As anyone who read my Top 5 dungeon crawlers will know, I can’t resist an opportunity to hack my way through some goblins, so when ‘Dungeon Hunter Alliance’ appeared on the European PSN store for just £9.99 (just under fifteen dollars in your green notes) I couldn’t resist an impulse buy.
French developer Gameloft is best known for taking popular game types and creating cheap copies of them on iOS and other mobile platforms. Founded by Ubisoft creators the Guillemot brothers, they have made their name by pushing games on iOS that no other company dares to do. Many of their design briefs are photocopies of better games. They have recently made themselves known on the PSN with minis titles such as Hero of Sparta (Baby God of War), and with the budget shooter Modern Combat Domination (Counter Strike minus bells and whistles). Their latest title, the co-op dungeon crawler Dungeon Hunter Alliance is an IP which has had great success on the iPhone. This is no iPhone port though, the game has been built specifically for the PS3 with HD graphics, full online four player co-op, and voice chat.
A photocopy of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, the seminal PS2 title that took Diablo-style action-RPG gameplay and made it work on consoles, is a photocopy which still has plenty of appeal. This was not a story based exploring and questing RPG, but rather a linear hack and slash co-op blast, with an addictive kill and loot formula. Dungeon Hunter Alliance sticks to this formula. Indeed, it has paid homage to other great dungeon crawlers. The cartoony art style is obviously influenced by Torchlight, and the leveling system is reminiscent of the great Diablo.
It doesn’t quite have the charm of its peers though. There is only a fraction of the customization that Champions of Norrath had and little of the atmosphere of Torchlight. The writing and cut-scenes are poor. Indeed the story is basic. You play a dead king, resurrected by the fairies to depose an evil queen and her minions. It’s derivative, but unashamedly so. Upon loading up the game, you are given the choice of three classes (Mage, Fighter or Rogue) curiously played by the same avatar. An option to play a female, or even to choose the hair color would hardly have stretched the PS3’s processor. Character creation is such an important part of the RPG experience that this lack of choice is criminal, and definitely the game’s biggest let-down. The opening cut-scene is tokenistic, with dialogue seemingly written by some teenage boys playing Dungeons and Dragons, and doesn’t fill you with confidence.
But once into the game itself, the loot collecting and levelling mechanic quickly gets its hooks into you and Dungeon Hunter Alliance is surprisingly deep and full featured. On the surface characters are simple, with only four traits (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance and Energy) but there seems to be robust system behind it. There are many spells and abilities, easily mapped onto the dualshock buttons. There’s a fairy that follows you around, providing a Golden Axe style special attack, knocking over all adversaries on screen. Dungeons and other areas are big, with a nice mix of enemies and bosses. The frame rate is smooth and graphics crisp and functional. The campaign is about 6 to 7 hours long and with some levels being randomly generated and a level cap of at least 75 there’s plenty of replay-ability here, so that’s a lot of game for the low price point. Although it derives from the button mashing of console action-RPGs, the game also supports MOVE and this works surprisingly well as a point and click mouse style control, with wrist flicking through menus more intuitive than you might expect. I played with several people online who preferred the MOVE controls to the dualshock. As a console gamer first and foremost I stuck with the dualshock.
Like its influences, the game is obviously designed with co-op in mind, and it supports four players locally or online. Much like Borderlands, the more players there are, the better the loot. Couch co-op is implemented well, with drop-in/drop-out accessibility. I had less luck online as the games took forever to load. (It’s worth mentioning though that the PSN was unstable and under attack by a group calling themselves ‘Anonymous’ at the time of writing this). Once players are joined though, the online seems to work well with no lag that I could see, and good voice chat support. The lack of options for character appearance means you’ll be choosing armor that sets you apart from your friends.
As a single player experience, it’s no patch on the far superior Torchlight, but Dungeon Hunter Alliance will provide the thrifty gamer an adequate distraction to keep them occupied while they wait for Dungeon Siege III or Diablo 3, but for those who enjoy a co-op hack and slash in the vein of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath, I’d thoroughly recommend picking this up at this price, despite its flaws.
Fun with friends, good MOVE implementation, shamefully bad character customization. Dungeon-crawler-lite, but fun nonetheless.