Genre : Action
Developer: Saffire Studios
Release Date: May 7, 2004
Let’s get the obvious observation over with: Van Helsing looks a lot like some kind of Victorian-era mod for Devil May Cry, maybe with a bit of a nod towards some of the over-the-top moments in the Hunter: The Reckoning series.
Van Helsing approaches the third-person shooter genre much in the same way as DMC did, as an attempt to seamlessly blend a cinematic sensibility with nonstop action and unmatched style. It features an extraordinarily agile hero, who’s constantly flipping, dodging, racing, and swinging from ledges. He’s equally adept with his matched scimitars, twin pistols, or Gatling gun, and explores crumbling, enormous Victorian-style environments in search of monsters to kill.
Of course, looking and playing a lot like one of the better action games ever still puts Van Helsing in some impressive company, especially for a game based upon a Hollywood blockbuster.
Like the upcoming summer film, Van Helsing the game is set in 19th-century Transylvania, where the famous monster hunter, Abraham van Helsing, has come to clean house and force a final showdown with Count Dracula. The game features the likenesses and voices of most of the film’s actors, with the unfortunate exception of Kate Beckinsale, and combines many of the monsters and plot points from the movie with a number of unique adversaries that’ll only be found in the game.
Over the course of thirteen missions, Van Helsing must pit his reflexes and wits against twenty-two separate monsters -- such as cave trolls, animated statues, spirits, winged demons, and banshees -- and eight boss creatures; expect to see appearances by all the classic monsters of cinema, such as the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula himself. Get used to being outnumbered, as an average level of Van Helsing will send monsters at you in groups of six or more. The pace will let up occasionally, but that won’t happen often, and it won’t be for long.
During Vivendi’s pre-E3 press conference, they showed off several battles, including a face-to-face showdown against the Wolfman, straight out of the film. Another battle took place on the roof of a speeding carriage, as Van Helsing fought desperately against a trio of flying ghosts, jumping from horseback to the carriage and back again while he dodged the ghosts’ bolts of ectoplasm. At one point, as the carriage burst into flames, Van Helsing nearly fell off, but barely caught himself on the edge of the roof.
As you dispatch monsters, they’ll shed green crosses, which can be cashed in at the end of each level to buy weapon upgrades and new items in a handy store. By collecting crosses, destroying your opponents, and making sure that at all times, Van Helsing’s hat stays on, you’ll be able to unlock a variety of extras. “Big head” and “big sword” modes were mentioned, but there are quite a few more secrets that Saffire is staying quiet about.
Van Helsing has access to eight weapons: six ranged, two melee. You can wield the spinning “Tojo blades” from the film, as well as a pair of wickedly curved scimitars, to carve up monsters. These are what you use if you’re looking for style points, as Van Helsing can launch a series of devastating, spinning combos that look good and inflict a lot of damage.
That being said, the game is obviously more inclined towards gunplay; many of the monsters tend to be the kind of thing that nobody in their right mind would go toe-to-toe with. The Wolfman, for example, will tear you a new orifice if you try to lay your swords on him. Fortunately, you have options.
Of course, you’ll begin with dual revolvers, which lend themselves to a number of acrobatic dodges, as well as the ability to hover in mid-air while firing, but you’ll also have a shotgun, crossbow, gatling gun (a weapon which started in the game, but can be seen in the film), heavy rifle, electric gun, and, as an unlockable “ultimate weapon,” a powerful elephant gun.
Each firearm has unlimited standard ammo, as well as a finite amount of ammo for an alternate fire mode; the electric pulse gun, for example, can launch small bursts of voltage all day, but its true power can be found in its alternate fire, a devastating lightning bolt, sort of like the alt-fire link gun from Unreal Tournament 2004, that stretches about half the length of the screen.
So yeah, when the game comes out, you’re going to hear a lot of people complaining that it’s a “ripoff.” To hell with ‘em; Van Helsing has every indication of not only being a good action game in its own right, but of being one of the few movie tie-in games that’s actually worth playing. (You like that, Rainier? Total accident.) It’ll be released the same day as the film, May 7th.
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