Dungeon Hunter Alliance

Greed and Apathy

Why Ubisoft and Gameloft's Dungeon Hunter: Alliance deserves your ire.
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: February 22, 2012
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Some people think that we are, at this very moment, living through the “Golden Age” of gaming. A few of them even make a convincing argument of it, citing the ever diversifying gamer demographic, and the unbelievably high level of quality being exhibited in virtually every genre that exists. But whenever a writer or blogger puts a few words together about the topic, there's always at least one guy in the comments who feels the exact opposite; one who insists that we're actually witnessing the apocalyptic decline of our once great hobby. Such doomsayers always come armed with examples of cash grab sequels or insidiously greedy publishers. They wield them like cudgels, bludgeoning our optimism for the future of gaming into a lifeless, bloody corpse. With Gameloft's Dungeon Hunter: Alliance on store shelves, these godless barbarians will have found their new weapon of choice.

The facts: Dungeon Hunter is an action RPG in the dungeon crawling vein of Diablo. Like the many other entrants in the category, you run around slaughtering waves of fantasy themed baddies, bathe in a never ending stream of occasionally useful loot drops, and presumably feel like a badass as you grow your character from an unsuspecting nobody into an unstoppable engine of murder. It always sounds like great fun on paper, but there is a reason it takes Blizzard a lot longer to make them than everybody else:

Because making one that isn't a broken pile of shit is actually really hard.

It's that second part, the bit about it being really hard, that usually gives me pause when I want to tear a bad game apart. Don't misunderstand. If a game is bad, I say so and detail why. That is, of course, my job. But usually, I do so with a certain respect and restraint because, quite frankly, people who work hard on a game that turns out poorly still worked hard, and they deserve to retain their dignity even if their toil didn't result in something great or even good. But Dungeon Hunter is the software equivalent to a slap in the face. It marks the first time in my recollection that I have actually felt insulted by a video game. It's a product so sloppy, so slapdash and so staggeringly overpriced that I can hardly believe anyone had the stones to put it on store shelves.

Even at a casual glance, one can tell how little effort was put into this port from the PSN game of the same name. Colors are washed out and flat, textures are muddy, and the art direction is as bland as bowl of Grapenuts. As early as the class select screen I was cringing at the visuals. I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I selected the warrior, a generic looking every-knight with a facial texture that made him look like he had washed it with battery acid. In an animation straight out of 1997, he slams his sword down in front of him, sending three chunks of Nintendo 64 looking debris into the air, chugging the framerate into the teens for a moment. One character and some debris. This should give you an idea about how much optimizing was done for this Vita port.

Once I got into combat, things didn't fare any better. Even when the screen was empty and I was simply walking about, the frame rate would begin to stutter at random. But when more than two enemies were on screen at once, the game devolved into a slide show of near unplayable proportions. Mind you, this is the same portable on which I can play an Uncharted title that looks nearly every bit as good as its impressive looking console counterpart at a rock solid 30 fps. That a game on the same system looks like it could have been a Nintendo DS launch title, and still can't render a handful of enemies with out the framerate shitting the bed is galling to say the least.

I wish that was the worst part about combat, but things go from disastrous to downright tragic if you try to engage in any kind of ranged combat, as I chose to do with my mage. I learned quickly that, even more so than is normal in these games, if I get caught at close range, I'm just dead. In and of itself, that isn't really an issue. To be perfectly honest, I quite liked that, since it meant I would need to actually build my character intelligently and play smart in order to succeed. That's exactly why I play casters in virtually every ARPG I undertake, because I find straight melee classes to be too simple, too straight forward, and just too easy to dominate with to be enjoyable. However, I learned quickly that there was no intelligence to this design at all.

Basic ranged attacks, as from a bow, staff or orb, simply don't work. They are subject to an auto targeting system that chooses to shoot at inanimate objects 30 feet away from you rather than the giant spider that's right in front of you vomiting poison directly into your throat. Manual targeting is hardly any better as my character often struggled to hit enemies standing right next to him. Compounding this problem is a camera that likes to stay as zoomed in as possible, making it difficult to utilize the full range of your attacks. You can zoom the camera out multi-touch pinch style (which is admittedly neat), but the game will always scoot the camera back in for no apparent reason, forcing you to constantly readjust it.
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