Before Hugh Jackman turned Van Helsing into a swashbuckling super hero, the eccentric vampire hunter was usually portrayed as a greying, grizzled professor. As every Hammer Horror beasties' nemesis, the hapless hunter was rolled out whenever Frankenstein's monster, Wolfman, or The Count himself, got out of hand. A quick count reveals that Peter Cushing played Van The Man six times, eclipsed only by the haunting Christopher Lee (of LOTR fame) who donned the fangs for the Dracula role on no less than 14 separate occasions.
Why is this relevant? Well, we're not convinced anyone really knew who Van Helsing was until Hollywood decided to make him a star. Despite single-handedly saving the world (or Romania at least) from the clutches of the vampiric Count he's always played second fiddle to the dark lord. Now he's finally the star we enter the less than salubrious surroundings of fictional Transylvania and prepare to cut a swathe through the entire cast of a late night horror special's prosthetic cast.
We're not sure if it was a VU Games representative that said it first, but Van Helsing is a more than a bit like Devil May Cry. It's not just the fixed camera and acrobatic gunplay, but also the gothic surroundings and supernatural enemy foot soldiers. You're thrown into the action from the word go with a boss battle against the Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Van can double-jump, use a grappling hook, fire weapons, fight hand-to-hand with his spiked knuckle-duster or combine any of his skills for gymnastic death knells.
Transylvania looks just like you'd imagined it to a lonely train station where only you get off, misty forests, a deserted village, spirits shape-shifting through the ether and lots of undead ghouls leaping out from behind bushes to vomit green acid gas at you. It quickly becomes apparent that Van Helsing doesn't want to short change you with lack of things to despatch back to hell. Every corner turned rewards you with a new band of shuffling beasts to deal with. Part and parcel of this exchange are glowing orbs. As in Devil May Cry, these are the game's currency and once collected can be spent between. This'll net you new weapons and better still new moves which dramatically improve Van's combat ability.
The first few significant enemies like the three seductive brides of Dracula (why do the sexy ladies in horror films always turn into ugly demons?) and Igor, set out the game plan. You've got to work your way up the chain of command until a final showdown with the gaffer himself. Quite how Frankenstein's monster and Wolfman feel about their relegation to second and third class bad guys still remains to be seen.
Reaching the Dark Prince does come with annoyances. Enemies respawn too often. This is most frustrating when you clear an area, go the wrong way and then re-enter it only to find they're all alive again. After a while your inclination is to simply run by without engaging them. Problematic, too, is Van Helsing's puzzle solving. It's simple really sometimes they aren't properly signposted. When this means wandering around aimlessly fighting infinite battles, it gets a bit trying. In our experience the best option is to try locking your grappling to something. Often a grappling point is positioned so you can't see it from the fixed perspective view the game adopts (or more likely, you skipped the instructive cut-scene that showed where it was). Alternatively, you could take the hitting approach. Just walk up to precarious objects and give them a good old whack. Surprising what this can yield and handy when it causes something to fall over giving you a new route to explore.
Van Helsing is never bad. Anyone who loved Devil May Cry will recognise the similarities and relish the flamboyant combat sequences. It's just that the true stars of the game are the monsters and the only fleeting glances you get of them are in the frenetic boss battles. Poor old Van upstaged by Vlad even in his own game? George Walter.
Van Helsing is out now on PS2