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The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Preview

NeocoreGames seem to have taken leaves out of many books with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. Just like Runic Games' Torchlight series and Blizzard's ever popular Diablo, Van Helsing is a dungeon crawler that, from what was experienced with the hands-on preview, unashamedly borrows from all corners of the genre.

The titular character isn't who you may think he is though; Abraham Van Helsing is a descendant of the notorious vampire slayer/monster hunter who is following in his relatives footsteps to become a ward against evil. The opening cinematic is rather short on specifics, but accompanied by Lady Catarina, a ghost who is bound to serve the Van Helsing family indefinitely, Abraham describes his history before proclaiming that he has begun a new adventure to rid the world of monsters.

It's always concerning when obvious, major issues with the fundamental mechanics of a game are so prevalent in preview code that they teeter on the edge of detrimental. But that concern grows tenfold when said titles are only weeks away from release.

What was played of Van Helsing wasn't bad, in fact, it easily exhibited signs of being a good if derivative version of other dungeon crawlers available, but there are certainly some rather clear causes for concern. Enemy AI seems rather lacklustre in its versatility and numerous times throughout the various areas that were explored, large swathes of enemies simply charged blindly towards me with no regard to tactics or competent thought processes. Numerous times I found myself rooted to the spot simply unable to move because of the sheer amount of enemies surrounding me.

Aggressive tactics are fine if you are able to subdue or keep enemies at a distance, but I quickly discovered that the enemies don't appear to have any form of roaming boundaries, which resulted in being chased literally across the entire map by a hoard of 30+ enemies. Whilst not game breaking, it would be welcome to see Neocore tone down the pack mentality of certain enemies and impose some stricter personal boundaries.

Graphical glitches are somewhat expected with a preview build, but at certain times (especially whilst using certain attacks), Van Helsing becomes almost unplayable due to textures failing to load properly and subsequently obscuring the screen entirely. There are also frequent cases of frame rate drops when action gets frantic. Changing the visual settings to minimum didn't seem to do much to remedy this either, but these issues are hopefully just the result of poor optimisation.

Aside from this, Van Helsing is showing signs of promise. On max settings, the game does look impressive and as good as any other game of its type already out there. The only qualm I have is the graphical style lacks the same sense of personality that Torchlight exhibits, looking rather generic.

Combat and character development lends itself almost entirely to the kill and loot mechanics of the previously mentioned titles. Abraham can find weapons, armour and gold from fallen enemies to increase his survivability, although Abraham's physical appearance doesn't seem to change depending on what is equipped which is slightly disappointing.

Levelling awards skill points for both increasing basic attributes like accuracy and hit points whilst also being redeemable for new abilities depending on play style. Most of these come in the form of elemental spells or weapon combos, with permanent buffs coming from perks which are unlocked by completing certain objectives. Combat itself feels satisfying enough, although initially a bit basic, gaining new abilities greatly opens up avenues for different tactics.

Van Helsing certainly isn't going to break any new ground upon its release, but it arguably doesn't need to. The dungeon crawler has historically been a consistently popular genre among gamers, and if Neocore can iron out some of the technical hang-ups that were experienced, then they'll have an entertaining if slightly unimaginative game when its release date rolls around.

JoeP | 4th May, 2013

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