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May 25, 2004 > Van Helsing

Van Helsing

Platform: Xbox and Playstation 2

by Jeremy Inman

After just a few minutes of playing Van Helsing, it becomes apparent that Van Helsing the game is going to have a much more concise and understandable story thanVan Helsing, the film. The game kicks off just about where the movie does, with a nifty intro and a fight with Doctor Jekyll's monstrous counterpart, Mr. Hyde. Fans of recent hack and slash fighters like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden will instantly become accustomed to Van Helsing's style and control scheme. This game is very easy to pick up and a complete blast to play.

As monster hunter Gabriel Van Helsing, players will embark on a journey that will take them into the depths of Transylvania and across paths of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf man, and a whole legion of undead bad guys. This game defies standard convention by actually being more entertaining than the film on which it is based. The cut scenes offer up enough of the story of the movie for gamers to understand what's going on, and not too much for gamers to become as confused as the audiences will likely be in theaters. Every extraneous or nonsensical plot point from the film was omitted from the game, creating a very concise, very action packed gaming experience.

Players have a number of abilities and weapons at their disposal. You'll begin the game with a pair of pistols and a set of Tojo blades, which are like tiny buzz saws. Throughout the game, you'll collect a number of more powerful weapons, including a shotgun, a crossbow, and a pair of scimitars. Van Helsing's abilities include a double jump that allows him to reach higher surfaces, and a grappling hook that can attach to certain objects. The grappling hook is one of the most entertaining functions of the game, as it can be used to perform a number of different actions. It can be shot at a specific location to immediately carry Van Helsing to that spot (a la Batman) or fired at a midpoint between two platforms, allowing Van Helsing to swing across the chasm (a la Indiana Jones). It can also be used on the ground.

When fired horizontally, the hook will attach to the first object directly ahead of Van Helsing, and depending on its weight and attachment to the ground, either pull him to it or it to him. For instance, if Van Helsing fires it through a swarm of enemies blocking his path and it connects to the wall in the distance behind them, he will quickly be pulled through the crowd and out the other side. If it happened to connect to an unfortunate enemy, that enemy would be yanked toward Van Helsing, who can then initiate a combo, thus vanquishing that foe. Every firing and subsequent connection of the hook is accompanied by a satisfying sound effect that clearly details the unraveling of the rope, the clink of the hook, and the retraction of the cable. This also brings to light the game's incredible attention to detail. This game recognizes the weight and strength of an opponent. For instance, if Van Helsing fires his grappling hook at a regular old zombie, it would be tugged off of its feet and to its doom. If that same hook is fired at Frankenstein's monster, who is very heavy and equally as strong, Van Helsing would be pulled off his feet into a world of trouble.

Certain creatures, such as flying gargoyles, may even fling Van Helsing into the air when hit with the hook while electric creatures may cause him to be shocked. The result is a game in which players must consider when is most wise to use certain abilities. When facing vampires, it is best to use the crossbow, because staking a vampire is the only way to kill it. When facing a werewolf, Van Helsing would be wise to use his pistols to fire silver bullets. However, even making a mistake can be very amusing. This sort of detail is planted all throughout Van Helsing. If he is hit hard enough, his hat will fall off. He can pick it back up easily, unless of course some mischievous goblin happens to put it on instead. These goofy elements lend the game a welcomed sense of humor that couples nicely with the classic monster flick feel.

The pace of the game will keep players entertained throughout the journey. Action is only broken briefly by cut scenes that advance the story without detracting from the overall experience. The upgrade system, which allows players to earn points to purchase new abilities and items, keeps the gameplay fresh and varied. Graphical goodies include dynamic lighting on the characters, which causes them to cast shadows according to the location of the light source, an extensive repertoire of fluid character animations, Van Helsing's realistically rendered trench coat, which flutters appropriately with every leap or fall, and fitting environmental textures.

Detailed pre-rendered environments, great sound effects and voice acting, appropriate music, and cinematic camera angles all add up to create a very fulfilling gaming experience, worthy of mention alongside the Lord of the Rings video games. The film should have taken a few hints from the folks at Saffire.

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