Van Helsing

June 29, 2004

[floatleft][/floatleft]Due to the fact that Dots and I have a new baby we didn’t make it out to the movies to catch Van Helsing so I had no clue what I was in for with the game. I had heard nothing good or bad about it aside from a comment from my sister-in-law about how cool she thought it was. It had been a long time since she had mentioned any newer games in conversation so I figured I should make it a point to play this one.

Dots and I rented it through our favorite game rental company, [url=]NumbThumb[/url]. (Shameless plug I know) I knew the basic premise of the story of Van Helsing so I knew what I could expect in the way of enemies and a basic plot. You play as Van Helsing, the legendary monster hunter, and it is your job to fight your way through Transylvania and defeat Count Dracula. Along the way you will face other monsters such as the Wolf Man, Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein.

I have to be honest with you. While playing the first level where you battle Mr. Hyde I got really frustrated. The game operates with a very unusual camera view. Some portions of the level have fixed camera views and other times the camera follows you, but you have no manual control over the camera which really got on my nerves as there are times where it is just plain impossible to see things with the camera angle you are given. The camera also got stuck in plenty of places in later levels, but once I got used to it, I learned how to control the view with my movements and prevent “Stupid Camera Syndrome”.

[floatright][/floatright]After the initial frustration of dealing with a new layout of controls I really got into the game. The model of Van Helsing is really well done and it looks just like Hugh Jackman who also did the voice for the game. The environments are also very pretty and the fog effect in the 5th or 6th level is quite spectacular. Unfortunately I did experience a tiny bit of clipping inside the Castle where the telescope comes down. I was able to walk on the floor right though the platform. It looked very strange. There was also one point in the game in the caves below the Castle that the game got very slow. I am talking slower than “Original Legend of Zelda in a dungeon with lots of guys on the screen” slow. Van Helsing partially disappeared as I was trying to fend off a flying skull and so I paused the game. Unpausing it resulted in a continuation of the slow down. A few seconds later it returned to normal speed, but the Van Helsing model was mildly distorted with a huge band that seemed to be attached to his back and to a fixed point under the bottom of the cave. It was really very strange and not something I was able to recreate. Leaving that area and continuing on returned the game to normal. I will chalk it up to a very strange bug that I managed to uncover by accident.

As your battle your way through the 13 Missions in this game, you are given a wide arsenal of weapons to aid you. Your default weapons are your Tojo Blades and Dual Pistols which have unlimited normal ammo as do all the guns in the game. You can also find a shotgun, crossbow, gatling gun, elephant gun, rifle, and dual scimitars. Each weapon also has an alternate ammo upgrade. The way this works is that you have an alternate ammo meter on the top right portion of the screen. Tapping the left trigger on Xbox enters the alternate ammo mode and any weapon you fire that has the upgrade will deal additional damage to enemies and in some cases secret doors which require a stronger hit to open will be opened. Typically pressing the check button to inspect them will give you a hint as to what weapon will open them. The meter slowly drains until you are out of alternate ammo. It is refilled in 1 of 2 ways. Attacking enemies with normal attacks will build it back up or you can use an ammo replenisher which is available throughout most levels and in the Armory for a small fee.

As you play through the game you will collect a number of things. The first things you collect are glyphs. There are red glyphs which restore your life and then there are green glyphs which are the currency in the game. Green glyphs can be used to purchase life and weapon upgrades in the Armory at the conclusion of each level. You will also collect Easter Eggs which are placed into special pedestals that unlock small puzzle levels. The completion of these puzzle levels results in you unlocking one of the extensive number of cheats available in the game, many of which aren’t even worth the time to look at.

My first attempt at this game was on Normal and I got stuck pretty early on and was unable to continue. I wasn’t fluent enough with the attack combos and the weapons to do any real damage. After restarting on Easy, I learned quite a bit more about how to play the game. While beating the game on Normal will allow you to restart with all your weapons and play again on Hard, I recommend starting out on Easy to get a feel for the game and which weapons work better on different enemies.

[floatleft][/floatleft]One of the really great things about the game is the frequency of save points. You aren’t being alerted that the game is saving, but every time you see a short loading screen the game is saved. This makes it really easy to play partially into a level without fear of losing all of your progress.

There were a few things in the game that I was unsure about and I didn’t have a manual to check them out. For starters, you can lose your hat in battle. I am not sure what affect this has on the game, but the little guys in the Castle as well as many of the bosses had a tendency to knock it off. It is kept track of in the end of level stats so try to keep your hat on. The 2nd thing is somewhat hard to explain. As you kill enemies there is a small counter on the left. You have approximately 5-6 seconds to continue to hit enemies on the screen before it resets to 0. For each enemy you kill without that meter being reset it increments by 1. After you defeat everyone on the screen it stops and retains your current number of kills. At the end of the level it reports back what your longest number of kills was. Since you aren’t being rewarded any bonuses for this I can only assume it as well as the hat thing are reported back to Xbox Live for score keeping. If someone can confirm this I would appreciate it as I don’t have Xbox Live at this time.

Van Helsing is a game that I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to. I had to force myself to play it at first and until I started playing on easy I didn’t really enjoy myself. The learning curve can be mildly steep, but nothing you shouldn’t master in the better part of an hour. After having played through just over half of the game, I can say that I have honestly enjoyed it so far. I am also really into the story now and that may be due in part to the fact that I skipped the movie, but I am really excited to see how it turns out. Typically with games that I review I stop playing them after the review is done and move on but I think I may actually finish playing Van Helsing.

There you have it. Yet another movie based game that actually came out pretty well. As always, $50 would be a tad too much for this one, so you might try picking it up pre-owned. I really have had a lot of fun with Van Helsing and I think the story is very immersive. Is Van Helsing a blockbuster sleeper hit? Nah, but it is definitely something you can pickup and play through a few times without it getting old.

P.S. The final “HUD” or screen configuration is reflected in screenshots 6-8 and 11-13. I assume the other screens are from pre-release versions of the game.

Score: 2/5

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