Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance (PS2) - Usman Zia - 8/10

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Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance [game information] Version Tested: PAL Genre: Adventure Publisher: Interplay Developer: Snowblind Studios

The original PC Baldurs Gate games were huge, full of depth, and stayed faithful to the dudgeons and dragons setting and rules, though I myself was never too impressed by them, never liking d+d beyond the 80’s cartoon.

Don’t get me wrong, I love RPG’s, but only of Japanese origin. Orcs, goblins and dragons left my imagination when I stopped reading fairy tales…and a few weeks after seeing Lord of the Rings, so for Dark Alliance to impress me, it would have to be a hell of a great game.

Snowblind Studios were given the task to make a Baldur’s Gate game for console owners, the Playstation 2 in this case. They were probably smart and realised that those who wanted an insane amount of depth and pointy clicky adventures already had them on the PC, so ports of the original games were out of the picture. We console gamers needed convincing to play the game. We wanted action, great graphics and RPG elements that didn’t make you reach for an aspirin.

Congratulations to Snowblind for two counts of successful conversion. One of the game, secondly of me. Now I know of the joy of getting a “Frost Blackwood Master Keen Bastard Sword of Speed +3”, and read on to see why you should too.

The first task after you’re taken through the games usual “the land is under siege by hideous evil” pre title screen intro, is to pick one of three hero’s to play as. Each player presents a different experience in the game and are evenly balanced in terms of their pros and cons in comparison to one another. These three are a dwarven warrior, a human archer and an elven sorceress. The dwarf has the usual midget super strength, being the best with direct melee combat by having invaluable melee skills unavailable to other characters. His obvious drawback is lack of spells and being unable to attack from a distance. While the sorceress is the exact opposite of this, and the archer being an all round average Joe in terms of his stats and weapon compatibility, but his speciality is being able to switch anytime to his trusty bow, so he can attack outside of harms way.

When the game begins, it becomes apparent how much graphical flair has gone into this. Like metal gear, it’s viewed from a top down view, but here the camera can be viewed at most angles by using the second analog stick. The textures of the characters and locations are sharp, crisp, detailed and in full 3D, unlike the pre-rendered graphics of the PC version. Yet this is at a price. Baldurs Gate (the city where you start) is rather small, and despite it being bustling with lots of people, you can only talk to the few crucial NPCs (non-player characters) who hand you any quests, either compulsory for the story to move on or just optional to bag more goodies. This is forgivable as the locations look as full and luscious as Angelina Jolies lips. There are mountains, sewers, crypts, dungeons, mines, swamps, castles if only to name a few. Also the musical score is dramatic and goes well with each area, though it just doesn’t seem loud enough.

In fact the whole setting screams Lord of the Rings. Yup, right down to the blue glowing weapons.

The visual and audio effects in each location are wonderful. The rippling water and exploding barrels, the unique way each type of enemy can die, skeletons explode and their bones scatter (plus the cool clank noise as it happens), zombies torsos crawl towards you, iron knights collapse into a big metal heap, it all gives more depth, and this is needed, as it becomes apparent about an hour into the game, that all the gameplay consists of is running into a dungeon, hacking, running out and hacking some more. Repetitiveness can become an issue, but not enough to detract from playing the game and enjoying it. Just for the sake of building up the characters and getting that weapon you really want. I was soon desperate to save 40,000 gold to buy that Frost Blast Glowing War Hammer+3. Also because the controls are done so well, with potions and spells only one press away means the play is seamless.

Getting later into the game, it gets a bit more complicated as the opposition becomes stronger, tricks and traps are set in the dungeons, and the various boss fights. More thought, caution and a big supply of potions are needed to progress. What is most necessary however, is the development of the characters. As more kills are made, experience increases leading to level ups. When this happens, new skills can be chosen and up certain statistics, making your character very refined in whatever way you want. They can be given great accuracy if your preferred method of play is to stay at the edge of the screen and pelt away with arrows and spells at a safe distance, or increase your strength to charge right into the groups of enemies and take them down faster, and carry more items. Which is useful because there’s gold and weapons littered all over the dungeons which you can either equip or sell.

Sometimes on facing stupid odds with no real way to defeat the entire enemy force without suffering unavoidable damage, it becomes obvious this game was made for co-op. And it is, it has the option and this is where the game really shines. You can play with a friend through the entire game. Not only is it obviously more fun, it adds so much more depth due to teamwork. Example. You enter a room with a massive ogre that throws rocks at you; one team mate can distract it and dodge its missiles, while the other concentrates on killing it. Also, it’s a hilarious situation when an enemy drops a big expensive weapon and both the players just RUN to get it before the other does.

Now here comes the main niggle I have with this otherwise incredible co-op game. It’s short. I mean Danny De Vito short. My friend and I did it in less than 10 hours, and we explored everywhere and killed everything. There’s the option to start again with your saved characters to level up even more, but there’s no real point as everything can be practically killed with one hit. There is a secret mode though when you finish the game…

Otherwise, this is easily the best co-op game I’ve played recently, if not ever. Get this game in the package where you get a mate with it. That, or you can use one of your own.

Game Score: 8/10 Reviewed By: Usman Zia