IGN Review of Dark Sector
Nearly four years ago, Digital Extremes announced Dark Sector would be coming to the PlayStation 3 and -- at the time -- Xbox 2, showed a 45-second trailer set in space and, vanished from the radar.
A lot has changed since then.
Set for release this week, Dark Sector casts you as Hayden Tenno, a government agent sent into Lasria -- a small USSR country -- and saddled with the objective of taking care of a bad guy named Mezner. See, Mezner's gotten a hold of this toxin that turns everyone into monsters -- zombies, metal-skinned freaks, weirdo dogs that can turn invisible, etc. Hayden is on hand to stop that plan and ensure you and I don't end up as test subjects, but when he has his first face to face with the bad guy, Mezner's infected bodyguard with a giant blade for his right hand infects our hero with the very virus he's been sent to destroy.
Pretty soon, Hayden's arm goes from gooey and disfigured to a metal super-power that allows him to generate telekinetic shields, turn invisible and a few other abilities that put mortal men to shame.
If you've never seen Dark Sector in action, the easiest game to compare it to and give you a frame of reference -- in terms of gameplay -- is Gears of War. As you progress through this third-person shooter and take on the monsters Mezner's created for you, you'll need to tap a button to take cover behind pillars and then roll to other crates to stay alive. Certain objects will break up as fire rains down from enemy machine guns, you can peek around corners to aim, and once you're on foot, you can run by holding A.
However, what sets this game apart from Gears is the glaive.
If you've never seen this jagged instrument of death, imagine an oversized ninja star that Hayden can throw like a boomerang. In Dark Sector, you have two weapon slots -- yes, you can only hold two guns at any time -- that are governed by the D-Pad. Left is your shotgun/rifle slot and right is your pistol slot. The guns in Dark Sector are cool and all -- more on that later -- but what makes this game is the fun of running around with pistol in one hand and the glaive in the other.
You'll come around a corner, spot an enemy, hold the left bumper to switch to the over-the-shoulder aiming view, and be faced with a choice -- to glaive or not to glaive. You can pop the bad guy in the head by pulling the trigger with right bumper, but you can also tap right trigger to throw your glaive and behead the baddie. It can take out multiple opponents, it can open doors, and it pretty much makes the game.
As you progress, the glaive just gets cooler. You'll get a power throw (you'll need to hold the glaive button and release just as the on-screen icon turns yellow) that can break chains and slice an enemy in two with one hit, you'll be able to pick up ammo and objects with the glaive, and you'll be able to steal fire, ice and electricity with the device and use them against bad guys as well as puzzles. All of this stuff is fun -- Who doesn't like setting guys on fire from afar? -- but it pales in comparison to the supreme Dark Sector power known as Aftertouch. Here, you'll press and release right trigger to throw the glaive and quickly hold the button again to make the camera follow the glaive in slow motion. Using your right analog stick or Sixaxis controls, you can then pilot the glaive as you see fit.
Don't get me wrong, mastering Aftertouch is going to take time. When I first got the ability the glaive seemed sluggish and was a bitch to pilot, but once I got to the point where I could power throw, switch to Aftertouch, slice off one guy's head and take out another dude's arm, I realized the feature is a thing of beauty.
The "Damn, that was a cool kill" feeling is what Dark Sector is all about. Aside from the slicing a guy's leg off with the glaive and hearing him scream in pain, there are a number of different finishers for each enemy. These kill moves can be implemented when an opponent is injured and begins to glow red. That's your cue to rush in and tap B for a finisher that can be -- but isn't limited to -- Hayden snapping a dude's neck, him slicing off the foe's arm and hitting him in the head with it, and Tenno burying the point of the glaive into a beast's forehead and watching the blue blood spurt out of it.
Australia doesn't know what it's missing!
On top of the glaive and finishers, there's a black market feature in Dark Sector that allows you to purchase new weapons with the money you've found and upgrade the weapons you already have with hidden powerups you've located throughout the campaign. What this leads to is some kick ass weaponry such as the shotgun. Ever since Terminator 2, the shotgun has had a special place in my heart, but rarely do I feel videogames capture the sweet science. The Resident Evil 4 shotgun was powerful and impressive, but I never had enough ammo. In Turok, I had two shotguns, but they didn't have any oomph. Dark Sector has one of the best videogame shotguns in recent memory. Ammo is ample -- you'll bust open crates for shells and pick bullets off downed guards -- and the two shots needed to take down some of the more mutated foes feel like the right amount. There's also a magnum, Uzi and a handful of other firearms.
All of this -- the powers, the glaive and the guns -- combines to make you feel empowered in Dark Sector. Usually you start a game as a super-agent and chortle as you're easily killed or dealt with. In Dark Sector, the difficulty ramps up as you get your powers and learn the ropes. Right out of the gate, you feel like you're this kick ass operative.
Of course, by this point in the review, you've peeked ahead and seen that for as much as I've lauded Dark Sector, I'm not giving it a jaw-dropping score. Although I enjoyed my time as Hayden Tenno and loved my trusty glaive and shotgun, I watched the credits roll without a sense of accomplishing anything monumental, and that's for a few reasons.
To begin with, the story in Dark Sector isn't focused on or explained well. Hayden lands on island and complains about not wanting to go on the mission, the guy on the other end barks some orders, and you're off. Eventually you run into this old man who is somehow connected to Hayden and the government as well as a girl who is working with Mezner and is connected to Hayden. Both of these characters are meant to be lynchpins in the story and provide some shocking moments, but without a flashback or decent back story, I don't care about them. The girl even mentions Hayden's past, which makes him mad, but I have no idea what's up. Mezner pops in once or twice to talk crazy, but by the time I get to the final boss battle, I really don't know him or care.
On the gameplay side, the idea of progression in Dark Sector is that you learn a new move, master it and another one pops up. It's kind of like a carrot dangled in front of you to keep you plowing through the game. It works and the powers are great, but there are a few points -- especially in the last few chapters -- when the repetitive look of the levels gets to you and it feels as if the game is out of moves and just throwing enemies at you to make the experience last longer. At one point, Hayden was traversing a bridge when zombies began to pour out of the entrance to a tunnel. I Aftertouched a few, shotgunned a few more, and when it appeared I was wasting ammo, I jumped on a turret and began tearing the bad guys apart.
They kept coming. I kept at it for a minute or so, but they kept coming. Worse, I could see more guys appearing in the tunnel as I killed the guys up front. Frustrated, I bailed on the gun, booked into a doorway, the game saved and the flood stopped.
Ugh. Trigger events.
Although it's better than when I bitched about it in a
January preview, melee combat is still clunky. You'll be in these nerve-racking, pop-and-shoot battles with infected monsters, when a zombie will suddenly run up to you and start swinging his club. You'll tap the melee button, swing the glaive like a knife and either completely miss the villain or make contact and watch him barely react. It could be worse -- back in that preview you had to slash and slash and slash to kill them whereas now you get a finisher option pretty much right after first contact -- but it could be better and so could item pickup.
Similar to hand-to-hand combat, you have to break the crates you find strewn around the levels with your melee button to grab ammo and cash. This is supposed to make Hayden kick or slice the box depending on its height. However, there were plenty of times where I had the camera pointed right at the box and Hayden would just glaive at nothing. By the end of the game, I was throwing the glaive into the items rather than risking missing a kick and leaving myself open for attack.
Although I haven't mentioned it until now, there is a multiplayer aspect to Dark Sector. Either through online or LAN options, players can come together and duke it out in two modes. Infection acts as a VIP match where one player is a completely suped-up Hayden and it's up to the other players, who are either shotgun- or machine gun-toting guards, to take him out. Whoever kills Hayden becomes Hayden in the next round. Epidemic breaks the players into teams made up of one Hayden and a bunch of guards. Kill the other team's Hayden, get some points and you'll be Hayden in the next round. All of this plays out over five maps, and while it's not everyone's cup of tea, there is going to be a niche audience for this brand of combat. Admittedly, I had fun running around the levels, turning invisible and finishing an unsuspecting opponent from behind. The only problem was that I was having a great time only when I was Hayden. Being a guard isn't bad, but you're outgunned and no match for the glaive. I was playing with people who were really good at the game and it was a good time, but if you get a bunch of Halo kiddies in there screaming curse words or one player who just dominates, this feature might not get much use.
Graphically, Dark Sector has moments of awesomeness and dullness. There are plenty of times when you're holding a glaive full of fire, the light is reflecting on Hayden's arm and some dude is bleeding to death in front of you -- that's the awesome part -- but there are also a handful of cutscenes where Hayden's head looks like that of a Cabbage Patch doll, there's an abundance of shiny hair and the ground textures are lacking. On top of that, all of the environments are all pretty dark, similar and dull. Dark Sector doesn't look bad, but it doesn't look great either. Thankfully, the game looks pretty much the same -- for better or for worse -- on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Overall, the biggest disappointment for me was the missed opportunity when it came to Dark Sector's replay value. Throughout Dark Sector you're picking up money and weapon upgrades that you can make use of in the Black Market. However, these new guns cost a lot of coin and that basically means you can only pick up one or two on your way through the story. When I finished my first run of Dark Sector, I had the creature-dropping shotgun, my suped-up handgun and magnum-powered Hammer 1895. All these guns had been modified but still had a ways to go in the hunt for having the ultimate firepower, fire rate and clip size stats. I finished my game, started one in the newly opened Brutal difficulty level and was crushed to find nothing carried over.
It doesn't even make sense to me. I understand the powers not carrying over because they're story driven, but the black market has a locker to store my guns. It couldn't store my guns from my last save? It couldn't give me a bottomless bank account to try out all the other weapons?
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