I reviewed the original Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing in December last year – as one of the first free ‘Games with Gold’ titles. As such, I explored every inch of that game and I found it to be slightly less than incredible. Six months later, I can vividly recall the (sometimes traumatic) experience. I had a few issues with the original game: poorly advised DLC choices, bad writing and the lack of certain explanations. Van Helsing II remedies some of its predecessor’s errors. But I’m still not convinced that ‘Incredible’ is the right word for the game’s titular adventures.
On first impressions – and really on overall impressions – Van Helsing II hasn’t added much to the original game’s formula. Controls, levelling and character progression haven’t changed at all. The tutorials are as vague as ever, though that wasn’t such an inconvenience this time round. The menus are still the same. And neither character design nor controls have changed. In fact, Van Helsing II literally picks up where the previous game left off. It’s less a sequel and more of a second part as almost everything in Van Helsing II existed in an identical state in its predecessor. If you weren’t following the story, you’d barely be able to tell that these were different games. This wouldn’t be an issue were it not for Van Helsing’s ostentatious faults.
See, by creating an almost identical sequel, Neocore have perpetuated the problems that blemished Van Helsing. Now though they are more obvious – more like pitfalls than blemishes. Again, the dialogue is juvenile – and this time through it’s littered with far too many pop-culture references and attempts at humour. Characters seem far too stereotypical – Katarina is perpetually mocking, Van Helsing is the note-for-note philanthropic hero, and even the initially interesting addition of Prisoner Seven quickly fades. Under it all there’s a fairly decent story to tell. The lore surrounding Borgovia is well established and suits the game’s gothic scene. It’s just a shame that the world is inhabited by such two-dimensional characters.
The poorly scripted character interactions were irksome in the previous game. But this time round it actually detracted from the experience; I’m not sure whether this was a result of prolonged exposure, dwindling patience or a combination of both. Occasionally, the sound effects and musical score would play over the dialogue – totally drowning it out. In most cases this would have been particularly frustrating but in Van Helsing II it was a relief. And I suppose that point does my arguing for me.
Another issue with the game is repetition: the ‘go here, kill that’ mission is tiresome anyway. And after an entire game’s worth of ‘go here, kill that’ missions, I had well and truly had enough. These missions are only made worse when the game’s idea of increasing difficulty is merely increasing the amount of enemies it throws at you. Again, these were both issues in the original game. And I haven’t gotten any more fond of fighting through uncountable hordes of enemies to get to the place where I inevitably have to kill more hordes of the same types of uncountable enemies that I’d killed on my way there. I understand this is a fault of the dungeon-crawler-action-RPG (yes that is a mouthful) genre as a whole, but it’s only a fault because no one has endeavoured to change it. It’s the makings of a good game to do something different and original. And Van Helsing II is just recycling ideas.
But I won’t sell Neocore completely short. From a gameplay side of things, they have made some decent additions to the Van Helsing formula. As I said, I studied the ins and out of the first game. And I did notice some endearing additions in this sequel. For starters, all three classes – Hunter, Thaumaturge and Arcane Mechanic – are included with the game. I stressed last time around that the inclusion of the latter two classes was imperative for the player to enjoy this game and I’m thoroughly impressed with Neocore for reviewing and changing their last strategy.
I’m also impressed by Neocore’s efforts to add depth to their maps. Many levels feature side quests that can affect the structure of boss battles. If you indulge certain optional quests there’s the chance that the hordes of enemies will be thinned. Or perhaps the boss will have certain weaknesses. While these choices don’t directly affect the story – in the ways the choices are expected to in modern RPGs – they do add incentive to gameplay. And where the predecessor’s side quests felt like occasionally burdensome and always unnecessary inclusions, Van Helsing II does an excellent job of integrating these optional missions into the main story.
The use of the ‘secret lair’ (a perfect example of the poor and unoriginal writing that I mentioned early) as a base of operations added a familiarity to the gameplay, and worked well with the whole idea of a ‘resistance movement’. And while we saw the tower-defence levels in Van Helsing I, their increased integration into gameplay was a nice surprise – even if it did feel like a sort-of minigame. But as I said before – and to be totally honest – there aren’t enough ‘new’ additions here. Van Helsing II is far and away the better instalment in Neocore’s series. And if you were interested in this type of ‘Diablo-clone’ I’d definitely point you in the direction of Van Helsing II. But there’s nothing in Neocore’s series that you haven’t seen before in this gaming genre. And there’s a list of problems with Van Helsing II that also existed in Van Helsing I.
In summary, my main problem with Van Helsing was that it didn’t bring anything new to the table. And I believe this criticism extends two-fold to the sequel, given that it is almost a carbon copy of a game that was, itself, a copy of other games. Sure, there’s a definite increase in verticality in the game world: side missions are much more plentiful and partaking in these missions is more rewarding. But while Van Helsing II does include some interesting features, it does very little to remedy the problems of the original game. So these improvements seem somewhat lost, given that they’re building upon a faulty formula.