Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is a welcome sight to those who have played Black Isle's Baldur's Gate games on the PC but were always wishing for graphics that were a little crisper and action that was a little more intense. The PS2 version will take a little getting used to for PC fans of the series, but believe me, it's well worth the effort.
Unlike the PC games of the series, which are equal parts puzzle solving and fighting, this -- the first PS2 entry in the series -- is 90% action, which suits this reviewer just fine. I admit to tiring of the original Baldur's Gate because of all the walking around and talking to different characters. It got to the point where my wife would do all of the walking around and interacting with NPCs, which she enjoyed, while I would gladly jump in to supply firepower as needed.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Dark Alliance has a great control and interface design. There are many ways to use the controls to your advantage, not only in fighting, but in getting around the game in general. To begin with, you'll find Recall potions in the game, which you can use to make a quick round trip to town to stock up on supplies or sell items to increase your cashflow. These Recall potions are a godsend, especially when you're three levels down in the sewer with no easy way to get back to town. There are also plenty of save points in the game (one in almost every other room), and you'll need to use them often to avoid replaying sections when you die (and you will). NOTE: you will need the 8MB PS2 memory card to even play the game, let alone save, so make sure you have one.
The interface is ingeniously designed to offer ease of use but also to let you have the ultimate control when you need it. Unlike the PC games, you cannot pause a battle to decide which characters will be attacking whom and with what. Instead, it is non-stop action, so you'd better be prepared before you enter the fray. While the controls can seems a little daunting compared to a mouse, there is plenty of on-screen help to let you know which buttons you should be pushing to do things like pick up objects, save a game, or talk to an NPC.
Dark Alliance was not meant to be a console port of Baldur's Gate. This is purely a console game, and it shines as such. There are many differences in the gameplay between this game and those of the PC series. In Dark Alliance, you choose one of three pre-generated characters: Vahn the Archer, Adrianna the Sorceress, or Kromlech the Dwarven Fighter. You will have some options for character building, but in a much more limited fashion than in the PC games. Your Dark Alliance characters will receive bonus points when they level up, which can be spent to gain spells or abilities and that's the only way to get new abilities, especially new spells. In the PC games, one can find spells or buy them along the way. The number and variety of abilities and spells is also toned down in Dark Alliance. You could say that the PC Baldur's Gate games offer more depth for true RPG fans, while Dark Alliance offers a richer visual and action experience while still retaining the important elements that embody the feel of the BG/AD&D world.
The only gripe I had with the game was that the quests and storyline were fairly linear and that you are pretty much led by the nose through the game. In the PC games of the series, you have a bit more freedom to finish quests out of order, so the overall exploratory experience on the PC was deeper.
Probably the most enjoyable way to play Dark Alliance is to play co-op with a friend. You can each choose from the three characters available and team up to rid Baldur's Gate of the evil hordes. The game lets either player interact with NPCs, save game, use Recall potions, as well as buy/sell items simultaneously. There are several points in the game where having both a fighter and a sorceress helps a great deal. All in all, the folks at Black Isle did a fabulous job in creating the cooperative mode in Dark Alliance.
Graphics & Audio
I have never seen a PC or console RPG that could surpass the graphical nuances and beauty of Dark Alliance. Every ounce of processing power of the PS2 must be used, because some of the effects are simply dazzling. Not a few times, I died just staring at the lovely gelatinous cubes as they squished towards me, or got myself killed because I was watching the water splash and ripple or gaping at the marvelous lighting effects. I'd say the quality and richness of the graphics in Dark Alliance put the PC games in this series to shame.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is the best console RPG I've ever seen. It's no wonder that it's made several magazines' 'Top Ten PS2 Games of the Year'? lists. If there's any room for improvement here, it would be to make the storyline/quests a little less linear and extend the playing time. But with the stunning graphics, super-fun co-op mode, and intelligent and seamless interface, you won't be worrying about the storyline until well after you've finished shooting fireballs at the last of the frost giants. If you are an RPG fan or are just looking for a fresh face to grace your PS2, you can't miss with Dark Alliance.