At this point, a co-op dungeon crawler seems like a relic of generations past. We don’t mean that in a bad way; the genre just hasn’t seen the flurry of releases on the latest consoles that it had in the PS2 days. (Is it the emergence of MMOs? Genre fatigue? Just an unfortunate sequence of studio closures? We don’t know.) There hasn’t been a Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, a Champions of Norrath or even a decent Gauntlet out in years. It’s in this environment that Gameloft, the cover band of the industry, has a real shot with Dungeon Hunter: Alliance.
The game’s based, as it always is with Gameloft, on a mobile title. You choose a class, enter dungeons, gather loot and complete objectives. Along the way you level up, gain skills and upgrade attributes. In other words, it’s Dark Alliance without the IP. This version adds multiplayer, and that’s the ingredient it really needed.
First, though, let’s go over the other features. This game has Move support. It is something you should ignore, since pointing with the Move to move and hitting the Move button for almost everything isn’t actually easier or more precise in any way. We get that it’s supposed to be less daunting, but this game’s demographic should really be okay with a Dual Shock at this point. There’s HD! Except not really. The areas are all somewhat recycled from iOS versions, and they have low polygon counts. Thankfully, things are zoomed out enough that it’s not a problem, and the menus have that Torchlight-style low-budget-but-still-slick look to them. Just don’t expect to be impressed, as we think our old Champions disc has comparable visuals. Also, don’t play this single-player. Just don’t! It’s not very fun, as it’s deep enough for a phone game but pales in comparison to other PS3 offerings. Finally, the story is painfully generic. This is fine to just skip conversations in multiplayer, but a better-written tale would have mitigated the monotony when playing alone.
Okay, so the important stuff: Alliance supports four-player co-op, both online and local. Online is seamless as usual, and local does a good job of screen management, allowing all four players to access pop-up menus at once, LittleBigPlanet-style. Loot is randomly assigned a player color and only that person can pick it up, which keeps things even, and you can drop items with similar restrictions to keep a greedy player from messing up exchanges. You can join a host anywhere during his game, and if your quests line up, you can also progress on your own file. (This seems to really only work if all start at once, as otherwise you have to complete the exact same quests on your own before joining up. Still, it’s a welcome addition.) There seems to be one big oversight, though: for a game with four players, it’s weird to have three character classes. Now each class can be customized with skills and such so that they don’t play identically, but the armor and weapon drops are clearly tailored for one class, and two players basically have to split the good stuff. With the occasional exception, though, the item curve is rather shallow, so one guy will get a Spectral Staff with bonus mana regeneration and HP regeneration, and the other will be stuck with… a Spectral Staff with the same attack and fewer bonuses.
The game could use a patch, though. Players occasionally get stuck for a few seconds on obstacles. Your inventory will glitch up and show that your HP-boosting ring is a two-handed mace with bonus fire damage. They’re small, but noticeable, issues, and you hope that a game with so little character could at least be polished. (There were reports of major online issues, but those seem to have been cleared up.)
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is the only declared candidate in the race these days, so in that respect it scores quite a few points. And the genre’s a reliable one that, with a group of friends, becomes fun even if it doesn’t have everything together. The progression, the boss battles and the gratifying feeling of acquiring levels and items that mobile and social games have captured so well lately make Alliance a blast to play, even if we can’t really say the game’s very good in any particular way.
Pros: Enjoyable multiplayer, addictive RPG elements
Cons: Almost soulless, needs some bug squashing