Gaming Today Impressions of Dark Sector (Xbox 360)
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: D3 Publisher of America
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Intense Violence)
Release Date: March 25, 2008
Dark Sector unfortunately suffers from a gaming ailment that I’ve begun referring to as “Gears of War Syndrome.” You see, Gears of War really nailed the whole “third-person, cover-based shooter” genre over a year ago; so much so that any title with similar gameplay since can be labeled as being “good…but not as good as Gears of War.” Army of Two has this problem, Kane and Lynch has this problem (among many others), and Dark Sector also has this problem. Even while playing the game, I found myself trying to pull off some moves from Gears of War — like blind fire — and was disappointed when I couldn’t. That’s not to say Dark sector is a bad game; it’s just mostly all been done before and better.
What isn’t similar to Gears of War though, feels borrowed from Resident Evil 4. The story deals with a European town that has been infected by a dictator who plans to release the virus throughout the world (yeah, about the only difference between this and RE4 is that the dictator isn’t a dwarf in a Napoleon costume). You’ll play Hayden Tenno, a special agent sent to stop him, who then gets infected himself. Thus you work your way through different areas of the town, take out enemy soldiers and citizens transformed by the virus into brainless zombies, solve puzzles, and occasionally shop for weapons and upgrades at various “black market” locations (like I said, there’s a very distinct RE4 vibe at times).
But like any good “Gears of War Syndrome” title, this one comes with it’s own unique gimmick in the “glaive”; and it’s the main thing that defines this game. For some inexplicable reason, the “infection” Hayden contracts grants him one freakish-looking arm with the ability to conjure up a bladed weapon that can be thrown at enemies and then called right back. If you time your throw well, you can even do a “power throw” for more damage and usually a much more gory kill — a mechanism which is actually a lot like the “active reloading” in Gears of War. It also has an “aftertouch” ability that lets you guide it in slow-motion after it’s been thrown — which is especially useful for taking down enemies who have the audacity to hide behind cover.
Sadly, despite all this, it’s still usually a lot easier to just shoot enemies with your gun. The previews for Dark Sector touted the glaive’s ability to absorb elements like fire and electricity to use on your foes, but didn’t mention that you could only hold these elements for a short time. Because of this, these cool powers are mostly reserved for puzzle solving and boss battles. Also, as an added annoyance, any enemy weapons you pick up dissolve in your hand after a short amount of time. I understand the developers were probably trying to encourage you to use the glaive more, but being restricted to a weapon you gain at the beginning of the game wears thin pretty fast.
Overall, the single player game can be fairly engaging, but only for about the first half of the game. The glaive itself is entertaining enough for a few hours, but once the novelty wears off, there’s really not much in the story to keep you moving forward. The whole “Soviet world domination” angle has become a tired cliche by now, and there’s not a whole lot to define Hayden as a character — aside from one defining act in the prologue. He’s just a very quiet man with a whispy hairstyle and an affinity for slaughtering without mercy. That’s kind of creepy by itself if you think about.
Dark Sector also comes with a multiplayer mode, but it really only shows why it’s usually better for developers to leave out certain features rather than trying to tack them on unsuccessfully. There are a handful of maps and two modes to choose from: “Infection” and “Epidemic.” In “Infection,” one person has all of Hayden’s powers while everyone else is a regular enemy soldier trying to take him down. In “Epidemic,” there are two teams who each have one “infected” member. These modes can actually be kind of fun…if you’re the one who’s “infected.” If you’re just a faceless grunt though, you’re going to feel really held back as soon as you encounter someone with powers. Usually, the one person with all the powers will manage to stay alive and completely decimate the other team for awhile until someone just manages to get a lucky kill on him. What surprised me was that there was no standard deathmatch mode where everyone just has the glaive and its powers. I guess there could be some balance issues or something with this mode, but at least then each player would be on equal ground. Add some clunky, slow-paced controls — that work fine against AI opponents in single player, but not so much against other humans — to all this, and you’re in for an experience that’s more frustrating than fun.
Aside from the glaive, there’s really nothing new about Dark Sector. But it is polished and should provide you with a few hours of fun. It’s pretty much the definition of a rental title with its complete lack of long term appeal and medium play length. It might give you an urge to play through Gears of War again though.