Van Helsing

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Action


PS2 Review - 'Van Helsing'

by Agustin on May 28, 2004 @ 1:16 a.m. PDT

Genre : Action
Developer: Saffire Studios
Publisher: Vivendi
Release Date: May 7, 2004

Xbox | Game Boy Advance | PlayStation 2

May 7th marked two major releases carrying the Van Helsing moniker: a major motion picture for the moviegoing types and a Devil May Cry-inspired action game for Playstation 2 gamers. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the movie. But, although it has been generally panned by most mainstream reviewers, that won’t hold any weight here – a movie is a movie and a game is a game. Van Helsing the game isn’t as bad as your usual licensed fare, but it lacks the polish of a fully developed game. The developers were rushed to complete the game in order to make the magic simultaneous film/game release date. Still, for a game that looks and feels a bit premature, it manages to be a much better overall product than one might expect. While it is below average in comparison to the best AAA titles out there, at least it can be said that it sticks out like a shining star from its direct peers.

The story of Van Helsing is about a man named, well, Van Helsing, who is on an especially troublesome hunt for the infamous Dracula, the ever-suave Vlad the Impaler-meets-Elizabeth Bathory antagonist from Bram Stoker’s classic story. Along the way, Van runs into a myriad of maniacs (how’s that for 50’s movie poster-style alliteration?) that we all know and probably love, including the Wolf Man, Frankenstien, Igor, and Mr. Hyde. Van Helsing is a classic horror fan’s wet dream, the concept easily surpassing the amount of fan-service given by films like the hilarious Freddy vs. Jason.

The game plays like Devil May Cry sans the puzzles. The action is almost non-stop, as Van struggles to overcome hordes of foes with a projectile weapon and two handheld blades. Players start the game armed with a pair of pistols and spinning hand blades. Eventually, Van will be equipped with a chaingun and a pair of swords. The majority of the available weapons have access to a more powerful form that can be used temporarily.

With a good selection of effective weapons in hand, guiding Van toward killing massive amounts of enemies in the Transylvanian setting is a blast at first, though it becomes very repetitive, very fast. Common occurrences of slowdown hinder things even more, as some of these moments are so, well, for the lack of a better term, massive, that they can ruin the mood to keep playing the game. The game does have various skills, most of which are obviously filched from Devil May Cry, but the majority of the game can be passed through by simply somersaulting and firing your guns wildly. This makes a second play through seem wholly unjustified; a full-price purchase of Van Helsing would not be advised.

Since the game is fully licensed, its storyline mirrors that of the film, and all the characters and baddies look just like their movie counterparts, which helps the atmosphere quite a bit (believe it or not, having a good atmosphere with somewhat sub-par gameplay can help a game feel quite a bit more enjoyable overall). The carmera system is (again) a lot like Devil May Cry’s, though many of the choices are questionable, at best. The game can be difficult to play when you can’t see what’s going on, or if you can, but the camera angle is just too damned awkward to be of any use. I imagine the testers playing through the game while on the phone with their girlfriends, noticing substantial problems all over the damned place but more preoccupied with their conversation about which movie they plan on going to, or whether or not they need to go to the gas station to grab a pack of condoms. This game needs to be retested almost as badly as your usual Sonic Team release (for those of you who aren’t familiar with their games: great overall design, amazing art direction… but none of the game seem to have gone through any of the sorts of rigorous testing that you would expect potential AAA releases to).

After completing the game on ‘normal’ difficulty, the hard mode opens up, but I’m sure most players won’t feel the urge to touch the game again after making through the first run. Besides, the ‘hard’ difficulty isn’t very “hard” at all, since Van starts off the game with all of the weapons from normal mode from the start, making the experience much simpler to play through until late in the game. The bosses are set at the same difficulty as before, making them a snore to do battle with, especially the first few. Van Helsing is hardly worth a single play through; replayability simply isn’t here.

The sound quality is all it should be, since this is a licensed title. It is on par with the film, with some of the same voices and professional-caliber music. The soundtrack is fitting with the atmosphere of the game, and the sound effects are all they should be, with very satisfying collision sounds sealing the deal in this regard.

Due to the… questionable quality of most licensed game releases, Van Helsing is a huge surprise. Most of the game’s elements are culled from Devil May Cry, but better to copy a quality work such as that game than releasing Buggy Third-Person Action-Adventure Based On a Film. The graphics are good, but the slowdown hampers the gameplay too often. Besides that, everything is so repetitive that it makes the game a bit of a pain to play through after a short time. If an action-game lull comes up during the notoriously slow summer months, and Van Helsing has seen a few price drops, give it a shot.

Score: 6.5/10

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