I kissed a Van Helsing and I liked it.
I figured, what with the Devil May Cry 5 announcement and all, it’d be a hoot to play a knock-off game I remembered from demo discs long past: Van Helsing. Based on the 2004 movie with Hugh Jackman playing Hugh Jackman, its premise is Hugh Jackman indiscriminately murdering every classic Universal monster. That description alone leaves me stunned as to why I’ve never seen the movie: it’s the kind of goofy popcorn trash I would have clamored to watch back then.
Before I even passed the title screen, I noticed two key points:
- A badge on the box proudly proclaims that the game contains free tickets to the movie (which it didn’t, although I’m not entirely certain that the movie will be back in theaters any time soon)
- A quick blurb which reads like a story I’d write when I was 5 (and watch all day every day, forever)
- And best of all, HUGH FUCKING JACKMAN VOICES HIMSELF. I get such a kick out of the actual actors voicing their characters in games, and to be fairly honest…I’m hoping we get a nice little musical number out of ol’ HJ (he doesn’t like to be called that).
As of late, I’ve been in situations where nearly immediately after I’ve started a game, I’ve already regretted it. I’m not quite sure if it’s something in the controls or presentation that immediately spell trouble, or just overwhelming waves of apathy due to my imagination roaming wild in the opposite direction. Van Helsing starts in a church (direct from the title, just right into it), and immediately (and violently) throws me into a fight with fucking Dr. Hyde! I barely even had time to begin talking before I’m exchanging dialogue and bullets. After that encounter, I’m thrown into the actual story ramp up and spit into the game proper. There’s…momentum. I have an incentive to tilt the analog stick forwards and check out what’s next.
Controls tend to be a huge sticking point on a lot of these games. I’m not sure if it comes down to the usually tight time frame in which the titles need to be released, or general lack of polish, but Van Helsing manages to largely avoid the problem. The controls are serviceable – not exactly tuned to perfection, but I don’t feel ripped off when dying due to an inability to avoid steering myself directly into certain doom. The combat, which suffers from a bit of repetition due to the large amount of similar enemies spawned (it appears that the enemy types are unique to each area and randomized – so one time you’re in town being attacked by a fleet of gargoyles, and then next you’ll be sieged by the undead, with no overlap in the early game at least).
You know, my positive impressions could be due to brain damage from living in trash like I’m Oscar the Grouch. On any other day, this game could be a “who cares” type title, but in comparison to garbage fires like The Fifth Element it might as well be Super Metroid. But, there are neat touches here in there that make me think “GASP – they actually cared about making this!”. One particular moment had to do with overhearing a father gravely warning his son that werewolves were coming to their village, The concern in his voice, the dire prediction that the boy would have to “be the man of the house” and protect the rest of his family. That’s cool! This town square portion of the level isn’t window dressing – it’s a town of people who are genuinely terrified of what is happening and in need of a good savin’ by Eddie Van Helsing over here. Coupling that with passable level architecture (not crazy – but not boring) and a somewhat hub-like progression taking you back and forth through areas multiple times and it does a fair job of keeping the sights and sounds engaging enough for me to continue playing without the typical grudge of “This piece of shit won’t beat me!”.
My only real concern at this point? That the game is going to end very, very abruptly. Out of the game’s 13 missions, I believe I left off last night during the 4th? There’s a debate in of itself when it comes to game lengths and what people find acceptable (I think it’s different from game to game, even within the same genres), but if it can keep the same level of stuff to look at, new enemy introductions, and frequency of boss fights, I hope it’s long enough to leave me satisfied (hurr hurr). I’ll definitely be playing this again sometime soon, if only to have the whole house of cards fall apart and find out that the last 7 levels are wireframe or some crazy shit.
Hugh Jackman out.