In Metro3D's Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse, you play a female vampire saddled with the unholy task of expelling evil from the land of Gothos. It is January 1, 1670, and you, Anna, have one full year to defeat the armies of the Shadow Lord. Bopping back and forth between three villages and six different battlegrounds, you'll fight all manner of dastardly demons, gather a wide assortment of useful weapons, and accumulate a lifetime's worth of experience points--all in preparation for the final ultimate battle.
Featuring play mechanics that are a cross between Metro3D's Armada and popular hack-and-slash games such as Diablo and Gauntlet, Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse is an action RPG that shows great promise but fails to deliver on numerous levels. Thrust directly into battle from the get-go, there are no introductory cinemas, no plot development. In fact, save for meager communications with villagers and a lackluster end-game sequence, Dark Angel has nothing in the way of instruction, plot, or character development.
Although barely an RPG, Dark Angel also nearly fails at being a dungeon crawler. The entire game centers on honing Anna into the perfect warrior, which means there are no bosses, puzzles, or plot twists to enhance the experience. As you level up and purchase stronger weapons, the appearance of the creatures, towns, dungeons, and people of Gothos never change. No matter how deep you progress into a dungeon, the monsters within vary only in size and color, but never in shape or ability. For 100-plus hours, there are three villages, three dungeons, and three battlefields--that's it. Only when the year has passed (and you're hopefully near level 100) will you battle the Shadow Lord.
The silver lining, if there is one for Dark Angel, lies in combat. Set from an isometric viewpoint, you attack by binding inventory items to the controller's face buttons. If you'd like to bind four swords or a couple of swords and some boots or just balance things out, there is a lot of freedom to do so. In all, there are 63 item slots to fill. Item classes fall into four basic types: weapons, boots, bracers, and health/spirit--so fighting is gleefully simple. As monsters become aware of your position, you can tap a button to attack or hold to perform a spirit attack. Onscreen meters let you keep track of health, spirit, experience, and gold--all of which come in handy when you're in the thick of a six-on-one real-time battle against vicious monsters.
Speaking of monsters, there are 15 in all, divided into three distinct categories: the forgotten, the undead, and the mutants. By a cool twist of coincidence, each of the game's seven different sword types is especially potent against specific beasts. Axes and vampire swords quickly slay mutants; scythes and maces topple the forgotten; and sabers and broadswords make short work of the undead. A seventh sword type, rune, as well as a variety of pistols and bombs, comes in handy against group opponents. Some weapons also possess bonus attributes, like health, experience, or spirit boosts, which further increase the strategy involved. If you're the kind of person who enjoys long hours of hack-and-slash action, you might actually enjoy Dark Angel.
However, if simplistic combat isn't your cup of tea, Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse has a cornucopia of nagging flaws to consider. First, for a game that cribs so heavily from Gauntlet and Diablo, the lack of a multiplayer mode is reprehensible. The game simply screams for a two-player mode and, after about 60 hours, so will you. Visually, Anna and her assorted foes animate fluidly, and the environments are realistic, but the overall color level, texture quality, and resolution are well below par for a PS2 game. The plentiful blood sprays and spewing "gib" chunks are a nice touch, but nothing extraordinary.
By similar account, the soundtrack is a random blend of rock, oriental, and ambient that just doesn't work. At various points, you may even wonder if portions were lifted straight from a number of popular motion pictures, such as Mortal Kombat, Dune, and Big Trouble in Little China. Kudos for the sound effects and speech samples, though, which are absolutely sick and ghoulish. Hearing a monster groan "You'll pay for that" just before he explodes into a bloody mess is tantamount to pure bliss.
Why anyone would make an action RPG without the all-important RPG element is beyond comprehension. No one enjoys reliving the same battle over and over again without some form of personal attachment--no one. For a game that withholds its major payoff until 100-plus hours into the experience, Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse never attempts to cultivate such an attachment. As such, its audience is limited to the less discerning among us.