Throwing a genetically modified tomato
There's something about making a game based on a movie or television license that seems to crush the creativity and talent out of everyone working on the project. Previously brilliant programmers are mysteriously turned into gibbering idiots. Highly regarded companies suddenly decide that this time they're going to just stuff any old thing in a box, slap a logo on it and try to sell it to you. Meanwhile they take all the time and money they saved on development costs and spend it drinking tequila all day.
What I'm trying to say here is that the developers of Dark Angel must have gone on a six month bender in Puerto Vallarta. It's not that Dark Angel is brutally awful or full of bugs like the TV spinoff Survivor: The Interactive Game, it's that it lacks any originality whatsoever. It's a boring, repetitive cookie-cutter game straight from the Nabisco ovens. You've eaten this cookie many times before; and if you're old enough, the first time it was called Streets of Rage.
But at least Dark Angel is wrapped up in a nice shiny package with a TV logo on it, right? You play as Max, the sexy heroine of Dark Angel, a show that lasted two seasons before it was cancelled. It has James Cameron's (Titanic, The Terminator) name on it, but I imagine he just sold it to them for some cash. They paid for couple other celebrity names too, because Jessica Alba and Michael Weatherly who star in the TV show provide the voices for the characters. A nice touch, but it doesn't make a game.
Max is a genetically engineered soldier searching for her lost siblings in a grim future version of Seattle. She is aided by Logan Cale an underground cyber-journalist with a conscience. To complicate matters, she is hunted by the clearly evil - I - Corporation, which wound be investigated by the SEC if they didn't get special Evil Tax Breaks.
Dark Angel (and Streets of Rage) is the sort of game we like to call a "beat 'em up." In these games you move along a fixed path where a nearly endless series of enemies is thrown at you. You defeat them with an even more endless series of button presses. That's pretty much the whole game as it was then and as it is now.
The enemies in Dark Angel present little challenge to Max's genetically engineered ass kicking. It's really a very simple matter to dispatch hordes of enemies just by mashing the buttons. The manual actually lists such devastating moves as Punch, Punch, Punch. Or you can top that one with Punch, Punch, Punch, Punch. And even Punch, Punch, Punch, Punch, Punch. (I am not kidding, it's actually in the manual)
Of course if you get tired of the Punch button, you can also hit Jump, Kick, or Throw, but you don't really need to. Even Streets of Rage required a little more strategy than that.
There's also a half-assed attempt at putting in some stealth levels, but they fail miserably, mostly because of the camera, which works fine for fighting, but absolutely refuses to let you look around a corner. On the stealth levels, when you are discovered by an enemy a timer starts counting down (usually one minute). If you haven't knocked out every single enemy when it hits zero, you automatically lose the game, despite the fact that you are at full health and have been handily Kicking their butts with the Kick button.
At least the graphics are better than Streets of Rage. Everything is crisp and clear and smooth. You can't really see what the powerups are, but none of them are bad for you so you just run up to anything that glows. I've tried out both the Xbox and the PS2 version, and if there's a difference between them, I can't see it. The graphics are solid, but wont win awards on either system.
The combat-heavy streets of Seattle are full of trash and dumpsters and graffiti, and the best parts are Max's moves. She twists and spins and jumps off walls like she's in a John Woo film. The action frequently goes into slow-mo when Max gets in a particularly good punch or slams an enemy up against a dumpster.
It's actually kind of fun at first" until you've punched your 200th bad guy and you realize there are 2000 more to go. You'll also begin to notice that the streets of futuristic Seattle all look exactly the same, with the same burnt out cars and the same dumpsters placed every thirty feet. Then it just gets boring.
Dark Angel will make a fine rental for hardcore fans of the show. It's got the real actors and the plot mirrors an episode of the show almost exactly. You'll be able to beat it in a weekend, easy. But for everyone else, this game really isn't worth your time sitting there hitting the Punch button just to see what Jessica Alba will eventually say next. This Dark Angel has fallen from grace.