Dark Sector (Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Digital Extremes/D3 Publisher
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Price: $59.99 Released: March 25, 2008
Do you by any chance remember the 80′s movie Krull? You know the one — the prince goes to save the princess (and the world) with the aid of flying horses, a Cyclops, and Liam Neeson? Ok now have you ever wondered what a game of it would be like if there was more gore, guns, telekinesis, and game dynamics ripped from Gears of War? Well now you don’t have to.
Dark Sector is a fairly new release from the same developer as DS and Xbox Live hit Puzzle Quest, Infinite Interactive, in what appears to be the studio’s first crack at the adult gamer market, and they’re not doing too badly it seems… and to be fair if you’re going to emulate a game, Gears of War is a great choice.
The game follows the story of angst-ridden emo Hayden Tenno (voiced by Michael Rosenbaum – Smallville‘s Lex Luthor) who suffers from congenital analgia — a condition that does not allow him to feel pain. He is employed by the CIA as a “cleaner” and is sent on a mission where he gets infected with a biological weapon — this mutates his right arm covering it in a H.R. Geiger-esque metallic substance which enables him to grow a three-bladed glaive weapon at will, among other things.
In the past few years, the line between video games and movies has been blurred more and more and Dark Sector only helps to reinforce this practice. The game’s initial mission starts off with a flashback feel to it, with the graphics drained of colour leaving a sepia/black and white aesthetic. This suits the style of the game, but at no point does it actually mention that the opening mission is actually a flashback. However, as is the current staple in ninety percent of games released, the first level does also double as the game’s tutorial — and this is where the first parallels to Gears of War raise their heads.
As soon as you start investigating basic movement, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a Gears spin-off or sequel; the use of cover is done exactly the same way, aiming is identical, even the dropped camera angle and reduced mobility while running is directly lifted from GoW. Later on when you have access to the glaive, you even have melee finishing moves that will probably remind you of Marcus’ chainsaw finishers.
However, from the controls alone, you can tell that even though Dark Sector is trying to be the next Gears of War, it won’t usurp Marcus Phoenix and Dom from their throne. The controls can be a little… heavy at times. And the turning circle when aiming can be painful.
As the level progresses you learn to use different weapons and cover controls, to the point where Hayden gets captured, and infected — this is where the main fun begins, as you now have access to the glaive, and your evolving powers. As time goes on unlock new abilities like the power throw — a charged-up throw of the glaive that is a one-hit kill, as well as a tool for opening locked gates and doors. You’re also able to charge-up the glaive with fire, ice or electricity — this is also used in puzzles, but is most fun when applied to impending boomerang death for your enemies.
What really makes Dark Sector fun is when you gain access to the telekinetic ability that lets you move the glaive mid-flight. Using the glaive normally is fun, but there’s something quite satisfying when you let a power throw go, and enter the bullet-time style manipulation… and promptly guide the spinning blades of doom to remove several arms, legs, heads, and torsos in one throw.
The glaive is really the crux of the entire game for me, but then its the only thing saving it from being a distinctly average Gears clone. However that being said, it’s also the game’s downfall — the reason why is that unless you’re using power throws continuously the glaive is extremely underpowered, which leads you to using your guns a lot more.
The other great part to the game is the black market weapon upgrade system. This is an essential addition, as the enemies’ weapons are hard-coded to explode after a few seconds if they are used by anyone infected by the virus.
Graphically the game is great… although extremely dark at times, so I’d suggest cranking up the contrast/brightness a little. There are some nice animation touches too like when you jump down a significant drop, Hayden will use the glaive to slow his descent on walls. There are few graphical glitches that I noticed, and the game looks very polished.
Story-wise there isn’t really much of one, with little to no character development and some hammy dialogue… this doesn’t hamper things much, but the cut scenes pack more of a punch in general, although they can drag on a little.
Unfortunately there’s no local multiplayer a-la Gears, and the online multiplayer is limited to 2 game types on 5 different maps. The game types are as follows:
Infection: a winner-stays-on situation where one player controls the infected Hayden with access to the glaive and evolutionary powers… and the other 9 players are Troopers. The trooper that lands the killing blow on Hayden becomes Hayden in the next round.
Epidemic: This is pretty much a team death match game, with one Hayden player per side. The team that kills the infected player on the opposing team wins.
Overall I wouldn’t say that Dark Sector is a bad game, but when inevitably compared to Epic’s Gears of War, there isn’t much in the way of contest. With the multiplayer not holding much replay value, and the single player being very much the same, I’d say Dark Sector is more of a rent it before you decide to buy title… although the game does look like it could be a good platform for launching a franchise — should this be the case, the glaive action needs to be amped up with less emphasis on the Gears-alike running and gunning… as this facet of gameplay doesn’t really stand up to comparison.