What's a summer without a bunch of popcorn-fueled summer blockbuster movies? And these days, what's a blockbuster movie without a companion licensed game? Universal Studios will be kicking off the summer movie season on May 7 with Van Helsing, an action flick starring Hugh Jackman that reimagines Bram Stoker's classic, aging vampire hunter in a slightly more youthful (and more badass) light. In turn, Vivendi Universal and developer Saffire are bringing us a new game that will re-create Van Helsing's monster-hunting adventures through various sinister places--only this time, you'll get to do the actual slaying. We played an in-development build of the game, and it looks like Saffire is creating a pretty intense action experience that ought to do right by the movie license.
The plot specifics of Van Helsing are, of course, being kept pretty well under wraps, but from what we've seen in the trailer, it seems the game will follow the movie's storyline fairly closely. You'll take control of Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing, famous monster hunter with an unknown and presumably checkered past, as he travels to Transylvania to do battle with big baddies like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the wolfman. Literary sticklers will note the disparity not only in age but in name between this character and Stoker's original (he was an old man named Abraham in the novel), which may well tie in to the plot of the upcoming film.
In any event, the game opens with Van Helsing fighting a very large and very grumpy Mr. Hyde on the rooftops of London (as you can see in the trailer), and the action and cinematics here actually featured some shots taken right out of the film. Afterward, ol' Gabe departs for the Carpathian Mountains in search of both greater evil and his own past. While there he has a nasty run-in with some shambling hellspawn, a cloaked Frankenstein, and a trio of vampire vixens before meeting Anna Valerious, the daughter of a family sworn to battle unholy evil. What's an embattled monster hunter to do but pitch in and help?
The action in Van Helsing is composed of equal parts shooting and frantic hack-and-slash that's reminiscent of recent action games like Devil May Cry and Spawn: Armageddon. Van Helsing begins the game with a handy pair of revolvers and tojo blades, which are wicked-looking spinning blade weapons. You can lock onto enemies by holding the R1 button and pull off all sorts of combos by alternating between shooting and melee attacks. Van Helsing can dodge out of the way, fire repeatedly in midair, and other such acrobatic feats that facilitate monster-killing. The game takes place across 13 levels, with bosses taken directly out of the film. There's pretty cool gee-whiz recognition factor involved when you get to take on characters like Frankenstein's monster or Mr. Hyde, whom you'll be familiar with from literature and classic monster movies.
Thankfully, Van Helsing won't be limited to fighting with just his pea shooters as you progress through the game. You'll find a frighteningly strong arsenal of new weapons scattered throughout the levels, such as a shotgun, a Gatling gun (don't ask), dual scimitars, and that mean crossbow that's visible in the movie trailer. Each of these weapons has an alt-fire mode that drains a super meter, and each alternate attack mode is more powerful and has unique attack properties (such as increased damage against ice monsters). Also, similar to the system in Devil May Cry, at the end of a level you'll be able to cash in points you gain from fighting monsters to purchase new combat moves, which let you do things like pop enemies up in the air, fire your weapons while dodge-rolling out of the way, and so on. A grappling hook rounds out your arsenal, which is typically used to reach new areas but can also be integrated into your attack combos. With enough upgrades, Van Helsing will become a veritable monster-killing powerhouse.
With a subject matter so moody and a film license with a stylized presentation, the game version of Van Helsing has a lot to live up to in the visual department. Fortunately, it looks like Saffire has managed to re-create the sinister world of Transylvania quite convincingly, with atmospheric environments that feature a lot of nice touches and evil-looking enemies that are the spitting image of their movie counterparts. For that matter, so are the models for Van Helsing and Anna, which look strikingly like the actors who play them in the film. The two versions of the game are roughly on par visually, with the Xbox version getting the nod for better performance and cleaner textures and lighting. The game sounds pretty spooky too, with lots of monstrous sound effects and ambient music, not to mention voice acting that sounds surprisingly like the characters in the movie.
Van Helsing is looking to be a pretty entertaining action game so far. There's certainly no shortage of monsters on hand to kill, and the appearance of the film's classic movie monsters as boss characters is a nifty feature. The game contains perhaps the most innovative hat mechanics we've ever seen--you can lose your hat during wild fights and must make a conscious effort to retrieve it amidst the chaos (and you're rewarded for finishing missions with hat in place). The ample unlockable material in the game (such as bonus challenge missions and a ton of cheat modes, like big head and unlimited ammo, that you can discover) ought to keep diehard action fans coming back, too. Van Helsing, the game, is slated to be released simultaneously with Van Helsing, the film, in the first week of May, and we'll bring you more coverage on the game as that time approaches.