Just as soon as you've dispatched of one evil maniac, another has taken his place, and so The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II picks up where its predecessor left off. A short video recaps the story so far, but past events don’t particularly matter, just know there’s a new threat advancing on your (not so) secret base.
The wider story can be ignored for the most part. A mysterious, masked spectre - known only as 'Prisoner Seven' - often guides you and provides the resistance with important information. The desire to find out who, or what, is behind the mask is about all that serves to intrigue.
No boundaries are pushed graphically, either, with "it looks reasonable" about the highest praise that can be mustered. The audio is serviceable, whilst failing to really grab your attention, but they're minor complaints. Let’s be honest, not a soul comes to this party expecting it to be best in class on either front.
Combat, the meat of the game, is another story. It's largely unchanged from the first outing; a couple of main attacks are complemented by numerous abilities unlocked over time, though it isn't long before you have a full complement of tricks at your disposal.
Bouts of frantic blood-letting are punctuated by dialogue between Van Helsing and his captivating companion.
Whilst the combat is frenzied, it also feels smooth and intuitive. We were soon gracefully gliding across the battlefield, picking off our adversaries with nary a thought for tactics. That did unfortunately result in more than a few avoidable deaths - it's all too easy to find yourself surrounded, and every costly respawn was a stark reminder to be ever vigilant. For the next few minutes, at least.
The endless fighting can grow to be of a repetitive nature in time, even the vast amount of skills failing to offer sufficient variety. It benefits you to stick to a few favourites, finding what works for you and pouring all of your upgrade points into those abilities, which seems counter productive on this front. Fairly quickly, the brain goes into autopilot and only snaps out of it when a handful of tanky behemoths attempt to turn you into paste.
Your ghostly companion, Lady Katarina, will aid you in battle, acting as either a melee or ranged fighter. A few further options are available to be tweaked, such as deciding whether she prioritises those most vulnerable to her attacks, or defends Van Helsing from anyone who wishes him harm. You can even instruct her to swoop around the dead after each skirmish, collecting any items you deem important, whether they be gold, potions or gear of a certain rarity.
Bouts of frantic blood-letting are punctuated by dialogue between Van Helsing and his captivating companion. She is at times cynical, calculated, unsympathetic and capable of biting sarcasm, but her endearing charm shines through and it's clear that she has Van Helsing's best interests in mind.
These frequent, brief moments of respite provide other means of entertainment, as the game is packed full of pop culture references. We noticed a plethora during our time - Lord of the Rings, Angry Birds, Inception, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to name but a few.
Exploration is key if you want to get the most out of your time in Borgovia, so thankfully it’s encouraged through varied locations centred on different themes. A snowy mountain, tightly packed streets, the steampunk-styled main city - all feel like separate, yet connected, worlds. Enemies uniquely inhabit each area, although you'll soon realise that many of them are just re-skins of the same archetypes you've fought before. This isn't a huge problem though, as there’s just enough variety to keep things fresh over the game's 15 - 20 hour runtime.
Provided you've hit level 60 when the main story wraps up, you can try out the Neverending Story, in which Katarina is replaced by a mystical dragon compani - oh wait, wrong one - the enemies actually get gradually tougher, whilst you remain at the same level and Katarina remains by your side.
Level 57 characters will be able to take on Scenario mode, whereby you select a difficulty and modifiers before tackling one of six maps, each with specific goals. PvP multiplayer opens up at level 58, but we were unable to find a match. The additional modes we were able to tangle with definitely added an element of fun, as well as longevity and replayability.
That said, the title has its issues that might somewhat put you off coming back for more. Long load times will dissuade you from returning to your lair mid-mission, it's much easier to give all of your unused items to Katarina and send her away to sell them for you. You'll also soon outgrow the gear your captains obtain from missions, making it even less likely you’ll check in with the folks back home.
Overall, it works well as a continuation of the Van Helsing story, but doesn’t quite feel like a fully realised sequel. A few irritations prevent this solid game from reaching greatness.