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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
(Sony for Playstation 3)

Playing Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom doesn't differ too dramatically from the PSP games. The title's longer levels, improved graphics and more elaborate cinemas helps to make what is essentially a fairly mindless hack and slash adventure feel deeper. Dark Kingdom's controls are fairly easy to learn, with even elaborate attacks requiring only a few button pushes. This makes the combat feel monotonous and dull quickly. From a visual standpoint, the game looks decent, but it's essentially not that much better graphically than a PS2 game. While it has it's moments, Dark Kingdom is a disappointing game in the end because it doesn't seem to take advantage of the PS3's hardware.

Based on the successful PSP series, Sony Online Entertainment's Untold Legends Dark Kingdom is one of the first Playstation 3 games on the market. Set in the usual fantasy world of dungeons, dragons, swords and sorcery, the plot involves a corrupt king who's taken over the peaceful land. He's been seduced by dark magic and has used this to turn his soldiers into beasts and wreaked havoc on the kingdom. It's up to you and your small band of fighters to defeat these evil forces, overthrow the king and restore order to the world. Dark Kingdom is a decent game on the surface, but it definitely has the hallmarks of a launch title, in that it feels rushed, doesn't take advantage of the hardware and offers superficial, uninspired gameplay. Even with these problems, there are still some positive elements of the game that mitigate its problems to some degree. This action-oriented arcade RPG lets players hack and slash through a variety of enemies and levels in an accessible manner. You can quickly create and use your character, and the role playing elements are there, but not overpowering. The game's levels consist mainly of action and battles that can involve dozens of opponents simultaneously. Each map is fairly open and there are numerous secret areas and hidden paths with some exploration as well. Frequent save points allow you to play through the game without much in the way of frustrating backtracking. Dark Kingdom's storyline is fairly transparent to the play itself, meaning you won't have to sit through endless cinemas and preludes before you get into the action. Unlike many RPG's, this arcade approach puts you in the center of battle almost immediately. This sounds appealing on paper, but its an early sign that the game isn't as deep or involved as it could have been.

The game's somewhat large levels are designed in a fairly straightforward manner which makes progression fairly easy. Your onscreen map helps you to navigate each level, along with onscreen prompts and messages with makes your objectives fairly easy. Dark Kingdom's controls are likewise easy to understand and the characters are fairly responsive to your input. You can upgrade your character using items and accessing this menu is fairly easy, which allows you to get right back into the action once you're done. During the game, you can use the shift buttons to auto-target enemies, which focuses your attacks. The enemies tend to make up for their lack of power by attacking in groups which means you'll have to dispatch them quickly or face a lot of damage. Most of the opponents you face in the game are easy to defeat, though there are some boss characters thrown into the mix as well. This makes the combat sequences seem exciting, but the predictable AI has the effect of making the combat feel monotonous in a hurry. It's disappointing in that area but the game does offer a few tweaks and additions along the way. As you build you character up through the game, they can use abilities such as additional magic spells and attacks to make some of the boss battles easier. One of the problems that surfaces early on is the repetitive nature of the battles. You seem to battle the same foes again and again, which makes them predictable, easy to dispatch and not very challenging. The biggest problem you'll probably have comes when they attack off-screen and you need to locate them, though this is more frustrating than challenging. It's more a byproduct of the game's annoying camera system than any design decision and makes Dark Kingdom feel decidedly unpolished.

Players can upgrade their characters as they progress, with a number of skill points or use additional weapons, spells and armor to increase their effectiveness. You can earn extra items either by defeating foes and collecting items they drop or finding the numerous treasure chests throughout the worlds. There are many types of items in the game, so it pays not to skip over items you might find. The characters themselves can perform several types of attack, target enemies automatically and use their fallen foes' essence to build their strength back. This makes the game easier. Dark Kingdom can be played either solo or co-operatively and the game also supports online battles. It doesn't really affect gameplay too much, since the computer AI doesn't seem to work much differently than an human player would. Each level in the game is large but fairly linear with pre-defined paths and routes. This makes things a bit predictable at points but it does have the advantage of allowing you to progress fairly quickly through your adventure. The solo campaign isn't that compelling, but the game does promise more exciting online and co-operative play with support for multiple players and deeper battles. However, in our brief sessions that game didn't feel substantially different or more interesting than it did off-line. Sony is also promising additional content that will be available to download online, but none was present at the time of review.

As stated earlier, Dark Kingdom's camera system leaves a lot to be desired. The action takes place using a forced top-down perspective that tries to make more of the battlefield viewable, but has the result of making the player feel distant from the action. Even in close up range, the game hardly looks impressive. Its character animations feel somewhat flat, lack detail and imagination. Each level in the game looks alright and there are some flashes where the game's backgrounds and environments nearly look impressive, but for the most part, the game's appearance is pretty bland. Sony Online has tried to up the production values with an appropriately epic score, extensive voice acting and some special effects when magic is used. While the game is accessible and easy to learn, this approachability is undermined by unimaginative design. There's a somewhat interesting plot, but doesn't justify the time spent going through level after level of similarly designed and unimpressive enemies In the end, this offers some mildly entertaining hack and slash role playing that's fun for a short time, but it can't escape its very much evident PSP roots. Sadly, what works on a hand-held doesn't seem to have translated well onto console. It feels more like a port than it should. This approach makes it fell rather superficial because its gameplay quickly becomes monotonous with tedious enemies and predictable level maps. Despite some interesting HD flourishes, Untold Legends Dark Kingdom feels distinctly like a last generation title and fails to take advantage of the added power and possibilities posed by the Playstation 3 hardware.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: C-

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