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Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

Developer: Snowblind Studios / High Voltage Software
Publisher: Interplay / Vivendi
Genre: Role-Playing Game / Action
Players: 1-2
Similar To: Hunter: The Reckoning
Rating: Teen
Published: 01 :03 : 03
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 9 = Must Buy


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Something is amiss in the city of Baldur's Gate. Take the form of a human archer, elven wizard, or a dwarven fighter and unravel the mystery before it puts an end to the legendary port town.

Take the tried and true story-telling aspects of PC RPGs, add in some style borrowed from console-oriented RPGs like Alundra and Legend of Oasis, toss in a bit of Snowblind magic, and you end up with one incredible game.

After choosing between the archer, mage, or fighter, console gamers will be introduced to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. Even those familiar with the PC and Mac titles will find this to be a completely new experience, as the turn-based party gameplay has been foregone for a solo affair. Using an isometric view with a camera angle that can swivel on most occasions, gamers will find themselves jumping on top of crates and dodging booby traps instead of the more familiar actions of assigning party members to attack specific enemies. Due to its real-time nature, the action is fast and takes place in large levels that keep gamers on track instead of tricking them with dead-ends and pointless obstacles. As a result, the game progresses at a great pace.

One of the game's best aspects is the interaction with the non-playable characters, as they look and sound fantastic. Unfortunately, the characters walking around town can't be spoken to, nor can the various buildings be wandered into; I know this would have not only taken more development time, but cost a lot more money due to the high quality of interactive people and areas. However, some might find this a bit stale and limited. I was only let down with those limitations for the first few minutes or so, after which I came to appreciate how it keeps the player on track, preventing them from getting lost, and helping to keep up the pace without needless wandering.

The action is done well, presenting a healthy blend of raw fisticuffs and magic. Somewhat unorthodox is that, except for the bosses, enemy health isn't shown, nor is the amount of experience gained from each enemy's death. This isn't a huge issue, as regular enemies only take a few blows to kill, but it would be more convenient to have the experience gained on hand instead of having to go to the player's stat section in the menu. One thing that was inconsistent was the enemy A.I.: in some instances, they would go to incredible lengths to kill me, and at other times, they would get stuck running in circles or behind a small crate and end up at the end of my mace. This was only noticeable when most enemies had been killed, as most would end their loops once enough room was made for them to leave. Thankfully, this only really became noticeable at the end of long battles and never dampened the gameplay much.

A few of the things that were done especially well are how the abilities are handled and how the story unfolds. I have found that in most RPGs, not all of the attributes are necessarily useful and some feel as if they don't do anything at all. Well, that isn't the case here. The abilities are streamlined to the necessities: health regeneration, endurance to carry more items, quicker reflexes, or the ability to strike a harder deathblow, and so on. The story is also told via limited cutscenes, though the bulk of the plot is carried through first-person interaction with the non-playable characters, which is a good thing, considering the high quality of the latter. In fact, the atmosphere completely engrosses the player and manages to stay entertaining with enough twists to keep you feeling that the 'Big Secret' will reveal itself in just a few more minutes. The various locations also keep the game refreshing, and the various enemies and obstacles met along the way will have gamers on their toes. It's a wonderful world that is not only beautiful to look at, but a joy to explore….and killing hordes of ogres and dwarves while doing so isn't bad either.

It's difficult to explain just how complete the game feels. Despite how the enemies occasionally freak out and the minor tweaking that could have gone into the menu system and enemy information, the game feels extremely thorough. The problems I mentioned sound much worse than they are; in fact, they do very little to diminish the sheer enjoyment that this title brings. The action is fun, the RPG elements give the game more depth and when you toss in the simultaneous two-player mode and the unlockable modes and characters, there is plenty to do here once the 12 or so hours of the quest with the first character is done. Regardless of the repeating storyline, it is well worth playing through with all three characters just because of how varied they are, which is indeed a testament of how addictive and fun the game truly is.

Graphics: 8/10
Aside from the occasional camera jerkiness when you're in a room filled to the brim with the walking undead, the port manages to come off without a hitch. The default brightness is high, so characters look a little washed out when talking to them, but that tends to become less obvious as the game continues and the eyes adjust. The levels, animation, and spell effects are all back in their splendor with plenty of bright pyrotechnics and dramatic shadows to give even the dullest of dungeons a nice bit of pizzazz. Despite being hard to see at times, the main characters and their enemies look great in the isometric view and they move and act differently enough so that the enemies for each level don't come off as carbon copies. In the end, deep shadowy figures and half-bodied zombies crawling towards a hero with hands ablaze drowns out miniscule problems any day.

Sound: 9.5/10
The great music and voice-overs are back in all of their glory. The moody and atmospheric tunes hit all the right marks as they create tension, fear, and all the assorted feelings one succumbs to when surrounded by murderous creatures. Very dramatic with a great fantasy feel and a solid variety make this one of the best-sounding games on any platform. The voice-overs are also a high mark as they are some of the finest to date. Standard settings will, unfortunately, have them drowned out a bit by the background music, but that's adjustable, and adjusted they should be, since the dead-on lip-synching and talented actors deserve to be heard whenever they speak. With strong pieces and even stronger narratives being ignored more and more these days, it's glad to see them still around and still at the top of their game.

Control: 8.5/10
Having a camera that's a fixed distance from the action can make things confusing when the enemies pile in, but a steady swivel option and object transparencies do a nice job of compensating. I was a bit disheartened to see that some things weren't fixed for the port; namely, not seeing what would happen to the character stats if a certain weapon or armor was bought. The player has to exit the screen and check what damage it does or memorize all of their damage stats; also, some very limited polygon clipping occurred. Being able to remap all the buttons was a nice touch, as were the robust options, such as being able to display or disable damage, subtitles, and so on. The basics were covered just as well as the original with quick response times and easy navigation of all basic movements and attacks.

Overall: 9/10
A solid port, and although it doesn't really take advantage of the GameCube's power, the transition was well done. Ignoring the aspect of it being a port at all, Dark Alliance is a phenomenal game that takes a simple hack-and-slash engine and makes it robust with a plethora of weapons, spells, non-playable characters, and a solid story. The experience will last around 10 hours, and there's an unlockable level, but I've played through it twice now and plan on finishing it off with the third and final character - not to mention the option to play through with a friend. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a solid action-RPG through-and-through and one that is definitely not to be missed.

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Related Links: Interplay