hugh Jackman, with a variety of dark steam-punk-fantasy themes flowing through it. Luckily, I was in the minority that loved that film.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing series is set in a twisted, 19th century eastern European setting, in a “gothic metropolis of weird science.” The titular Van Helsing, (son of the original Abraham Van Helsing), and his companion Katarina (A ghost?) continue their fight against demons, monsters and mad scientists in this sequel to the relatively well-received IAoVH2.
I’ll admit first off, I haven’t played the previous instalments of the franchise, and so at first the story feels very overwhelming and confusing. However, having played a few hours you can’t help but care about the city you’re tasked with saving. It’s grotty, dark and shitty, but it’s yours, though in the aftermath of Borgovia’s civil war there’s a distinct feeling of hopelessness. It’s also interesting to have control of the city’s resistance in those dark times, and I can imagine long-term fans of the series will find much enjoyment in how well the actual world is crafted.
Without spoiling too much, the wit and dry humour that the series is well-known for returns in force, with the interactions between Helsing and his Ghostly companion being consistently both funny and endearing. It’s also glad that NeocoreGames didn’t try to shoehorn a romantic arc in between the two, which was something I expected throughout, leaving Katarina as a strong female character in her own right, with plenty of personal agency.
In terms of gameplay, Van Helsing 3 is a standard Isometric Diablo-clone in the most traditional sense, and whilst I enjoyed the depth which Diablo 3 offered, I will admit that I struggled to really get into IAoVH3’s combat system. There are six new playable classes to choose from; The Protector, The Phlogistoneer, The Umbralist, The Elementalist, The Constructor and The Bounty Hunter, and whilst they offer plenty of well-needed variety, none of them really offered the feeling of satisfaction I was looking for from this kind of game. Whilst my main class, The Protector, was fun to lead around the beautifully designed game world, he just didn’t feel as powerful as he needed to at any point. The loot system; absolutely fundamental to the enjoyment of this kind of game, also felt rather lacklustre in comparison to other similar titles. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go out and find loot, as it often felt inconsequential.
As for quests, the majority are well written, with a variety of interesting characters and side-quests to encounter. However, I often felt frustrated at the actual implementation at them, as some were buggy and others just didn’t give enough clarity in terms of your objectives. Regardless, they all eventually come together to provide a good ending for the series.
Graphically, this game excels at using what it does have well. The aesthetic choices the team have made help immensely to sell the overall world, with overall awesome graphical design throughout, from the different classes to the monsters and environments. Unfortunately, whilst I know this comes from a relatively small studio, I find myself wishing that the textures had much higher resolutions and that the models were more detailed as to better reflect this.
Now, if the game ran as smooth as butter with very few bugs, the few graphical niggles I have would have been inconsequential. However, Van Helsing 3 not only ran rather badly on my Home-Build, with Windows 8.1/10, and with a GTX 770, but struggled to run at all, crashing many times during the time I spent playing it with a variety of graphical bugs to boot. I would expect these kind of issues from a big-budget, graphically intensive AAA game, but not from one on this level. It’s disappointing, but playable if you’re determined.
Now whilst I have moaned a lot in this review, I really want to like The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 3, but something just doesn’t feel right in playing it. The setting is great, the monsters are great, but it just doesn’t feel polished enough, and that’s its biggest problem. With more time in development it could have been one of my favourite dungeon crawlers; especially with the design of the tree people. But more than anything, it just makes me yearn to play more Diablo 3, or Torchlight, but with this steam-punk fantasy theme.
Therefore, whilst Van Helsing has some of the best aesthetic and world design work I’ve seen so far this year, I can’t recommend it unless you’re a die-hard fan of the series, or just really want to see some really imaginative steampunk settings.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.