Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (PS2)
On the surface, one might see Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance as a clone of the best-selling PC hack-and-slash, Diablo. Look deeper and you'll see that Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is more than that. It's a welcome throwback to Gauntlet style dungeon hack-and-slashers (i.e., Gauntlet Legends). Look even deeper and you'll find that Baldur's Gate gives you an experience that you can't get from Diablo: An incredible graphics engine, precision control, and inspired enemy designs. Obviously Snow Blind Studios (the developers of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance) "borrowed" some elements from Blizzard's breakthrough hit: the "town portal," the 3 classes, and the general look. But since it does so much to improve the formula, I guess we can overlook the pilfering of "a few" gameplay elements.
I'd bet my Masterwork +3 long sword of speed that you've heard of the Baldur's Gate computer games and perhaps you've played one of them. Before you get your hopes up too high, I'm sorry to say that the gameplay shares almost no similarities with its PC counterparts. Instead, it takes more of a Diablo 2, Gauntlet Legends-esque spin on the Baldur's Gate universe (which, by the way, is part of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons mythology). Here's a bit of the story for all of you who are interested.
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance takes place in the world of Abeir-Toril (if that means anything significant to anyone). The city of Baldur's Gate has been having a lot of trouble keeping the "evil" out; consequently, a rash of evil happenings plagues the city leaving the superstitious, unwashed, medieval-looking townsfolk afraid to leave their homes. Enter our heroes: Vahn, the Arcane archer; Kromlech, the Dwarven fighter; and Ardrianna, the sexily sexy Elven archer. Our heroes take on the daunting task of ridding the requisite "evil" from the land and giving the peasants reasons to rejoice once again. Its not the most engaging story, but the story isn't what you play for.
Level design is along the lines of Diablo 2 (another similarity), but with more diverse environments and real-time rendering of the backgrounds. That means that in most places you'll be able to rotate the camera so you'll never have control issues. Levels ranges from standard gothic dungeons, to yeti filled ice plains.
The graphics are a standout feature, although I wish the camera were a little closer so you could get a more detailed view of the action. The camera is positioned in 3/4 overhead perspective (a la Diablo and Gauntlet Legends), and it gives you a bird's eye view of some of the cleanest graphics and stunning magic spell effects on PS2 right now: spell effects that would make Harry Potter soil himself, no doubt. Most of the spells are your standard fare, ranging from a charge and spin attack for the fighter, to fireballs and ice for the sorceress.
The Bottom Line: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance won't win any awards for creativity, but it's better than Diablo and it stays true to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons universe.