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Diablo

Publisher: Blizzard Developer: Blizzard
Reviewer: Ogami Itto Released: 1999
Gameplay: 90% Control: 87%
Graphics: 74% Sound/Music: 88%
Story: 79% Overall: 84%


Back in 1996, Blizzard unleashed their game Diablo on PC gamers everywhere. A heady mixture of dungeon crawling, hack-and-slash action, and character building, the game accounted for lots of missed work days and wasted hours at offices and universities worldwide. Unfortunately, those of us who were simply console gamers couldn't experience the thrill of slaughtering hordes of hellish demons in the labyrinth-at least not until 1998, when Electronic Arts brought Diablo to the PlayStation.

While the transfer of the game from PC to PSX wasn't perfect (the most glaring problem is the loss of online play), Diablo still manages to retain enough of what made it a success on the PC to appease console gamers looking for a good dungeon romp.

Hello my friend. Stay awhile and listen.

Like most dungeon crawlers, Diablo seems a little light on story.

The town of Tristram has been beset by demons and you are the only person who can save the remaining citizens and restore peace and balance to the land. It seems that the demon lord Diablo has been freed from hell and it's up to you to venture into the labyrinths under the town and defeat him and his evil minions once and for all-pretty standard stuff.

While there are sub-stories and sidequests (some involving King Leoric and his missing child, the Archbishop Lazarus' misdeeds, etc.), they're really not important to the game overall. Your mission is to kill Diablo-nothing else matters much.

While you'll be enduring the horrors of Hell alone (unless you have a buddy who can take advantage of the PSX's two-player mode), you'll have allies in the town of Tristram. Some, like Pepin and Adria the Witch, will sell you spells, staves, and healing items. Others like Cain will identify items and fill you in on the history of the land. Wirt will sell you items of dubious origin and Griswold will make new weapons and armors for you-for a price, of course. Other people will give you information, or answer your questions-so, you're not entirely alone.

While there isn't much story to the game, what is there is well presented. The writers have worked diligently to create a detailed mythology for the game's world-one that involves not only the quest to stop Diablo, but also makes mention of a war between angels and demons and so on. The dialogue is well written, with a medieval flair that adds to the atmosphere, but never overwhelms the game itself.

The story is designed solely to explain why you're hacking your way down through the dungeons toward Hell. It works well enough in that regard. However, if you're looking for something epic, then Diablo is probably not the game for you.

Gameplay

Essentially, Diablo is Gauntlet on steroids.

Like Gauntlet, you'll start the game by picking a character. There are three classes to choose from-the warrior, who swings a wicked sword and is fierce in melee combat, the rogue, who attacks from a distance thanks to her proficiency with bows and uses some magic, and the sorcerer, who isn't a strong fighter but can use high level magic. Each class has a specific skill: the warrior can repair weapons, the rogue can detect and disarm traps, and the sorcerer can recharge staves.

After choosing and naming your character, you'll be transported to Tristram (after experiencing your first loading screen. Get used to it). After chatting with the locals, you'll be directed toward the church-which is no longer a holy place, but instead an entrance into the dank and dark underworld of Diablo.

After entering the first level of the dungeon, you'll get into the game itself-hacking, slashing, and casting your way through hordes of flesh-hungry enemies who've decided they want you for dinner. While exploring each of the game's 15 randomly generated dungeons, you'll not only encounter monsters, but find treasure in the form of gold, armor, weapons, potions, rings, scrolls, magic books, and so on. While Wirt and Griswold can sell you items on the surface, the best stuff is often found while exploring the dungeons.

When you find items, they'll be stored in your inventory. Your inventory is a miniscule 48 slots, which isn't much when you consider that some swords and armors can take up six slots each. Your equipped items do not take up space in your inventory, but even still, you'll be heading back to the surface regularly to offload stuff you don't need.

Kill enough enemies and you'll eventually gain a level up. At each level up, the player is given an allotment of points (usually 5) to distribute to categories like strength, magic, vitality, and dexterity. Strength determines both how much damage you can do in combat as well as what weapons and armors you can use-you need more strength for heavier weapons and armors. Magic influences the number of mana points available and the highest level of spells you can learn. Vitality increases your hit points, and dexterity determines how often you're likely to hit what you swing at and dodge attacks aimed at you.

You can also gain increases in these stat categories by visiting various shrines littered throughout the labyrinth and by finding or purchasing certain potions.

The fact that you get to distribute the points as you please allows for a fair amount of character customization. Warriors can become proficient with magic if you pump up their mana stat, while sorcerers can wield swords and wear armor if you concentrate on their strength. How your character evolves is basically up to you-and when you factor that in with the three different character classes, three difficulty settings, thousands of rare items and randomly generated dungeons, you wind up with a game with an insane amount of replay value.

Fighting enemies is as simple as pushing a few buttons-one controls physical attacks, another controls magic. The shoulder buttons are for quick access to healing and mana replenishing potions. The auto-targeting system locks onto the nearest enemy, making the use of projectiles and magic much simpler.

The levels themselves are massive and filled with enemies. Fortunately, you can save anytime, anywhere. The downside of this is that saving requires running through several menus and takes what feels like an eternity-making it so that you'll not want to save as often as you should. When saving, you'll have the option of saving your game or your character-saving a game requires a whopping ten blocks of memory, while saving a character requires only one. However, to continue your journey into the bowels of Hell, you'll have to save your game-and often. Saving your character allows you to use an established character in a game with someone else, or to open up the harder difficulty modes.

While the PSX version lacks the ability to play online, it does at least feature a two-player mode so you can have a friend over to partake in the carnage. The two-player mode requires the players to stick together, and can occasionally limit your range of movement (you can't move too far away from your partner), but it's not too shabby. It's no replacement for online play, but it does bring an extra dimension to the game.

Overall, the gameplay is what makes Diablo such a great game-and the PSX version retains enough of the PC game's elements to make it worth checking out-particularly for those who didn't have an opportunity to play the PC version.

Graphics

Since Diablo was originally released in 1996, and has been available on the PlayStation since 1998, one shouldn't go into it expecting jaw-dropping graphics.

The first thing one notices when playing the game is the drab color scheme. Tristram is a town of no colors, save for browns, greens, and some dark blues. I'm unsure if this was intentional (it does add to the bleak atmosphere of the game) or a problem. I'm leaning towards intentional, though.

The dungeons are much the same, filled with dark graphics and lots of rough textures to imply that you're beneath the surface of the Earth. The look changes as you get deeper into the dungeons (and closer to Hell) eventually becoming a little brighter and filled with pools of lava, etc.

The game is presented in 2-D with a third-person overhead view. The camera is not rotatable, but despite the inherent rigidity of that set-up, it's rarely a problem. Character and monster sprites are fairly well animated, although there are some frame skips as well as some slowdown in situations where there are hordes of enemies on the screen. Spell animations are decent as well, particularly the higher end spells, which can illuminate the entire screen.

Changing your armor and weapons makes your character's appearance change to highlight the differences. This is one of those simple things that never fails to impress me and I wish more RPGs would incorporate it.

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of monsters, each with their own attack and death animations. There's nothing quite like backtracking through a dungeon and seeing dozens of enemies lying face down in pools of their own blood. Unfortunately, though, while there are hundreds of enemies, many of them are little more than palette swaps of earlier monsters. It doesn't really detract from the game or anything, but it is worth pointing out.

While the view here is the same third-person overhead view of the PC version, those who've played on the computer will notice that the view in the Playstation port is much closer and zoomed in. This doesn't make a major difference, except that it often makes it hard to see enemies off in the distance. You'll find yourself wandering into a throng of monsters pretty regularly, since you can't really see them until you're right on top of them.

There are a few improvements in the graphics compared with the PC version, though-you'll now see birds flying around in Tristram and spot your reflection in the streams and rivers. Nothing major, but nice touches nonetheless.

And last but not least, there is some Full Motion Video in the game. The FMV is nothing breathtaking, but it does do a nice job setting the mood at the opening of the game.

If you're looking for cutting edge 3-D graphics, you're not going to find them in Diablo-but that doesn't make the game any less fun.

Control

Probably the most impressive thing about the PlayStation version of Diablo is the control. It's impressive that they managed to cram all the functions onto the PSX controller when the PC version required a mouse and quite a few keyboard buttons.

Controlling your character is a snap-the directional pad moves him about the screen (sorry, no analog stick support on this one) and pushing one button launches a physical attack while pushing another can cast the spell you've got queued up. You can also set it up so that you can toggle between spells with the push of a button-a nice feature for the latter stages of the game when the enemies start to develop immunities to different kinds of magic.

Using the left and right shoulder buttons gives you automatic access to healing and mana restoring potions. The lower shoulder buttons bring up the quick spellbook menu and the automapper (a really useful feature). Basically, just about everything you need has been worked into the PSX controller for easy access.

As mentioned earlier, there is some slowdown in the game. It's in these instances where the control can become a bit sluggish overall, particularly when trying to take a healing potion or something like that. It's not awful though, and it's really about the only blemish on an otherwise impressive control scheme.

Music/Sound

While there isn't a whole lot of story in Diablo, what is there is presented entirely through voice acting. The actors here are all surprisingly decent, with a wide range of unique and distinctive accents. Cain sounds old and wise, Griswold has a heavy Scottish accent that never ceases to crack me up. Wirt is often condescending, while Adria has the voice of a crone. There's no one here who had me reaching for the mute button, which is pretty high praise, really.

Needless to say, the voice acting really brings the story to life-and makes it so you identify with the townspeople you're supposed to be helping.

The game's music is pretty good too-at least what little music you hear. The main theme, heard while in Tristram, is really good-it's atmospheric with its guitars and really adds a lot to the in-town portion of the game. Things are a bit different in the dungeons, though. There doesn't seem to be much music when you're underground, and what is there is more like ominous ambient noise than actual music. It works, though-keeping the atmosphere of the game intense and creepy.

Sound effects are decent-everyone grunts and groans when taking hits, and there are lots of icky blade-on-flesh sounds scattered throughout the game. Each character screams when killed in battle, too-get used to it, you'll be hearing your death cry pretty regularly.

Conclusions

While the PSX version of Diablo will never replace the PC version, it is a decent port over of the game for those who weren't fortunate enough to get to play it on the PC. The two-player mode is a nice touch, although it'll never make up for online play, and the gameplay is just as solid as it's always been. If you're a fan of hack-and-slash action, then Diablo is well worth a look.

Ogami
Itto

The action gets hot and heavy.

Making mincemeat of The Butcher-watch out for that cleaver.







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