NeoCore’s aRPG The Amazing Adventures of Van Helsing II has finally arrived on the PS4 and it’s an enjoyable adventure but lacks polish and becomes a tad repetitive. The FingerGuns review;
A little over 2 years since The Amazing Adventures of Van Helsing II released on PC, it has hacked and slashed its way to the PlayStation 4. Loosely based on the legendary characters from Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, the game is an action RPG that’s heavy on the “action”.
Van Helsing II is the first game in the series that I’ve played as the original seemed to pass me by entirely. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy on-boarding process and the events of the original game are explained in cutscenes and during a few early conversations with NPC’s. The entire game is relatively newcomer friendly and while you’d probably have a better time with this sequel had you played the first game, it’s not a necessity.
This neo-gothic game commences directly after the credits role on the original game. You play as the son of the famous Van Helsing from the Bram Stoker novel who is following in his father’s footsteps as a “Hunter”. After defeating the nefarious Professor Fulmigati in the previous game, Van Helsing is blasted into a tunnel system below. Here he meets a mysterious faceless creature that goes by the name Prisoner Seven. A victim of Fulmigati’s mad experiments, Prisoner Seven pledges to help Van Helsing deal with a new threat – General Harker – that has taken control of Fulmigati’s automaton army and wants the protagonist and his allies dead. Van Helsing must lead an army of rebels and misfits to defeat Harker before he tears the city of Borgova apart. However, all is not how it seems…
As you might expect from an aRPG, there’s a tonne of numbers, figures and facts to get your head around. Throughout the myriad of menus are traits, equipment, attributes and a whole lot more that can be a little overwhelming at first but offer an impressive amount of customisation to your character. There are 3 different starting types of Van Helsing which can be chosen – a classic wide brimmed hat, blades and guns type, a magic wielding Thaumaturge and a scientist with a steampunk-esque gun – that can be be tailored even further to your prefered playstyle.
The stats and figures are all there to back up Van Helsing II’s gameplay loop which is in essence the staple of every isometric aPRG – “Kill, loot, equip, kill, loot, equip”. Repeat ad infinitum. As long as you stay on top of this cycle, the game does a decent enough job of keeping the game challenging without letting you level ahead to become an all powerful bully character that can steamroll anything in his path. There are optional sections that are designed to be more difficult but even these are few and far between.
Thankfully, Van Helsing II has an impressive array of foes to fight which keep this play loop fresh – at least for the first two thirds of the game. Monstrous machines, Rat folk straight out of Vermintide and the deadly wildlife of the frozen mountains are among an extensive rogues gallery that face off against Van Helsing.
“It’s the plot and characters that save Van Helsing II from mediocrity. While it’s filled with cliches and meanders off course at times, the story line is light hearted and moves at a decent pace.”
It’s a shame than that the AI for pretty much every enemy type is so lacklustre. Enemies either rush at Van Helsing or standoff and fire ranged attacks and there’s no middle ground. The enemy beasts don’t have any tactical proficiencies and the only time you’ll ever really be in trouble is if accidentally trigger more than one roving band to attack you at once – Even then you only need to spam area attacks and keep an eye on your health. The AI’s flaws are best demonstrated during the escort missions. During some side-missions, you’ll be travelling with a character from one location to another through dangerous terrain – only, the enemies only ever attack Van Helsing. The person you’re escorting walks unabated while you’re knee deep in enemies. Why the hell did Van Helsing need to escort someone who wasn’t going to get attacked anyway?
It’s the plot and characters that save Van Helsing II from mediocrity. While it’s filled with cliches and meanders off course at times, the story line is light hearted and moves at a decent pace. There’s a tonne of pop culture references that add some much needed moments of humour – during one mission Van Helsing is sent to recover “Private Bryan” from behind enemy lines and there’s nods to Harry Potter, Silence of the Lambs and plenty more.
Then there’s your companion Lady Katarina who is undoubtedly the best thing about Van Helsing II. A ghost that’s anchored to the protagonist, Katarina accompanies him everywhere, assisting during battles and serves as the sarcastic voice of reason to the game’s plot. The back-and-forth quips between Katarina and Van Helsing cuts through the monotony when needed and adds a level of self awareness to the game. She’s witty, satirical and voice actress Michelle Sparks gives her a lot of attitude that stands out among a sea of barely passable voice work elsewhere.
Outside of the main story quests, there’s a lot of supplemental content and additional modes to sink your blades into. Van Helsing can send his army captains on timed missions similar to those found in the Assassin’s Creed games. Each of Van Helsing’s captains have specific traits, strengths and weaknesses and you must identify which of your troops is best suited to take on that individual task or risk losing members of your army. There’s also a tower defence mode where you can set up a bunch of traps along pre-defined enemy paths in order to keep them out of Van Helsing’s secret hideout. This is a simple and fun little distraction from the main game that offers a decent challenge in the latter instances. Lastly, there’s an unlockable companion towards the latter half of the game that can be sent out to hunt for loot for you.
On top of these, there’s also the scenarios and multiplayer modes. The scenarios are stand-alone missions that reuse locations from the main game but add new objectives as post-game content. Unfortunately, I was unable to play any of the multiplayer modes as there didn’t appear to be anyone online during my 4 days with this game – I’ll return to the game periodically over the next few weeks and if this changes, I’ll add further detail.
Visually, the journey from PC to PS4 was not a kind one on Van Helsing II. When stood still, the game looks very eye catching with a high level of detail across almost every aspect of the environments. When you’re fighting big groups or moving at speed however, the game chugs and stutters. This is most noticeable when there’s a lot of effects being used on screen such as in the fog covered mountain paths. This doesn’t ruin the experience but it’s certainly noticeable.
“There’s a plethora of shoddy little details that let down the obvious craftsmanship that NeoCore display elsewhere.”
It also lacks some of that final polish that you’d expect from a game this expansive. During cut scenes, the camera wobbles around as if it’s being held by someone who’s just polished off a bottle of whisky. There are subtitles that float around the speaker but because the camera is all over the place, they’re often partially off the screen. NPC’s can be seen just walking into things as if they’re supposed to be patrolling but got snagged on a piece of the environment. Some of the menu details are off-screen and there’s no option to resize the screen. There’s a plethora of shoddy little details that let down the obvious craftsmanship that NeoCore display elsewhere.
The Amazing Adventures of Van Helsing II on PS4 is almost amazing. It has action aplenty that only becomes repetitive shortly towards the end and has a plot that’s playful and brisk full of colourful characters and wit. It lacks the “spark” and ingenuity of some of its peers, has a few stuttering issues and lacks a little polish but it does a lot right. For series newcomers like myself, Van Helsing II does a grand job of getting players up to speed without too much painful exposition but this will probably feel like a slow start for returning players. Still, if you’re looking for a neo-gothic aRPG that’ll occupy 30 or so hours of your life, this could be it.
The Amazing Adventures of Van Helsing II is available now on PC, PS4 (review version) and Xbox One.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review copy by the publishers. For more information, please visit our review policy.