The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2
Platform: PC
Developer: NeoCore Games
Genre: Action / Adventure / RPG / Hack ‘n SlashNeocore games.

I have a special spot in my heart for Van Helsing I, thus I was very excited about trying out Van Helsing II.

The story picks up where Van Helsing I left off — The little town of Borgovia needs help, and monster hunter extraodinaire Van Helsing is there to aid it. Helping the resistance do what they must to get the city back and fend off the monsters; should you not have played the first installment at all, or if it’s been long since you touched it, the introduction video does a good job of recapping the important bits and summing up what’s been going on.

If there’s one thing to say for Neocore games it’s that they do pretty neat cinematic cut-scenes, very nice and artistic, that give you a distinct feel of watching a movie – unfortunately, even the cut-scenes can sometimes be a little bit too long when they’re put in between the action. The voice actors chosen are excellent at their roles; and the chosen depths, tones and infliction the cast uses throughout the game suit the characters very well; helping immerse you in the world. Along with the lovely visual and voices, the game has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in an ARPG, fitting the mood and slightly dark atmosphere of the game, atmosphere that is slightly uplifted by the many humorous lines and various pop culture references that are to be found throughout Van Helsing II, as it was in the original.

The graphics improve a little on Van Helsing I, but in my opinion they still seem to lack some optimization. Despite my computer being the recommended setup for the game, and despite being in low settings, I had the exact same problem with the game I did during my play-through of Van Helsing I … LAG. From the get go the game is just a little bit slow, and after about an hour or more of playing the game would become really slow and laggy, sometimes even freezing up for a few seconds if I continue playing. And this was in the single player campaign. It was also noticeable during loading screens – loading the game takes just a little too long sometimes, particularly during the initial loading screen.

Despite that, and jumping into the actual gaming aspect, Van Helsing II can be a delight to play. Right off the bat you’re given the option to either import a character from Van Helsing I or play with a new one which you can start from level 1 or from level 30 with a pre-designed one, which is great for trying out the different classes and builds; the difficulty of the levels also accommodates depending on which starting point you choose, so you’ll still get the full experience without finding it “too easy” just because you chose to start at level 30 instead.

I chose to start anew so I could get a fresh look at the game, plus, it’d been a long while since I’d last played the original, so a refresher course wouldn’t hurt. When starting your get you get to choose between three classes: Hunter, Thaumaturge or Arcane Mechanic. The classes are all quite different from each other, and each one has a very ample skill tree (and choice of auras) to pick and choose from, so everyone is likely to find a mix of powers and skills that suit their playing style perfectly. Personally, my favorite character is still the Hunter, though the other two can be fun to play too. My only regret in the system would be that I’d like for a bit more customization options outside the skill tree (maybe more visual variety), yet in the end it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Once you make your character you’ll also have access to the options menu (why you don’t have access to this before that is beyond me), which gives you plenty of chances to remap keys and change audio and video options. Some of these require you to relaunch the game to go into effect, which is a bit annoying as it takes long to load.

Katarina is once more with you during the game. I like the companionship and the role she plays in the overall story and gaming aspects. She can carry stuff, you can send her out shopping, and you can pick how she will behave during fights (ranged, melee, aid only, etc), all of which is pretty neat. They also have great chemistry between them, making you feel less lonely during the map runs.

The monsters are all well designed, with a fair variety to them and interesting looks and powers. The game has various difficulty modes ranging from casual to hardcore, and you can switch them at any time, yet I noticed that it seems a bit unbalanced regardless of what difficulty mode you’ve chosen: either the enemies are far too easy or far too hard, all in the same map and mode.

The story is fairly linear and simple, but it’s also intriguing; the characters are interesting, and the questing follows the same vein of its predecessor. The tower defense mode also returns, improved, and you can now send captains to do some of those quests for you, which is a nice change in pace (as I’m not particularly fond of defending things, I’m more into destroying them). The downside of this is every so often they interrupt your questing with information, “demanding” you get back to take care of a situation or another (you don’t really need to drop everything to do as they ask, and I believe you can turn this off, but the interruption is annoying nonetheless).

The first time you’re thrown into the fry -meaning the tutorial and the very first city-defending section- I found it all a tad confusing and frustrating. During the tutorial there were some pop ups that went by just a little too fast for me to read – it was only a couple, yet it was bothersome enough as I couldn’t really remember what all did and was. During the city section I had problems finding my way until I got used to the map indicators again, and then I had a bit of troubles finding some of the more out-of-the-way stairs and elevators, and choosing which answer would be correct for what I wanted to do; however, once you get past that area, the gameplay goes pretty smoothly, and if there was one thing I did appreciate it was that, while there were many things to learn, at least the main interface didn’t look cluttered.

The game offers witty dialogue and, when questing, allows you yo choose from two or three answers. I like being able to choose when talking to characters (though most of the time is just the two typical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ disguised in a colorful fashion), however it suffered from the same all the ‘choose your answer’ games suffer from: none were clear. An answer did not quite mean what I thought it would mean which made me miss a quest (for instance, on Saving Bryan had two answers that were very similar but different in tone, and I thought the second option would also give me a chance to end the conversation and go look for him, but it didn’t and it sent me elsewhere with that mission failed). I was rather annoyed to have some missions failed or postponed (or even denied completely from trying them later) simply because the option I chose still included some form of “give me more time” or “I can’t right now” but it ended up cancelling the quest instead and the quest indicator disappeared. I had the same with a quest where I could either destroy a totem or find a relic, and when I refused destroying it initially but then changed my mind, I couldn’t go back and destroy it, so I was forced on the second quest path.

After the first chapter you get to have a “pet”; a chimera you can either send to fetch stuff for you, or summon into battle. This is quite handy, and the chimera is quite adorable (in the way giant, angry beasts are adorable, I guess). It even chases around little animals while in the lair.

The areas you get to visit are quite beautiful in their steampunk, dark way; the outside world is beautiful, the attention to detail is obvious in them, and even though the maps are linear there are also plenty of side quests and secrets through them. And indeed, Van Helsing II is full of secrets which you might not find on your first play-through, so the replayability is fairly high.

Aside from the slowness and lag in singleplayer, the only bug I really encountered was when attempting to assign skill points to Katarina. In order to apply points to the skills on the top most left hand, I had to place the pointer at a very specific pixel right under the + sign or it wouldn’t let me press it at all. The rest of her skill buttons worked normally though, and the bug disappeared when I switched from windowed mode to full screen.

My multiplayer experience left a lot to be desired, in that I could not join any games and no one could join mine, so I couldn’t test it. Neocore’s support is very friendly and patient, however, and they’re likely to help if you run into any troubles. Plus they’re very active in the community, which is always good.

In brief, I truly enjoyed playing Van Helsing II, but I would mostly recommend it either to fans of ARPGs, or those who enjoyed the other installments of the series. New players might find the learning curve for it a bit too steep, and those who aren’t familiar with the story might not find it as interesting. To anyone new to the Van Helsing series, I would probably recommend they start with Van Helsing I instead of II just to familiarize themselves with the story, gameplay and mechanics of the game.

 

Overall rating 7.5 / 10

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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Sea
Platform: PC / iOS
Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
Genre: Action / Adventure / RPG
Release Date: March 17th, 2015

In Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas you start your gameplay as a young man who wakes up to find his father gone; he disappeared after going in search of a monster known as Oceanhorn. With only your father’s notebook and your mother’s mysterious necklace as clues, you set off in his search and thus begins the adventure.

Oceanhorn is a very nice casual action/adventure RPG, complete with puzzles, which is quite reminiscent in many ways to Legend of Zelda. The gameplay revolves around you finding clues from NPCs, battling monsters, solving puzzles and collecting keys and treasures from the different islands around the vast world while you search for your father and discover more to the story and lore of the place. The story and lore might not be too in-depth, but it’s deep enough to keep you going through the game.

As I understand it this game was first made for iOS and then ported to PC, and although the port and game play are smooth enough that you might not have realized it, you can tell it was meant to be mobile by the way certain things work – such as in moving the world map, sliding the menu and other specific touch screen features.

Although the developers lean to the simplistic side, the game’s graphics are beautiful: bright, colorful, and they feel quite alive. There is something definitely cute about all the characters you encounter and the sights are gorgeous. The way all islands are a bit different, each with their own little biome, some even with weather, adds interest to the gameplay and makes visiting each one a slightly unique experience. This spontaneous element helps keep it from being tedious.

The music was also wonderful, fitting to the world and the islands. The voice acting was a bit hit and miss, but for the most it was pretty good. I just wish the main character would have spoken, too.

The camera I found a bit annoying at first, as it’s not free roam; you can only move it a little bit left and right, but I got used to it quickly and it did not hinder my enjoyment in the end. The camera follows you during boss battles too, which was both extremely helpful (as it did not get in my way), and extremely dizzying when my main strategy was “back up in circles and wait for an opening”.

Having tried both ways I can definitely say that the game plays a lot better with a controller, still, I used my keyboard through most of my play through without any major issues. The key distribution is decent enough and, if I’m not mistaken, you were able to rebind certain keys.

Starting up the game for the first time I could see the menu was simplistic, which was good and fitting for the game; but I was not overly pleased with the windowed mode option. The only option available was “Windowed (borderless)”, which was… still defaulting to full screen as I could not even change the resolution for it (but I could change the resolution for full screen). However, I read the developers were working on this. I’ll be happy to see the option to use regular windowed mode to play it, hopefully in different resolutions.

The world, as I already mentioned, is quite large. You get several islands to explore, but the islands must be unlocked first by talking to NPCs. If you’re not paying much attention to what they say, it’ll be easy for you to get a bit lost on which of two (or more) options you’re supposed to go to first in order to follow the main story line; still, at most you’ll need to do some backtracking. The game has a few tutorial bits (conveyed to you through little signs and pop ups), yet some things were still learn-as-you-go, such as how to deal with the world map.

To travel from island to island you sail a ship. I quite liked the idea of this initially – there’ll be monsters to shoot at and boxes to sink. Once more I was reminded of Zelda with this. The first couple of trips are quite nice, however, it soon becomes a bit bothersome to go from island to island, even once your ship gets upgraded to sail faster. I think it might have been much more entertaining if we’d been able to steer the ship ourselves (auto-pathing and steering both as options would have been fantastic!). This would have made it more interactive than just sitting there and shooting at things. It’s not much of a challenge to get to your destination though, just like the majority of puzzles are not much of a challenge either. They’re good, but they’re simple: perfect for a casual gamer such as me. Yet if you’re into hard, challenging puzzles, you might find oceanhorn a bit disappointing.

Interacting with items was fun: everything that could be hit or bumped into would wobble, which I found was super cute. You could even bump into people (as opposed to getting stuck by running into them), a little detail that I quite love in games. The way interaction with picking objects worked though was a bit annoying, since the attack button would suddenly serve the function of picking and tossing an object if you were near it; thus, if you were in the middle of slashing your sword away at an enemy and walked by a rock, you would end up getting the rock instead and thus getting hit by the enemy. That you could not walk off large cliffs to your early death was also quite nice and a little feature I was thankful for more than once. Be careful if you choose to go swimming in the ocean, though, as your character will quickly run out of stamina and drown.

The fighting system was quite easy to get a handle of, and I found myself thankful for the little auto-target while defending, at least most the times. Sometimes it would lock me into the wrong target though and leave me open to a second attacker I was more interested in defending myself from. I liked the way the character leveled up, but it was a bit odd that his leveling did not modify the way his hits affected monsters. Stuff that took 3 hits to kill would still take three hits on level 1 or level 5. It wasn’t too troublesome as the enemies are easy to defeat, but I thought it was a bit odd. Even though you can explore the islands, the game is rather linear, needing some interactions to happen first before you can unlock others.

The mini-bosses require a bit of strategy, but are also not overly challenging once you get the handle on them. Once again this makes it good for casual gamers and the younger crowd, but those seeking challenges might not have as much fun with it. In whole, the game offers you just about 10 hours of gameplay to finish it without any side-questing or aimless exploring, and some 4-6 hours more if you’re a completionist.

Oceanhorn plays quite nicely in older PCs and I kind of like the way things spawn on your screen as you come closer to them, slowly popping into the map with their little bouncy animation. It adds to the overall cartoony cuteness of the game. It also helps that it has an extremely small size (at ~380mb) so it’s quick to install and start playing it.

I heard some talk about crashes and bugs, but to be honest I did not experience any such. At most I experienced a bit of lag when video sections began or ended, but that was about it and it and it did not occur all the time. The game was truly fun and a delight to play. If you’re looking for a relaxing, casual RPG, I definitely recommend it!

 

Overall: Highly recommended!

The game is available on Steam