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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dungeon Hunter Alliance; Gameloft Versus Bethesda

I do need to preface this incoming rant with the fact that The Girl and I are big fans of co-op action RPG's. We played every iteration we could get our hands on, and a few them we played through a couple of times.

Oddly, this genre has been sorely lacking on the PS3. There was the near launch title Untold Legends, but when this title was released we were still pretty content loading up Champions of Norrath instead, which sounded like a much more competent title.

IGN gave a Untold Legends a 6.5.

And of course, the was Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, which was a cut and paste of Marvel Ultimate Alliance with enhanced graphics.

IGN gave Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 a 7.7.

Finally, there was Sacred 2, which had some pretty odd issues when setting up the coop functionality but we played quite a bit, even starting over a couple of times - because it was probably the deepest game of this type we found.

IGN gave Sacred 2 a 6.5.

So we were pretty stoked when we saw that Dungeon Hunter Alliance was hitting PSN and offering offline coop. I would say my expectations on the game were somewhat reserved. I had played the original on my iPhone and enjoyed it to a point. If it didn't have coop, I probably would have gotten anyway as just a late night console crawler - but couch coop made this an easy buy at $13.

And honestly, the game doesn't take much to review: it's solid, albeit highly derivative (I mean, the game world is called Gothicus of all things) action RPG in the same vein as every other Diablo clone on the planet. It does support a competent menu system, a decent skill system, and solid (though occasionally blocky) graphics.

The most impressive thing about Dungeon Hunter Alliance, however, is that it has one the better coop setups of any game of its type on the console. MA:U2 probably being the only one with a more robust setup. The only real flaw I can find is that it's a pain to drop someone out locally, which isn't much of a problem. You can seamlessly play the same characters online, offline or a mixture of both. Trading items is easy, and they've implemented a simple color assignment system to make looting straight forward, and giving items back to the players uses the same system. The only thing missing is trading gold, I think. So far, I've found very easy to find online games to jump in and join, which isn't always the case for this genre.

There does some to be a couple of flaws with the hit detection, though it's more of an annoyance than anything that will cause you to toss a controller to the ground. We'd love to have more customization, or classes at least, offered as well.

If this genre is your thing, this is an easy buy - especially if you have someone to coop with. It's not going to impress you, but it will entertain you.

So why did IGN give it a 6.0? By that account this should be the worst of the bunch by far, despite the fact that it is about 1/3 the cost, the only offering in the genre on PSN, has many of the same flaws as MA:U2 in being completely unimaginative, and actually a better coop setup than some of the titles? The reader average is an 8, press average about a 7 or so. My score would be 7, maybe a 7.5 on bias. So why is this just "Okay" and not at least "Good"?

Simple. It came from Gameloft. And it's very trendy to hate Gameloft.

Don't believe me? Here's how the review starts out:

Gameloft is at it again. The company has succeeded on a strategy of similarity throughout the past several years, creating cloned versions of other studios' biggest hits and serving them up mostly on mobile platforms. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is another of these projects, a game that feels like a riff on more original dungeon crawlers like Diablo -- and it, too, originally debuted in the mobile space.
-- Dungeon Hunter Alliance Review [IGN]

Let's examine this for a moment. There's no denying that Gameloft has made a business model out of lifting successful themes and mechanics and deploying them different platforms, especially the iPhone.

But the phrase that stands out for me? This one:

a game that feels like a riff on more original dungeon crawlers like Diablo

Are you kidding me? Of course it feels like a riff on Diablo. Diablo was released in 1996 and has spawned so many clones that "Diablo clone" is synonymous with "Action RPG" as a genre. You could level the same critique at so many titles, but because this is Gameloft, it must be some kind of evil. And that the game originally debuted on a mobile platform? Like that should be odd for a PSN title? Should I go look up any Angry Birds reviews to see if anyone wrote that like it was a bad thing?

So Dungeon Hunter Alliance has almost the exact same core as a game released in 1996. Let's also note that the most recent game of this type was dropped onto the PS3 in 2009, so "Diablo clone" fans have been waiting a couple years to play anything new. And what do we have to look forward to? There's Torchlight, already on XBLA and supposedly coming out for PSN - which doesn't even have couch coop. That leaves Dungeon Siege III for the console market that is similar to Dungeon Hunter in terms of features, and it's fully priced game.

Some of the other points in IGN review are just bizarre:

Then there are only three different character classes to choose from -- the Warrior, the Rogue and the Mage. That selection made sense when it was just a game with one main character, but expanding out to four means that at least two people in your party are going to be playing the same guy. That's like the Ninja Turtles having Raphael, Donatello and two Leonardos. It feels odd.

What's worse, technical issues are currently plaguing the game's online play, meaning you probably won't be able to reliably get a party of your friends connected together until Gameloft releases a patch.

I've played four player online. I had no problems connecting (and I got the game like a couple hours after it came out, so no more patched than anyone else). And I didn't find it odd at all. I seriously have no clue as to what the reviewer is talking about here.

The closing comments indeed sums it up:

Dungeon Hunter: Alliance has left me less than impressed. Gameloft's strategy of copying other studios' hits has worked before and the core game here was a worthwhile clone back on the iPhone two years ago -- but playing it on the PS3 now feels out of place. The extras that have been tacked on to sell this version as a new experience all fall flat, or, worse, just don't work. You'll never forget for a minute that you're playing a game not originally meant for PlayStation, so save your PSN cash for a different download and give this port a pass.

The point that the reviewer completely misses is that in the two years that, according to him, Dungeon Hunter went from a "worthwhile clone" to a junk PS3 port ... is that there haven't been any releases in this genre. Which in many ways, makes Dungeon Hunter just as worthwhile as when it debuted on the iPhone, especially for just $13.

And my question to IGN would be ... what download would you suggest instead? There are exactly zero other titles in this vein on PSN. Zero. Dungeon Hunter Alliance deserves some credit because even if it derivative, unimaginative and shallow - it's also the only game like it on PSN and it manages to do a solid job of delivering such a game. Gameloft isn't stupid, and they aren't unskilled. They see a viable market, and they offer competent games otherwise not seen on that market. And I'm rather glad they have. We've been playing the hell out of it.

Now, this post has gone on longer than I intended and I know most of you have probably zoned out by now. But I did put "Gameloft versus Bethesda" in the title. Yes, I am going to kick this rather dead horse again. Because I've read a few reviews of Dungeon Hunter which spend a rather inordinate amount of time dissing Gameloft for being Gameloft ... and yet when I peruse through the flood of Skyrim previews I notice on thing still hasn't happened.

Not one previewer has had the balls to ask Bethesda the completely obvious question on whether they are going to fix their stability issues.

It is absurd that Bethesda gets such a free pass from the press on delivering some of the buggiest games in the industry because they offer a game experience which is somewhat unique, and yet when Gameloft finally delivers a PSN title which no other company has bothered to produce ... they get shafted simply because they are Gameloft. I honestly don't give a "kill 10 rats" quest if Skyrim is beautiful, or has a new skill structure, or anything at all about the title unless I know that Bethesda is at least willing to acknowledge the failure of quality from their previous titles and is making it a priority not to repeat such mistakes.

And people, there's no other way to describe not being able to finish a game unless you are wearing the right hat on your character than a complete and miserable failure of quality. As I've said before, I won't be buying Skyrim until I see a review - and the first review that states something like:

Typical of Fallout games, there are performance issues and game-breaking bugs that seriously detract from the experience.

...which is from IGN review of the New Vegas: Blood Money ... I am writing Bethesda off as a competent developer forever.

And let's note that the Blood Money DLC, which shipped with game breaking bugs, got a 6.5 from IGN. So even shipping with game breaking bugs, according to IGN that's a better use of your $10 than a game which, you know, works.