Van Helsing Review

Evil has one name to fear.  Van Helsing.

This game has one person to fear.  The reviewer.

Another action movie, another game based on the move.  Van Helsing is another one of those games based on the movie of the same name.  You play, as you might expect, Van Helsing.  As the game opens, you discover that Van Helsing is a monster hunter.  Starting out with his grappling hook, pistols, and tojo blades, he sets out on his mission to kill Dracula.

Van Helsing is set at turn of the 19th century, with stone buildings and wood tables and chairs.  A dank mist fills the air.  The cold of winter penetrates through the clothes and buildings.  The graphics of Van Helsing do much to convey this setting.

Van Helsing is set up similarly to Devil May Cry, where several static cameras are used to display where Van Helsing is for dramatic effect.  The backgrounds are actually done in 3D, instead of using prerendered drawings.  The backgrounds are done well, but there isn’t much color to them.  While there is some variety, most of the game Van Helsing will travel through small towns and forests.  While these areas have some differences, most of the graphics feel recycled throughout the game.

The background graphics wouldn’t be so bad if the character models were done better.  Unfortunately, the character models are incredibly blocky to the point that they were distracting when the camera would get close up to the character.  Even a bit more shading on the character models would have improved the graphics.

However, the lighting effects are done well.  Lighting has its own sparkle, while skulls will glow.  Glyphs all glow well against the background, making them very visible.

The game does support 480p, but it’s not enough to save the graphics.

Brooding is the word best used to describe the music in Van Helsing.  While exploring the areas, an ominous tone is set by the music.  When battles occur, the tempo picks up, just like your heartbeat.  A fuller sound is brought out to reflect the intensity of battles.

The weapons have their own unique sound.  The pistols have their high pitch, while the shotgun has its low boom.  The gas-powered crossbow has its own pluck from the strings.  The lightning gun sounds like it shoots powerful electricity balls that explode with a crackle.  When the tojo blades or scimitars hit an enemy or object, the sound corresponds to what the weapon hits.  When hitting stone creatures, the weapons clank, while other monsters make a squishing sound.

The actors of the movie have lent their voices to the game, and they do a pretty good job with it.  The actors speak with passion and excitement.  While it may not win any awards, the voice acting is much more convincing than most of the games out there.

Van Helsing’s control scheme becomes fairly intuitive after a few minutes.  The left control stick moves Van Helsing.  The X button fires the primary weapon, the projectile weapon.  The Y button uses the secondary melee weapon.  The A button jumps or dodges, while the B button fires the grappling hook or checks objects and gives information about them while not in battle.  The black button enables Van Helsing to complete a finishing move on lesser enemies and take out a large chunk of health of bosses.  The left trigger makes your weapons more powerful after the weapons have been upgraded, and the right trigger locks on to an enemy.  The d-pad selects weapons.  The Start button pauses the game and brings up the start menu.

Moving Van Helsing was rather easy during the game.  However, there were times when the camera would switch while moving Van Helsing and the controller would get confused as how to exactly move Van Helsing.  Most of the time I felt that the auto-aim system was good, but sometimes the combo system would make Van Helsing vulnerable to attack.  A few times the jumps didn’t feel quite as responsive as they should have been.  However, these are minor quibbles for the game.

Van Helsing travels through the levels, moving through towns, vanquishing enemies and searching for glyphs and other power ups.  Slashing his way through enemies and jumping high into the air to dispatch foes, Van Helsing encounters many enemies until he reaches bosses including Dracula and the Wolfman.

While the levels do have a few side areas which reward exploration, the levels are mostly linear.  Some areas will be blocked off and can’t be accessed until a certain weapon or upgrade is used.  Some of these blocked off areas will reveal glyphs and power ups, while others will need to be accessed to continue the adventure.

Short in-game movies help to advance the plot.  Other characters and the purpose of Van Helsing’s quest are revealed during these sequences.  While they occur often, they are short enough that they aren’t annoying.

While moving through the levels, no specific areas exist to save the game.  However, the game saves automatically at almost every level change.  While Van Helsing may die during a level, the game restores at a place close to the area where this occurred.  It’s nice to see a game where little backtracking is needed to complete the game.

During the course of the game Van Helsing encounters more powerful foes.  To help Van Helsing against his foes, he gains more weapons and upgrades.  These weapons can be used to dispatch foes in a number of ways.  Van Helsing can pull an enemy to him with his grappling hook, lift him high into the air with his tojo blades and scimitars, and then finish the enemy off in the air with his pistols.  He can also jump high into the air and slash at enemies with his melee weapons or fire at them with his projectile weapons.  Throughout the game, Van Helsing finds more weapons and weapon upgrades for his arsenal.  After a weapon has been upgraded, Van Helsing can use the ammo bar to increase the power of the weapon.  The Ammo bar gets used up with every upgraded shot, but it replenishes with each hit of an enemy when not using the upgraded weapon mode.

After enemies are destroyed, they will leave Power and Life Glyphs.  Power Glyphs are collected throughout the level and can be used to purchase items in the Armory after each level.  Life Glyphs restore part of Van Helsing’s life bar. 

Other Glyphs are found throughout the level or can be purchased in the Armory.  Life Increaser Glyphs are used to increase the size of the life bar.  Life Replenisher Glyphs can be used from the inventory to restore the life bar in the heat of battle.  Ammo Increaser Glyphs and Ammo Replenisher Glyphs do the same for the ammo bar.  A Speed Boost Glyph will give Van Helsing a temporary speed boost.  Easter Eggs hidden throughout the level can be used to enter another realm where other challenges can be completed to get Cheat Glyphs and other items.  Cheat Glyphs can be used to activate such things as “Big Head” mode.

Van Helsing bears more than just a passing resemblance to Devil May Cry.  The acrobatics, glyphs, and juggling system are both very similar to Devil May Cry.  However, it seems to be much harder to juggle an enemy in Van Helsing.

Van Helsing does contain an auto-aiming feature, and it is quite useful and works well most of the time.  However, sometimes this is the only way to attack enemies.  While the camera does a good job most of the time, there are other times where enemies will attack from off screen.  The camera can be particularly troublesome during boss battles.  Often the boss will be off-screen.  If it wasn’t for the auto-aiming feature, Van Helsing would be another lesson in gaming futility.

Getting through Van Helsing shouldn’t take very long.  When starting Van Helsing, an Easy and Normal difficulty levels are available.  Once the game has been completed on Normal, a Hard difficulty level becomes available.  However, Van Helsing starts this mode with all the weapons gained during the Normal game.  Van Helsing also just throws more monsters at the player at the Hard difficulty setting instead of making the enemies smarter.

You can complete the game to get all of the cheats, but they are mostly useless features like the previously mentioned “Big Head” mode or new skins for different monsters.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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