reviews\ Dec 22, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance - GC - Review

Well, here’s a fine how-do-you do? You arrive in the quaint little town of Baldur’s Gate to get knocked on the head, robbed and almost killed. Well, not being one to shy away from danger certainly has its advantages, but the thought of getting even with the thieves that waylaid you has thrust into the middle of a more sinister plot.

Oh well, a hero’s work is never done.

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is a GameCube release from Black Isle Studios, High Voltage Software, Snowblind Studios and Interplay Entertainment. The game is a dungeon crawl through incredible odds, a bevy of monsters and into the heart of evil rekindled. Ok, the story line is staid, but the action and look of this title is excellent. Whether playing a solo game or two-player cooperative, the game tracks a linear path from the outset at a tavern into the sewers beneath the town and then out into the surrounding wilderness.

Therein lies one of the downsides of the game – the linear path. If you have played it at the single-player level, then jump into a multiplayer game, you will know where to go and, to some extent, what faces you. As you add players, or play at a higher difficulty level, the game gets much tougher.

The AI is a little simple with enemies lining up to be killed, or coming through a doorway one at a time while you stand on the other side, wheedling down the odds by killing whatever walks through first (sounds like a good strategy, but only the foolish would rush through a doorway after seeing bodies pile up around it and knowing something that wants in is on the other side).

The plot of the game is as follows: a growing evil has made its way into the port city of Baldur’s Gate. A new thieves’ guild has emerged and there is a war between the new and old groups that have the citizens of the town afraid. But that was only the beginning. A strange quest brought some sort of orb to the town and unleashed its power in the crypt beneath the church. The undead are rising, the priests are being tortured to death and darkness seems to be descending on the town.

That’s where you come in. As one of three characters (an archer, dwarf or sorceress), you just want to get back what was stolen from you (why the liaison to one of the central dark figures is involved in ordinary street muggings is beyond understanding, but the metal-head was there), and send a message to those thieves that no one messes with you. Ah, but then the quests start piling up, and before you know it, you are up to the top of your jerkin in slaying evil-doers.

The game interface is set up for ease of use and the GameCube control elements are a delight to work with in this game. The left thumbstick moves your character while the right one rotates the camera. The A button is for a directional attack, B employs a special ability (such as a spell), the left and right shoulder buttons allow you to swallow power-up potions (essentially health and mana), the Z button is to parry a blow, Y is for jumping and X to interact with the world (open doors, pick up booty and the like). The learning curve is perhaps 10 minutes. However, don’t take that as a sign that life will be easy. Even at the lower difficulty settings, players will be tasked with seemingly insurmountable odds that must be surmounted in over to progress. You can manipulate the environment to some degree to help in your endeavors – such as moving a box to use as a shield against missile attacks.

The sound of this game is rich and full. The vocal characterizations are very good and the music is excellent. The sound of battle is very solid. The camera is perched high above and while not offering the best view, at all times, does give a nice overview to the lush, smooth graphics of this game.

The water is particularly exceptional, and the monsters look very good. The animation is remarkable. Dynamic lighting and excellent spell effects really bolster the appeal of this game. One of the earlier spells an archer can have is a fire arrow, which is almost akin to launching a napalm attack. The arrow zings with a flame tail, then upon impact engulfs the target in a blazing inferno. Very, very nicely done.

While the game may not have great replayability (yes, you can retrace your steps with different characters), and the camera may hamper the game a bit (especially when it comes to targeting), but these are minor annoyances that don’t really affect a solid combat-laden RPG. This game utilizes 3rd Edition D&D rules to deliver an immersive game that will drive you to distraction as each successive task gets tougher. This game excels on the GameCube console, and while it has been a year since the title appeared on other console systems, porting it to the GameCube was definitely worth the effort.

This game is rated Teen for blood, violence and use of alcohol.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8.8
The game has its share of cutscenes that show a breakdown in animation, and while the mapboards are huge, there is a linear path to move through them in advancing down the storyline.

Graphics: 9
The camera angle really is a burr in this engine’s saddle. Get over that and you will find incredible environments, dynamic effects, and splendid animation.

Sound: 9
The music and voice characterizations are excellent. The battle sounds (clanging of metal on metal, or the missile assault) is somewhat standard for this style of game.

Difficulty: Medium
The three difficulty levels are labeled from easy on up, but the progressive nature and number of the opposing forces will make you work for that dropped loot and those special weapons.

Concept: 8.3
While the camera does rotate, that fixed high above view is a hindrance to the game, though it does serve its purpose in tight areas like the sewers where you might be obscured by walls and pillars, et cetera. The interface is easy to use though, and the learning curve (to understand the fundamental controls of the game) is short.

Multiplayer: 8.8
If you have played this as a single player, you will find that little changes in the multiplayer cooperative format. The game still progresses down the same paths, and you will find the opposition tougher – though nothing that a good supply of health potions can’t help with. However, you can create a situation where one player can’t move because the other is on the opposite side of the screen. That’s where cooperation really comes into play.

Overall: 8.8
The game does have a few stumbling points, but challenges and entertains with exceptional graphics, and wonderful sound. This is an evolving game that gets harder as you progress. While the puzzles are that difficult to work through (and mostly involve finding switches to open doors or figuring out how to overcome obstacles in your path), and the storyline is a rehash, the game is a joy to play.


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