Hands On: The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II

I’ve had my hands on a single mega-level from the forthcoming The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II, which is due to arrive on the 17th April. With promises to make big improvements over the first game, this level gives a taste of how they plan to implement the tactical angle of the first game’s finale into the general levels. It seems to be working.

There are an awful lot of Action RPGs around at the moment, and just now there appear to be two options for emphasis. Either we see elaborate leaderboard-based e-sports styled affairs, or games that concentrate on creating a co-op linear experience. Which makes Van Helsing, as clumsy as it might be, interesting for simply being something else.

The first game of monster hunting kept things fairly traditional, before revealing – perhaps a little too late in the game – that it had tricked me into playing a tower defence. It was rather cunning, really – rather than just crowbarring the ubiquitous genre in, it all slotted neatly and logically into place. As you played missions you gathered resources, which could be given to a trapmaker, and used to better defend the game’s central hub. It didn’t really even explain why you’d need to. At various points this built up to rather fun sequences in which you still got to ARPG click-fight, but within a maze of passages lined with traps, attacked from many fronts.

The single mission I’ve played of the forthcoming sequel takes this notion and makes it even more subtle, even less incongruous to the core genre. Here, the concept of creating defences on multiple fronts was entirely about dashing about a large city level, fighting mobs as I ran from general to general, making decisions and giving orders about how I’d like them to help in the larger effort. As the plot dictated, every so often a huge wave of enemies would come pouring toward my fronts, and how I’d encouraged the NPCs to handle it came into some sort of play.

Yet, as I was playing, it primarily felt like a traditional ARPG, with large gangs of enemies requiring me to make smart use of my array of abilities to stay alive. It felt, most importantly, coherent.

What I’m not sure of, just now, is if it actually made any real difference to how things played out. I’m not sure there was a circumstance where I could have lost, here. Although since the code came to an end before returning to the central base, there was no feedback as to my efforts.

Impressively, the game found my previous character from the first game – despite my having uninstalled it – without having to ask it to. So, goodness knows how, I was able to carry on with my level 30 Hunter. However, plunged into the middle of action, and having played other ARPGs since, I couldn’t remember what anything did. It took a while to remember what was for what, and how I’d set the character up. But it really did just carry over – even my ludicrous numbers of mana potions were there. And indeed the ghostly companion/pet, who was specced up just as I’d left her.

If the level I’ve played is indicative of the general tone of the next game, I think they may have really found their groove. As someone who mostly can’t stand tower defence, I’m really impressed with how it implemented ideas from it into the level, while never making it feel overt. Although despite this, and despite the size of the area, it did become a touch repetitive by the end of its hour and a half or so.

There’s a great variety of enemy types – this time a broad range of undeads, heavily augmented with mechanical parts – and they require different tactics to kill: that’s all splendid. But between these were consistently spawning (arriving in pods dropped from above) were banal identikit bads who became a chore. Also, because you were dashing about sorting out defences on various fronts, what was ultimately an extremely brown and grey environment had to be retrodden an awful lot of times. It would be nice to see some interesting variety as things carry on – more than just murky streets and dockyards.

The writing was as abysmal as the first game. Your spectral chum still interrupts with sarcastic remarks that never hit home, and the chatter from quest givers is over-long and overly-worthy. Then made infinity worse by horrible non-jokes, like being asked to “save Private Bryan”. See, because it rhymes with that film, so it’s a joke. Oh, and “arrow to the knee” jokes have been verboten for a good two years already – there is no excuse.

But the writing doesn’t matter much. What matters is the combat, and once I’d re-sorted my sock drawers and remembered where I kept the pens, it became plenty of fun once more. Balancing mana-based and general attacks, with potion guzzling and firing off specials, as well as remembering to use Ghostie’s abilities too, all adds up to pleasingly busy fighting. Combined with the need to think about the order in which you take on mobs, and working out how to get behind shielded enemies to quickly polish them off before the bigguns got to you… it does the job well.

From this single level taster, I’ll be very pleased if it sets the tactical tone for the rest of the game. It may well give what is ultimately a very dated-looking entry in a very crowded genre the unique attraction it needs.


  1. golem09 says:

    Sounds nice, might get it, and use it as an occasion to finally finish the first game.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      I must have started the first game 5 or 6 times just to get a better look at their world map. They’ve got a fantastic setting there, filled with potentially interesting locations.

  2. ran93r says:

    What the what? I didn’t even know they were doing one.
    Enjoyed the first one quite a lot, didn’t finish it but suppose I had better get on and do that.

  3. gruia says:

    Writing is bad? oh no. They promissed (
    why did I preorder

  4. BTAxis says:

    Impressively, the game found my previous character from the first game – despite my having uninstalled it – without having to ask it to.

    How is this impressive? Games have been in the habit of not deleting saved games upon uninstall for years now. It’s all stored in the user directory.

    • LevelHeaded says:

      You’re right! It’s offensively unimpressive!!

      • BlackeyeVuk says:

        Aye. Use Revo Uninstaller free version. And uninstall games from there. Just hit advance. It will mostly show you all the leftovers. And believe me, there are tons of it. Both in register and /mydocuments etc.

  5. Edgy Mirrors says:

    Inversely, I love tower defense games but despise ARPG’s, so I might be giving this one a shot.

  6. Uglycat says:

    I actually enjoyed the jokes from the first one :(

    • DatonKallandor says:

      Yeah Katarina and Van Helsing were both very genre aware, something that’s basically not done at all in ARPGs. The characters in those are all generically grimdark and earnest

  7. Lagwolf says:

    I enjoyed being harangued in the first one… reminded me of a few ex-gfs it has to be said. Looking forward to continuing my monster killing… ;)

  8. The Random One says:

    I might give it a shot just because it’s an ARPG that lets me move my character with the keyboard.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      There’s some neat evolutions of the control set too – like chargeable spells and spells you draw the AoE for with the mouse.

  9. tartif says:

    I loved the first game and played through it multiple times. I did not enjoy playing the beta level.

    I think the selection of the first publicly playable level was misguided. The level is huge, confusing and way too dark. The art is beautiful and detailed, with many more ambient animations than levels in the first game, but it’s so dark it’s hard to notice any of it. With so much happening and every place looking like any other, it’s hard to understand what’s going on, which makes it hard to care.

    Much of the previous game is played outdoors in full daylight. The night missions are lit beautifully and have striking visuals, like the path to Telsa’s house and the climb to the top of the Palace of Machines. Almost any level from the first game looks better than the beta level.

    The other problem is the writing. Unlike John I unreservedly love the dialogue in the first game. The writing is smart and the delivery perfect. Banter between the two main characters is frequent. It had me laughing more than in most games, and smiling the entire time. For me this is the best aspect of the game, way beyond the combat.

    I agree with everything John said about the writing this time. Dialogue is too long and lacks subtlety, jokes feel forced and always fall flat. Location-triggered banter feels non-existent, so the characters walk around in awkward silence most of the time.

    The best parts of the first game – beautiful locations and smart, flowing comedy – are missing from the beta level, making it feel generic and soul-less. I hope this is not representative of the full game.