“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a complete set of anything because repetition creates pattern, repetition creates pattern, repetition creates pattern.”
It stands to reason that every videogame, good or bad, must employ a certain level of repetition. There’s simply not enough creative drive or processing power to create a string of unique interactions in a game without having to eventually fall back on some filler. This is far from total failure, however, because the monotony of slaying hordes of minions makes the final boss fight that much sweeter, and we as consumers want to feel like we got our money’s worth in time spent. No, repetition doled out appropriately is not a bad thing. It’s entire games that fall victim to the pedestrian trudge of unending sameness that draw my ire, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut is unfortunately no exception.
Final Cut consists of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing I, II, and III, all packaged up and given a shiny polish. Having never played any of the installments as they came out, this felt like the perfect time for me to jump into the gothic paradise of Borgovia to hunt some monsters and solve some mysteries (like the thickly-accented Sherlock Holmes impersonation I try out on dinner dates). After picking from one of 6 steampunky classes – I chose the Phlogistoneer because it’s the only one I couldn’t pronounce and I’m a masochist – I was off to Borgovia to fight alongside my large-bosomed, ghostly AI sidekick, Lady Katarina.
While the classes themselves all felt like a lazy copy/paste from any RPG prior, the seemingly bountiful variety of attacks and perks per character promised to spice things up. Having chosen a lazy lookalike of the Iron Giant, I favored mid-to-long range attacks and strove to boost up my missile launcher and grenade cannon. This strategy lasted all of three seconds before I realized that the enemy AI is set to swarm and everything moves at approximately the same pace. While this allows me to pick off a solid six or seven targets before the rest of the wave hits me, I’d still constantly find myself knee deep in baddies. Pretty damning for a ranged attack specialist, right? Wrong. After getting over my social claustrophobia, I realized striding right into the thick of things wasn’t only inevitable, it was efficient. Every fight became a charge, and my character inadvertently turned into a dumb, brutish tank. Regardless of the dozens of attacks I could unleash, every skirmish was played out the exact same, and much to the same effect. Strategy went to the wind and I soon found I didn’t even need to use the silly Rage Meter boosts to increase my already embarrassingly overpowered attacks.
Combat staleness aside, Final Cut does offer quite a bit of variety when it comes to loot, perks, and your AI sidekick. With rare loot drops and chest galore, quite a bit of time gets devoted to comparing different styles of boots and deciding what belt to wear (basically every morning for me), and the sizable number of different enchantments and bonuses only add to the accounting-esque atmosphere. Van Helsing not only earns upgrade points for leveling up, but can also receive perks for notoriety, which is earned by supposedly being a kickass person – I gave a bunch of beggars money and murdered everything non-human, so what’s that tell you? Perhaps best of all is the customization of Lady Katarina. Not only can you update her stats and spend perk points to give her a laundry list of powerups, but you can also set her attack style and aggressiveness on the field, which comes in handy when you need an extra hand in stomping down a planet’s worth of goat demons and harpies. While her character is rather static and oftentimes annoying, the extent to which she can prove useful justifies her constant presence.
I approached the variety in enemy design with much of the doe-eyed innocence I held when first looking over my attack trees. There seemed to be no end to the sizes, shapes, and arrangements of the various goat/frog/bird/wolf hybrids, and bosses actually looked like they held some unique challenge. Once again my dreams were dashed against the rocks as I realized I’d see the exact same monster a hundred times over before the map was cleared. One goat-mage is pretty cool, twelve goat-mage clones lined up in a single file line is a glitch in the matrix that I simply got tired of dealing with. This falls back on the philosophical question of how much sameness is acceptable in a game. I suppose I should be happy mobs never respawned, even when later returning to cleared levels (which actually eliminates the possibility of farming).
Final Cut boasts over 50 hours of story-driven gameplay, and while that in and of itself is impressive enough, each mission is also uniquely written and voiced. Though this spares players from the need to puncture their own ear drums lest they hear the same catch phrase one more time, it does mean that the dialogue tends to get a little watered down. The interactions between Van Helsing and Katarina are, at best, barely scraping by on the level of a high school drama club, while talking with monsters or villagers comes across as awkwardly forced, much in the same way I’m forced to talk to old people on the train every morning. The sound effects and music come by praise honestly, and do a decent, if not unremarkable, job of setting the tone for the rest of the game.
While there were several aspects of gameplay I barely touched on, including a watered down crafting system, a mini tower-defense game, and multiplayer, I still felt like I killed enough of the same monsters to get a feel for Final Cut. The combat can be boiled down to fisticuffs and the enemies all look and act the same after a while, but the atmosphere is interesting, the dialogue and story are entertaining, and the friendly AI interface is extremely well done. The game has strong and weak points, of course, but the main issue is that it capitalizes on both, throwing more of everything at you in an attempt to cover up for lack of structural variety.