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.

What a surprise, the screenshot function is disabled. So here’s an official shot of the “Vita version” (the PS3 version with the Vita UI).

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.

What exactly am I looking at here?

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).

What’s a level one with no potions to do?

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.

 

 

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My name is Mike, I am 23 years old and have been gaming for as long as I can remember. I started out with one of my all-time favorites, Super Mario Bros 3 on the NES, and my passion for gaming has continued to grow ever since. I absolutely love western style RPGs. Everything from dungeon crawlers like Diablo and Torchlight, to hardcore action RPGs like Demon's Souls. I've more recently begun a foray into JRPGs with the release of P4G on the Vita, and I must say, I'm kicking myself for avoiding JRPGs my entire gaming career.
  • diabloNL

    Thanks for the review Mike. I agree on some of the points you mentioned. Yes, I also experience frame rate issues, but I mainly have it when enemies enter the screen. Fighting a horde of enemies doesn’t give me any framerate issues. Also you’re right about the touch screen not being responsive when using the fairy. On a side note; you can use the right stick to guide your fairy and don’t need to use the rear touch panel.

    Graphics wise I think the game looks great(zooming out makes it look way better). I have to say that the Vita is my only game console so I have nothing else to compare the game to.

    I’m truly enjoying this game. The only thing that bothers me is like you mentioned the price and also the fact that Gameloft didn’t bother to fix the framerate issue. Fixing the long loading times should also be on their list. The iPhone loads a level within 3-4 seconds!

    • Mike Evans

      While I didn’t bring it up, I am aware that the right analog stick controls the fairy. My point was that Gameloft claimed that major changes justified the price, but in reality, the changed were minor and completely unnecessary. Just like the back touch pad controlling the fairy. The right stick works better, so why change it? Also, I didn’t mention it, but it annoyed me every time I accidentally touched the back pad and my fairy stopped moving.

      As far as the frame rate goes, minor changes in frame rate are really apparent to me. It’s something that not everybody is going to notice, but the ones that do will be bothered by it. I’m not saying that everything has to be running at a full 60+, but it should at least be smooth.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it, though. I love dungeon crawlers, so giving this a 4 was really hard for me. Had they released it as a $10 PSN title, I could have been much more lenient, but I can’t see many willing to pay full price.

  • One other problem I had with the game: there is so much menu navigation that could have been much easier to handle with touchscreen enabled menu control. The fact that it was not included in this release originally built for touchscreen controls is rather daft.

  • diabloNL

    Jasper, you can control the menu’s with the touch screen. Or did you mean something else?

  • teras

    Exactly the type of game the Vita does not need.
    It is an exact port of the IOS version and terribly overpriced. A bad port of a generic dungeon crawler mobile game.
    If I hadn’t played the IOS version, I could have been fooled. Don’t support this.

  • Great review. Made a good read. I think you hit the nail on the head with 99% of all the games issues! However, I think you were a bit harsh!
    I understand a review of a game is pretty much your opinion of it.. But I think the Game is much better than you portray it!

    All the negatives you mention I wont argue with, Poor use of the rear touch screen, poor reactions of the front touch screen, Duplicated controls with the Right analog stick, The framerate is at times, shocking, but doesnt ruin gameplay, AI is retarded, Customisation of classes is just lazy (there is none) Camera is often poorly placed etc etc…

    But, In my opinion, The graphics are half decent. Good enough for my eyes. I thought things looked smooth! The controls, apart from touch controls work nicely, The variety of environments was decent, and looked nice, The music was nice and atmospheric, and the games playability was in my own humble opinion, Fantastic.
    It is a very playable game, And as a veteran of many RPG’s such as baldurs gate, Diablo, Dungeon Siege and Torchlight, I think they did a decent job!

    Don’t get me wrong, they made this game with nothing ground breaking, or, anything new! But as a Dungeon Crawler, It works!
    There are plenty of drops, plenty of monsters, and even a half baked story!
    The game is very replayable, and I can waste hours playing it.

    Yes, I wish it was bigger, Yes I want more classes and customisation, YES I want a better story, But as this is the Vita’s only Top Down hack’n’slash RPG, its not bad.

    Final thing: The multiplayer plays wonderfully for me! And a few of the others I play with have no issues either, And whilst I know they exist, I’m not sure just how wide spread they are.

    All in all, A decent game, with lots of play time and fun! I would have given it a 6/10 – And even though I personally really like the game, I realise it has a LOT of glaring flaws. Which can be put up with, ignored, and a good game had by all!

    • Mike Evans

      Like I said, had the game released as a budget title on PSN, I could have been much more forgiving, and would completely agree with you. However, Gameloft took a really cheap game ($1-$12 in the US), slapped it on the Vita without fixing the game’s existing problems and gave it a full retail price tag. This game simply is not worthy of its price, and I stand by that.