If Victor Vran were a movie, it would be one of those low-budget horror movies that used to dominate independent theaters. It's in some ways reminiscent of Van Helsing, which wasn't exactly a cheap horror flick but might as well have been. Its tone is a perfect match for a Diablo-style action RPG.
Forget the story, which doesn't really matter anyway. Victor Vran is a mix of the aforementioned Van Helsing and D from Vampire Hunter D, a hunter tormented by a supernatural voice that taunts him as he kills spiders, skeletons, and other assorted monsters. The voice literally calls itself Voice, so that should tell you something of the effort put into the story.
As with most games of this sort, the story is mostly an excuse for the somewhat gothic setting and the enemies. I'll be upfront: Based on what I've played, Victor Vran doesn't have much on Diablo or Torchlight. But it does nevertheless have a handful of strengths with which to recommend it.
First, the action works. Utilizing a mix of melee weapons and firearms, you can switch relatively seamlessly between hammers, swords, and shotguns, each of which have their own abilities. The hammer works particularly well, bringing with it a hefty amount of pain as you smash it down on hapless foes. It's a PC game, but it oddly enough works better with a controller than a mouse and keyboard. You can still use a mouse and keyboard, but orienting yourself and attacking feels cumbersome compared to using the Xbox 360's analog stick. Strange for a genre build on the notion of pointing and click.
In any case, it's perfectly playable with a mouse and keyboard; and no matter which input device you use, it has just the right amount of impact. It's also comparatively easy to grasp. Compared to Victor Vran, Diablo's customization is considerably more complex. And that doesn't necessarily reflect badly on either game. Victor Vran doesn't go terrible deep, but the systems it does have work relatively well together. You can carry two weapons that each have innate abilities, equip cards that confer passive abilities, and shift between outfits that impact the charging of your Overdrive - a super attack that can do a large amount of damage to a single enemy. These systems can be grasped and manipulated by even relative newcomers to the genre.
I expect that was the intent of Haemimont Games, a Bulgaria-based studio that is better-known for its contributions to the Tropico series. Victor Vran isn't what you would call a small game - there are lots of areas to explore and little challenges to undertake - but in some ways it feels like a side project. Graphically, it's a step below even the three-year-old Torchlight II; and while it's not what you would call ugly, its generic art doesn't do it any favors. Thus the comparisons to B-grade cinema.
And yet, like I said, it's not without its good ideas. Its most enjoyable element is its challenges, which do the most to drive the action ahead. They are the best way to grind for loot, and they are typically much more interesting than the main objectives, which consist of moving from Point A to Point B and back. In the challenges, you'll be encouraged to kill certain monsters or use certain weapons, lending the action a bit more focus. It also has Hexes, difficulty levels that serve to make monsters more powerful in exchange for better loot, bringing to mind similar systems in games like The World Ends With You.
These systems help Victor Vran to be a cut above the rather generic action RPG it might have been otherwise. They augment a slimmed down, nicely focused action RPG that is perhaps not too much to look at, but nevertheless provides a nice change of pace from Diablo without requiring too much of an investment. If you're a little sick of Diablo, but you're feeling a little intimidated by the enormity of Path of Exile, consider checking out Victor Vran.