Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance for PlayStation 2 was, by far, my favorite game of 2001. Snowblind Studios did a masterful job at crafting a different, more console-oriented take on the Baldur's Gate world. Furthermore, I got to live out one of my longstanding video game dork dreams by playing as Drizzt Do'Urden, the infamous drow ranger from The Forgotten Realms. At the time the game offered an outstanding blend of gameplay, graphics, and sound. A year later, it has come to the Xbox. And, while most of what made it great is intact, some aspects of the game show its age.

At its core, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is an action game along the lines of Gauntlet, but there is a healthy amount of Baldur's Gate accoutrements that adds some RPG favor. Compared to most console action-RPGs, this one is far heavier on the action side. The vast majority of the game consists of hacking, slashing, and treasure hoarding. That said, the customizability of the Dungeons & Dragons Feat system will appeal to RPG nuts. All in all, it's a devilishly good time that's served up with superior presentation values -- a hallmark of Baldur's Gate games.

The two versions of the game are so similar that you might as well read my review of the PlayStation 2 edition for further details. I'll use this review to talk about the differences, additions, and deficiencies of the Xbox build.

In an interview with Interplay's producer, the company noted that it intended to increase the difficulty level. They really haven't though. The monsters are still relatively easy to beat and you can still use really cheap tactics to vanquish them. My favorite cheapie maneuver is running around an object to kill a slower monster. This is particularly effective in sub-boss fights. You can lure your enemy to a save point and run around it. Eventually you'll end up behind him and be able to get in a few shots before he turns around. It's a lame technique that takes advantage of an AI flaw that should have been fixed. Despite the game's ease, there's incentive to replay it at harder levels; doing so unlocks the aforementioned drown ranger and more powerful items.

The three initial characters are pretty much the same as well. The sorceress is still the easiest to play -- her ball lightning attack is ridiculous. The dwarf is a fine choice for gamers that want to smash everything in sight. The archer still sucks, having neither the arcane prowess of the sorceress nor the brute strength of the dwarf. This is a missed opportunity for the publisher, as new characters would have made the game appealing even to those that have played its previous incarnation.

With the Xbox, the developers had a significantly more powerful tool to retell the story of Dark Alliance. Unfortunately, they didn't take advantage of it. There are minor visual and aural enhancements in this version. They're very slight and I'm sure many gamers wouldn't notice the differences. It's like taking a year to turn a masterwork shocking burst scimitar +2 into a masterwork shocking burst scimitar + 3; sure it's a step up, but for a year's time and with more powerful hardware the embellishments should have been more. Sound is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, making this excellent sounding game a tad better. Again, it would have been nice if the publisher plopped down some cash and got Jeremy Soule to compose a few more tracks to add to the game's exquisite, but limited score.

When angry ephedrine users attack.
Two-player cooperative mode was real treat on the PS2. Snowblind had a real opportunity to extend the fun with a four-player mode or Xbox Live compatibility. These would have been killer additions that would be far more substantive than any upgrade in graphics or sound. Adding a new character class, or perhaps having more characters available for download, would have made this edition far more appealing. Instead the only improvements are superficial.

The controls also seem a bit off, but this is a hardware problem, not a software one. The Dual Shock 2's extra set of shoulder buttons really comes in handy. It really helps to have health potions, magic potions, and blocking functions mapped to the shoulders. By default, the Xbox control scheme assigns block to the Black button. This is extremely inconvenient, but my playing style requires more magic and health refreshing than blocking, so I had to live with it.