"What was I supposed to do again?"
--- Me, frequently, while playing Dark Sector
I remember hearing about Dark Sector and thinking, it won't be GTA IV, but it sure as hell will beat the pants off of anything I've played recently. I remember thinking that...
... and how wrong I was.
Dark Sector begins with the story in-progress. A mysterious ship containing a mysterious disease on board has docked in the fictional Soviet controlled country in 1987. After a few nasty bits, everyone is left for dead and we flash forward twenty years later. You are (presumably CIA) Agent Hayden Tenno, and you are on a mission in the former Soviet nation to assassinate a man you know. A man named Viktor. This man is evil, and the game consecrates this fact by giving him an evil, megalomaniac spiel as you're literally pinned to the ground by an unknown beast which resembles the Guyver. It is here that Hayden is infected with the disease, and the game begins proper.
It was at, or near this point, that Dark Sector began to take a weird sort of turn. Not the sort of turn that is unexpected and surprises the player with joy, but the bad kind of turn. The kind of turn where you finally realize after thirty-five minutes of playing this game, you realize that this is quite literally all there is.
The core mechanics of Dark Sector work much like 360 Poster Child Gears of War. You will find cover, snap in and out (providing you can stick to the right area), and "stop and pop" enemies as they also take cover and try to flank and maneuver against you. All of this sounds fun and challenging, but thanks to sloppy, unresponsive controls it feels more like wading through raw sewage than actual gameplay.
In one such instance, I found myself creeping along a dark hallway (and there are many, many more of these), stopping at every turn, snapping into cover, peeking out, and then finding myself face to face with one or wo hazmat clad enemies. No problem I tell myself as a hail of pistol file riddles their bodies. And that, I think, is the major problem with Dark Sector.
There is no real difficulty to this game. I admit openly that I am the type of gamer who plays to have fun, and I don't really give a toss for difficulty or how "hardcore" the game is to beat. To me, I want to play, and I want to beat it. I want to be challenged, but not feel like a special needs Jerry's Kid because I cannot instinctively pull off a six-button combo in the span of .03 seconds. Dark Sector at first seems like the perfect game in that respect, as it is actually fairly easy and is nice to breeze through. There are sections of Dark Sector where you will power haul your way through the entire map, killing everything that twitched in five minutes, and then you will walk into another room and be overpowered by zombie-like "infected", simply because you cannot find an ammo crate anywhere. It is in these sections that the problems of Dark Sector truly begin to emerge.
With a kick ass weapon like the Glaive, one would assume that hand-to-hand combat would play a major role in a game like Dark Sector. If you followed this logical train of thought, I'm afraid to tell you that you're dead wrong. Hand-to-Hand combat is sloppy and slow, and usually the enemy will get six hits to your three, maybe even more. The buttons are just not responsive, and the animations for Hayden are chuggy. Add to this that there is simply no "defence" button of any kind--not even for a rudimentary block--and we've got ourselves a problem. You see, these sections where the Infected are chasing after you in waves happen fairly often in the latter stages of the game. Waves upon waves, and soon your bullet well will run dry and you'll have to resort to surgical strikes with the Glaive in order to complete the section. Sadly, most of the time you just end up running for the exit and then leaving them all behind in the previous room.
Still, these pale in comparison to the "puzzles" in the game. The "puzzles" usually involve you setting your Glaive on fire and then finding a gas furnace or an electrical current to buzz a door open, or to set a pit on fire. these are rudimentary and a crude representation of gaming from 1997. The problem with these "puzzles" isn't so much that they're incredibly easy, but more so because they waste time and really insult the intelligence of gamers. It was after the third "torch the stick" puzzle through a graveyard (which, as a level, was pretty damn cool) that I finally started to feel something. I started thinking, and couldn't quite put my finger on what exactly this game reminded me of. It wasn't until I was on the last leg of the story mode when I finally realized what had been bothering me so much about Dark Sector.
It feels like a Relic of a bygone era.
And it's true. And it shows. It shows in every single piece of game design. It shows from the linear level design to the linear progression and right down to the linear "puzzles". I am not a stickler for having open world games. If a game needs to be channeled because it's a different experience, then so be it. I had no problems with Gears of War or with Half-Life 2, despite both of those games being fairly linear in nature. The problem with Dark Sector's linearity, is that it looks like a current-gen game, but it plays instead like an N64 action game from 1997. It plays, quite literally, like Duke Nukem: Zero Hour.
And really, that's what it all boils down to. The plot is virtually non-existant, and I am not a forgetful person. I could understand thoroughly enjoyed the plot from all of the Silent Hill games, and yet after playing Dark Sector for twenty minutes, I had completely forgotten what the objective was. Every third or fifth section you pass through, a cutscene is triggered. The problem with these cutscenes is that they seemingly punish the player for not "getting it". Apparently this girl and Hayden were lovers, or were they? Were they just good friends? How did they meet? None of this is ever explained, never mind hinted toward. It's like in order to be "mysterious", the writers of Dark Sector decided to be as vague as possible. If anything, Dark Sector is the perfect example of what NOT to do in an action game. However, they did get one thing right.
Boss Battles in Dark Sector are classic. They are neither frustratingly difficult or incredibly easy. Most of them require the use of a Glaive at one point or another, and it's a lot of damn fun to use it. The boss battles to be found in Dark Sector are actually some of the best I've not only seen, but have played. I had gotten my ass whooped on several occasions by different bosses within the game, but each time I had made a comeback at the very end to win the fight and carry on. They feel epic, and the monsters they unleash on you are truly great. It's just so sad that these great boss battles were tacked onto such sub-par game.
And really, that's what Dark Sector boils down to. Everything from the shooting (twitchy and unresponsive aim reticle), to the hand-to-hand (mash the B-button lots), to the repetitive gameplay (stop, cover, look, shoot, repeat), to even the paltry powers you receive from the Infection you sustain. They seem cool at first, but you will never need them. You will never need to turn invisible because you can kill any enemy with a bullet or glaive. You will never need the shield bubble, because if you use cover properly, you'll do more damage. It's just... it's not necessary. They're fun for five minutes, but after awhile you forget about them and just continue to plough on through.
And that's it, really. You plough on through. Marching ever onward with no rhyme and very little reason to. It honestly felt like, as I was playing Dark Sector, that I had no expressed purpose or motivation to continue playing other than I paid sixty-five dollars (and got a free t-shirt) for it, and by God I was going to make sure my money was worth it.
The sad reality is, Dark Sector was definitely not worth my money, and if I were a betting man, I'd definitely say it wasn't worth yours either.
GRAPHICS: The graphics in Dark Sector are sleek and sexy. This is definitely not an ugly game. The downside however is that, even lost in the rain with the odds against with nothing but five rounds and a three-ponged death dealer, it still does not inspire like some less visually stimulating, but all-together better games. The environments are truly uninspired, and the graphics suffer because of it.
AUDIO: Sounds in Dark Sector are really ambivalent. They do not offer tension or suspense, and there is no heroic medley played as you finally triumph over the forces of evil. The sound effects like bone-crunching and the last gurgled screams of fallen foes are definitely pleasing to the ears, but all in all, there is really nothing here that is memorable.
GAMEPLAY: Dark Sector plays just like I've described. It's sloppy, unresponsive, and as slow as my grandmother after some Wild Turkey. I've actually had more fun playing Bejeweled on my computer than I've experienced here.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Really, all that there is left to be said about Dark Sector is that it's not worth the money. It's not worthy of your sixty dollars (or thirty-five, whatever it's retailed for now), and it's just... not that good. The gameplay is like looking back on all of the action games of the 90's, just without the nostalgia attached to our favourites. In that sense, I suppose it has some value... but... no. It has no value. Do Not Buy.