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Dark Sector Review

Jesse_Costantino By:
Jesse_Costantino
04/10/08
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Action 
PLAYERS 1- 10 
PUBLISHER D3 
DEVELOPER Digital Extremes 
RELEASE DATE  
M Contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

I’m turning Manganese, I think I’m turning Manganese, I really think so.


Fact: “Glaive” is a French word meaning “rip-off”.

click to enlargeOkay, not really, but it may as well be. Not only is the glaive in Dark Sector ripped off from one of the great ‘80s-era cheesy fantasy flicks, but the glaive also does a damn fine job ripping off every conceivable enemy body part in sight.

But the rip-offs don’t stop there. You’ll see material lifted almost wholesale from other games, especially Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War. So much so that the pitch at the initial production meeting for Dark Sector probably went something like:

“I have this idea for a game. Remember that cool boomerang, ninja star thing from that goofy movie in the ‘80s?”

“What, like a Nerf boomerang?”

“Yeah, sort of. It had knives on the ends, and the guy could control it with his mind. I think it was called a ‘glaive’.”

“A ‘glaive’? Sounds like some sort of infectious disease.”

“Yeah, but we’ll have some dude use this glaive to fight off an infectious disease.”

“Wild. Here’s a few million for development. Throw something together, but make sure it plays and looks like that space marine game.”

“You mean Halo?”

“No, the other one, with the chainsaw gun.”

click to enlarge“Right. And speaking of chainsaws, how about we also make it like that other game with the chainsaws.”

“You mean Timber?”

“Uh, no. The one with the evil Spanish peasants.”

“Right. But let’s kill Eastern Europeans this time around. Our legal staff tells us it’s not PC to kill Spanish speakers anymore.”

And Dark Sector was born.

Admittedly, there’s a fine line between “homage” and “rip-off”, but trust me, if you’ve played Gears and RE4 and enjoyed each of them, you’ll see a lot of painfully familiar material in Dark Sector. Yes, the game industry is driven by its recycled material, too-similar sequels, and borrowed ideas. And if Dark Sector had taken parts of those games and created a better, different, or even fun game, I’d be the first to defend it against accusations of theft. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

Expect a game every bit as bland and generic as its title. Even after playing through the game, I’m still not sure what a “dark sector” is, but I suppose it’s just supposed to sound menacing and vaguely militaristic. The story is typical zombie fare: a virus is running rampant and turning people into foul, slavering monsters. Taking its cue from the Half-Life handbook, it follows the military's attempt to wipe out the zombie infestation, and since you’re infected with the virus as well, you’re caught right in the middle.

click to enlargeThe sole twist is that the virus affects your character, Hayden Tenno, differently, since he’s immune to the horrible pain that’s responsible for making people act like right bastards. When Hayden gets infected, his body begins hardening into a metallic substance with the ability to generate the “glaive”—a three-bladed boomerang-like throwing star.

As the game progresses, so too does the infection in Hayden’s body, and he gains some added powers like the ability to use aftertouch on the glaive (a la Heavenly Sword), a bubble shield (a la Halo 3), and invisibility (again like in Halo 3). Despite all of these advanced abilities, basic close-quarters combat is senselessly difficult to pull off. Just getting a hit to connect with an enemy requires more patience than it’s worth.

The star of the show, though, is the glaive. It’s a beautiful thing. Using it to hack up enemies is great. Aftertouch is a much better fit in Dark Sector than Heavenly Sword, and the visual payoff of watching it slice off body parts in slow motion is huge.

Too bad the levels aren’t designed with this weapon in mind. Enemies are often too far or too close for the glaive to have any use, and when enemies are within its ideal range, the level layouts are too cluttered or narrow to let you slice satisfyingly through your foes.

In addition, Hayden can buy guns from merchants who bear an uncanny resemblance to the merchants in Resident Evil 4. He’ll also find briefcases that he can take to one of the merchants to upgrade his weapons. Unfortunately, the upgrades have little appreciable affect on your guns. Unlike in Resident Evil 4, it’s almost always to your benefit to buy a new weapon and begin your upgrades from scratch instead of focusing on building an awesome super-weapon. In effect, the upgrade system is useless.

click to enlargeYou’ll also find an assortment of guns lying near the bodies of your fallen foes, but these only work for a short period of time since they’re all rigged with a virus-proof fail-safe timer that locks out the weapons after a few seconds. Needless to say, this makes ammunition pointless for everything but your own purchased weapon.

Player movement also needs much more refinement. While the game is technically a third-person shooter, targeting and movement work much more like they would in a first-person shooter. Hayden’s basically a big emo-styled hood ornament sitting in front of your screen. You may as well be playing an FPS, since it never feels much like he’s the one doing the moving or shooting.

Similarly, it’s easy to stick the Hayden “hood ornament” safely behind the corner of a wall while you use the reticule to pick off guys around the corner. This major flaw makes most gunfights and boss battles ridiculously easy, and makes the Gears-like cover system totally unnecessary.

Making matters worse, the enemy A.I. has bad guys acting like animatronic dummies wobbling around on preset tracks. Most of the time, you can camp behind a wall and aim your reticule just above one of the “hotspots” where enemies’ heads keep popping up and pick them off one by one without fear of return fire hitting you. Kill one, and the next one will run directly to the same exact spot. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This sort of behavior was all well and good ten years ago, but enemies have expanded their repertoire a bit by now. A few enemy types will charge at you to try and keep things interesting, but you can always tell just by looking at them what a given enemy type will do, so they’re all utterly predictable. And since there are only a pitifully few enemy types, it won’t take you long to figure out how to handle each type effectively.

In contrast to the single-player game, multiplayer runs smoothly and is actually worthwhile, because it doesn’t rely on the lame-duck A.I., wonky story, or silly weapon timers. But that’s not saying much. There are only two multiplayer modes: infection and epidemic. Infection is a simple tag game, and epidemic is standard team deathmatch. There are also just a few maps available, and games are unremarkably capped at ten players.

click to enlargeVisually, Dark Sector isn’t terrible. While there’s nothing stunning here and environments give you no added eye candy to dull the pain of lackluster gameplay, the visuals are competently presented. However, frame-rate hitches occur along the way at random moments and seem to happen without regard to the amount of action or objects on screen. The frequency of these hitches increases as the game goes on, and later levels are also prone to some visible screen tearing. The PS3 version was slightly more prone to these issues than the 360 version, but in both cases it was only mildly annoying.

Perhaps not surprisingly at this point, sound effects are also well below par. None of the weapons have the clear pops, rattles, and roars found in many other games of this generation. Most weapons, explosions, and splatters sound muffled and hollow. As a small saving grace, much of Dark Sector’s voice work is meant to sound as though it’s coming through a small radio transmitter, so even though the voices sound poorly compressed and mixed, it fits the context.

Dark Sector asks you to give it the benefit of the doubt at every turn. Every aspect of this game is horribly average, derivative, unpolished, or worse. Half-assed, floaty, imprecise character movement. Half-assed melee combat. Half-assed cover mechanic. Half-assed weapon upgrade system. Half-assed sound design and mixing. Quarter-assed story. No-assed AI. By my count, that should be three-and-a-quarter asses, but in Dark Sector’s highly derivative world, they add up to just one big, enormous half an ass. One or two of these issues is forgiveable, but taken altogether, they’re definitely not.
D+ Revolution report card
  • Love the glaive...
  • ...when you can use it right.
  • +/- Decent but severely limited multiplayer
  • Floaty character movement
  • Pointless weapson upgrades
  • Senseless story
  • Enemies, like zombies, need brains
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