I vant to suck?
Some misguided fools think the best horror movie of the 1980's was Freddy's first in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Others prefer the artsy creepiness of The Shining or the undeniable tension of Aliens. But too few dare mention what is certainly the cream of the 80's crop - and my personal favorite - The Monster Squad.
The premise of this cinematic masterpiece is so bad, it's terrifying. A gang of children calling themselves "The Monster Squad" (because, after all, they love monsters) somehow stumble upon Dr. Abraham Van Helsing's diary and wind up accidentally reviving the long-dead Dracula. The famous bloodsucker then goes about digging up his old buddies, including Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and a Mummy. They set out to take over the world, only to be thwarted in the end by the meddlesome kids. It's like Scooby-Doo, but with better effects and worse acting.
The same can be said for the new big screen version of Van Helsing, which is basically The Monster Squad minus the gang and plus Wolverine. But despite the awful truth about the awful movie, the kids might like it, and in turn they might even like Vivendi's Van Helsing for the Xbox and PS2.
Van Helsing's most immediately noticeable feature is its stylistic similarity to Devil May Cry. If DMC is a "Jumper/Shooter,' then Van Helsing is one, too. But Van Helsing is also a much simpler, shallower game; the controls are extremely basic and the game is very easy and short. It might reasonably be called "My Little Devil May Pony.'
The problem here is that Van Helsing is rated "T' for teens. This is also "T' for tragic, because parents won't want to buy a 'T' game for their 8 year olds, and real teens will hate the game's repetitive gameplay and weak difficulty level.
The game begins in the office of Dr. Jekyll as he quaffs a potion and changes into the humongous, beastly Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde is presumably about to do very nasty things to a hot young strumpet when you show up and frighten him off. Then, four years later, you track Mr. Hyde to a monastery for a final showdown. The long pillared chamber is awash in moon-glow and littered with green glowing crosses called glyphs (the Van Helsing monetary denomination).
Sadly, the sweet spell cast by the cool-looking environment is broken when you finally decide to move. Instead of employing a camera system that moves with the player, the game uses Resident Evil style fixed camera angles, leading to sudden, random perspective shifts. Not only does this make your exploration of new areas a discombobulating affair, it can be a real bitch when you're fighting monsters and bosses from whom you frequently have to run.
As you attempt to explore the monastery, you're given little tips along the way that explain game mechanics. So, you learn that you can run, jump, roll, shoot, and melee attack. By picking up glyphs and spending them at the ends of levels you can gain new, ubiquitous abilities and weapons. Eventually, you make your way to the belfry for your big fight with Mr. Hyde.
The Hyde fight is important not because of what it contains, but because of the way it illustrates the developers' failure to successfully translate the movie into the game. In the fight, Mr. Hyde lumbers along extremely slowly. If he gets to you, he throws a punch, and it hurts a little. However, as Van Helsing you simply lock-on, plug away with your six shooters and run when the boss gets close. Eventually, Hyde takes enough damage to warrant a cut-scene in which you chop off his arm and get knocked onto the roof. After a little more fighting, Van Helsing himself gets knocked off the roof only to break out his trusty grappling cannon and launch the hook deep into Hyde's abdomen. Then some confusing swinging stuff happens and Van Helsing winds up on the roof looking bad, and Hyde winds up on the ground far below looking dead.
Unfortunately, all the cool stuff happens during the cut-scenes. The only aspect of the film the developers were able to integrate into the actual gameplay was the walking and shooting part. No getting flung, no firing the hook or swinging or arm cutting. Nada.
This very first episode is a microcosm of the rest of the game. You walk around shooting at hordes of slow-moving enemies, then run around and shoot a faster boss. The bosses, enemies, and guns all get bigger and badder, but the mindless core never changes. Lock on, shoot, melee if you're feelin' sassy, move to the next room, do it all over again. You get the drift.
The levels are also extremely linear, of course, so expect plenty of irritating, invisible rails keeping you on a fixed path. This is made more annoying by the fact that the whole game only takes about 5 or 6 hours to beat. There is a higher difficulty setting, but frankly, one time through is way too much Van Helsing for anyone over the age of 8.
But there's at least one flipside to being a game based on a movie " decent graphics. The environmental effects are pretty spectacular and the framerate manages to remain solid despite a frequent deluge of enemies on screen. Unfortunately, Van Helsing himself never looks terribly impressive, nor do his animations. The jump animation looks particularly bad as our hero rises too quickly and falls too abruptly.
The game sounds fine enough, with good voice-acting pulled straight from the movie, high-quality ambient sounds, and loud gun effects.
Van Helsing is a shining example of what's wrong with games based on movies. Rather than complement the film with some sort of stand alone side story, it opts for arcade gameplay sans interesting plot, depth, or really anything beyond just blasting and whacking. There might actually be a market for this sort of thing, but there probably shouldn't be. Go rent The Monster Squad instead and find out what real monster hunting is all about.