Does this launch title get lift or explode on take off?
Created by Gameloft for the PS3, Mac, and finally the Vita, Dungeon Hunter Alliance (DHA) is a controversial medieval themed isometric dungeon crawler taking cues from all-time greats such as Diablo II and Torchlight. However, even hardcore fans of the genre are likely to find playing this game an excruciating task rather than an enjoyable gameplay experience. The game does just about everything wrong from poor engine optimization to horribly designed multiplayer. As a lover of dungeon crawlers, the inclusion of DHA in the Vita’s launch lineup initially came as a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, any pleasantness surrounding this game fades shortly after booting it up.
My first issue with the game lies with the customization. While the dungeon crawling genre is not exactly known for its vast customization options, the choices (or lack thereof) in DHA make it possibly the most limited I have ever seen. All characters look identical, with no options to change gender, facial features, or even hair color. In fact the only choice you are given is what class you would like to play. You have the choice between three archetypal classes: the warrior, the mage, or the rogue, and while they all play differently, one cannot help but notice the lackluster effort Gameloft put forth in the creation of each classes iconic abilities. There just isn’t anything that makes each class stand out. The warrior is the standard fighter; he uses a single weapon and shield or a two-handed weapon to overcome his foes in close combat. The mage prefers spells, using a staff or magical orb to annihilate his foes from a safe distance or heal his allies. The rogue prefers the shadows, using superior agility to dispatch his foes quickly with daggers or a crossbow.
After you have made your decision, you are thrust into the game following one of many very long loading screens. A brief tutorial mission will take you through the royal burial crypts, detailing the controls and teaching you the basics of the class. The X button is for primary attacks with your equipped weapon, while square, triangle, and circle will control your hero’s various abilities. R picks up items and interacts with objects or people, while the L button uses one of your limited potions. These controls work perfectly fine, but Gameloft couldn’t settle for standard controls, they had to include touch controls to justify the game’s inflated price. The back touchpad controls your fairy, and it works fine most of the time, but one wonders why they couldn’t have stuck with the more convenient and traditional controls used in the PS3 version. Double tapping the touch screen uses your fairy’s powerful magical ability determined by which fairy you currently have assisting you. Unfortunately, the touch controls are unresponsive in DHA, forcing you to repeatedly tap the front screen until it decides to accept your commands. Oftentimes it will simply zoom in the screen rather than using your fairy ability. Since there is no option to remap any of the controls, you are stuck dealing with this annoying problem.
Once you clear through the tutorial area, you come to a town where a group of whiny townsfolk send you on menial tasks, taking you back through the very same dungeon you just crawled out of. Only now the layout has magically changed and you have new enemies to slaughter. I suppose it’s too much to ask for new environments. Even later on in the game you’ll be crawling through the same dungeons and forests with a slightly different color scheme. Dungeon crawlers are naturally repetitive, but reusing the same bland environments and enemies over and over makes grinding for new pieces of gear unbearably tedious.
I try not to put too much stock into graphics; especially on a brand new system on which developers have had limited time to optimize engines, but DHA really disappointed me. Aliasing is very minimal in this game, but only because everything from the environments to the NPCs is so incredibly blurry. In fact, it is often difficult to make out exactly what you are fighting. Sure you can see the general shape, but the details are non-existent. It is because of these terrible graphics that I am astonished at how poorly the game runs on the Vita. Even with bland environments and no enemies on the screen, the game struggles to maintain a decent frame rate, often dropping below 20 or so frames per second. If you’re fighting a large group of enemies, the game becomes increasingly choppy, making the task of killing your foes unnecessarily difficult. These performance issues are carried over to the online multiplayer mode, where up to four people can experience a new level of frustration.
As much as it pains me, I have to give credit to Gameloft for including online multiplayer. So many of the Vita’s launch games released without this standard feature, bringing disappointment to gaming enthusiasts around the world. Unfortunately, if you can even manage to get into one of the few multiplayer games going at any given time, the aforementioned performance issues coupled with poor game design make for a truly exasperating experience. Even more deadly than any foe found in any dungeon, is the lag. On a very stable connection with a strong Wi-Fi signal, I found myself frequently having to press buttons multiple times to get a response and rubber banding around every turn. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the game is Gameloft’s decision to force all players to share a screen. No, not literally, but unlike most dungeon crawlers, you are unable to venture far enough for your allies to fall off of the screen. This ultimately leads to one person standing still while the other three run in place at the edge of the screen until the fourth decides to continue or gets removed from the game. I cannot describe how infuriatingly annoying it is to have to completely stop every 10 seconds because someone decides they want to check their loot, distribute attribute points or learn new spells. This feature also makes bosses far more difficult than they should be. Since you are very limited to where and how far you can move, it is often impossible to dodge heavy attacks that whittle down your health to nothing in no time at all, and since there is no voice chat in the game, you cannot ask your teammates to move without taking the time to type it out (which leads to you dying anyways).
As a side note, DHA was met with severe criticism over the game’s launch pricing, which was three to four times higher than the PS3’s PSN price, and up to forty times the price of the game on Apple’s Mac App Store. Gameloft stated that adjustments to the game’s performance as well as additional changes justified the inflated price, though the game is nearly identical to both previous versions.