Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse Preview

Dark Angel has no relation to the James Cameron TV show of the same name, but it does have an uncanny resemblance to Metro 3D's first game, Armada. In this adventure RPG, you tackle heinous monsters from a real-time, top-down perspective.


Those of you who have played Armada, the quirky RPG-adventure oddity released almost a year and a half ago, may remember its inventive, free-roaming gameplay and arresting battle system. Unfortunately, if you kept playing for more than a few hours, you may also remember its repetitive gameplay and uninteresting plot. When you consider the source, however, the game was a worthy effort: The space opera was mostly the work of a single programmer who had to complete the game in WinCE with a low budget. Consequently, there's quite a bit of buzz surrounding the company's upcoming effort, Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse. The new game features a bigger development team and better production values. Metro 3D has modest goals, though; its goal seems to be to simply improve on the tried Armada formula and to offer a more polished gameplay and a more interactive storyline, while still keeping to an open-ended universe that reacts to your decisions.

Dark Angel places you in the role of a vampire hunter named Anna. In the land of Gothos, your village is suffering from a mysterious plague that mutates its victims into horrific monsters with extraneous limbs and a hunger for their fellow humans. As the village warrior, you have less than one year to find the cause of the enigmatic ailment and to come up with a cure that can save the afflicted. With the clock ticking, you set out into the unknown, equipped with a bevy of vampire-slaying weapons and a small pack of supplies. From here, you assume control, guiding Anna through an expansive and ever-changing land. Your quest will ultimately reveal a war between two powerful forces: the Vampire Lords, who are attempting to use their powerful magic to enslave humanity, and the Masters of Science who use technology to oppose the Vampires' aims. You will have to choose whom Anna will side with in order to give your people an opportunity to be saved.

In Armada, Metro 3D broke conventions by giving you a fair amount of freedom in your exploration. In Dark Angel, the team is taking things one step further: All your interactions with other characters in the game have plot and even economic repercussions. Metro 3D explains that depending on whom you speak to and how you treat them, cities may rise and fall in wealth, and people you may have never previously encountered will want to join you--or possibly kill you. Many of Dark Angel's encounters are random. Furthermore, the game operates on a real-time economy that is affected by whom you visit and whom you trade with; you can align yourself with either the Masters of Science or the Vampire Lords and be able to complete your objective either way.

Dark Angel's gameplay is similar to Armada's, as it is viewed from a slightly angled overhead perspective. Also similar to the space shooter, combat is in real time, with inflicted damage displayed in points above the enemy. Differences and improvements of note include real-time changes from night to day (one hour equals one day in the game), along with the promise of a much more complex enemy AI. Monsters will team up and organize basic strategies to defeat you: Some will pursue you relentlessly around the map, while others will be content to set traps and ambush you. There are several types of baddies that you'll get to beat up on, all spread out over twelve modules. Modules, themselves, are worth noting, since they are designed slightly differently from either of the levels or areas you're accustomed to. Metro 3D explains that each module represents a different area of Dark Angel's world and that each module is given a distinctive visual style and gameplay. In one, you'll mostly encounter powerful beasts that are best tackled with magic; in another, you'll have to defeat powerful magic users with your physical strength. Each module can be played through an unlimited amount of time, which lets you hone specific stats for later parts of the game.

Anna should be a fun character to control. As is the case with most RPGs, you'll begin the game with little health and a limited choice of weaponry; however, as the game progresses, you'll find unique items and learn special abilities that can be stored in your VMU. In response to criticism about Armada's sometimes-chaotic gameplay, Dark Angel will keep combat more organized with a basic targeting system that lets you focus on enemies in your character's field of vision (à la Phantasy Star Online) or target-lock enemies (just like in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).

Metro 3D has built a solid engine around Dark Angel. The game handily renders nearly a dozen fully animated monsters on the screen at once, maintaining a frame rate at or above 30fps. The team has taken advantage of the frequent release-date delays (the game was scheduled to be released last year, but has had a complete graphical and gameplay overhaul since then) to add cool lighting effects as well as more polygons to the models. Dark Angel will also use Direct Music to add atmosphere to the exploration. Direct Music takes cues of where you are and what you're doing, and then chooses a type of music that's appropriate for that moment. For example, when you're traipsing around the murky swamps and suddenly find yourself surrounded by enemies, the music will become rousing and fast paced. Similarly, you can expect creepy, low-impact tunes when you're checking out that poorly lit dungeon.

In terms of presentation, Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse bears an unmistakable resemblance to Metro 3D's first game, Armada; however, with the promise of an improved, deeper storyline, and free-roaming, interactive environments that react to your decisions, the game also should possess a polish that its predecessor did not have. Look for Dark Angel to appear on the Dreamcast this May, shortly after the game's release on the PlayStation 2.

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