Neocore Games is best known for its King Arthur real-time strategy games. In them the developer blends Arthurian legend with a heavy dose of inspiration from The Creative Assembly's Total War franchise to make something that, while not quite new, is unique nonetheless. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing follows the studio's tradition, combining a distinctive videogame genre — this time an action RPG in the style of Blizzard's Diablo — with well worn elements of Western culture in an attempt at creating something new.
The game opens with the revelation that Abraham Van Helsing, the Dutch vampire hunter from Bram Stoker's Dracula, has a son, also named Abraham Van Helsing, who carries on the family business by tracking down and killing monsters. He is accompanied by Katerina, a ghost who is not only bound to him, but also serves as a battle companion and the funny woman to his straight man.
Neocore Games uses this simple launching point as a vehicle for a story that, while never very interesting, tosses the player into battle against creatively designed enemies in an adventure that spans a number of imaginative settings. The colourful world of Van Helsing — the forests, burghs and industrialized cities of a fictional central European nation called Borgovia — is the game's greatest strength. The creativity poured into the development of interesting monsters, non-player characters and locations pays off in spades, making each new environment a pleasure to explore and each new enemy type fun to encounter.
The inventive presentation does a lot to make up for the areas in which the game is far less inspired. Though Neocore have introduced a number of novel tweaks to a familiar formula, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing still takes far too many notes from Diablo. The game's user interface and mission design —take quests, click on monsters, manage loot, repeat — are all lifted directly from its better known competitor. Neocore Games seems to understand what does and doesn't work in this type of game and have managed to inject a bit of vitality into an overly familiar combat structure. But even welcome adjustments to the borrowed design (like customizable attack combos and companion behaviour) do little to help alleviate the fact that so much of Van Helsing's core gameplay is unoriginal.
Despite this fairly substantial issue the game actually manages to outdo Blizzard's series in a number of ways. Even without the incredible resources that were funnelled into the creation of the latest Diablo, Van Helsing not only looks, sounds and plays great, but also has a good deal more personality than the venerable action RPG franchise. The emphasis on humour, despite much of it falling flat, combines with the game's generally light-hearted plot and oddball aesthetic to make for an experience that is endearingly free of unnecessary gravitas. Neocore, in understanding that a game centred on monster hunting doesn't need to take itself too seriously, strikes a tone that makes the hours of combat and equipment sorting much more enjoyable than they may otherwise be.
This strong sense of personality is the main reason to care about The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. So much of the game's design can be experienced elsewhere, but the little touches that surround it make for something that feels much more original than it should. Those who are enticed by a game that plays in a familiar way, but possesses a strong personality all its own, may find a lot to love here.