Dark Sector Review
Dark Sector's a game we've been talking about for a very, very long time now. Four years, to be exact. Imagine that? Digital Extremes re-announced Dark Sector way back in 2004 (it was first talked about in 2000), when the PlayStation 2 was still kicking ass, and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 weren't even a thought in our minds. We've waited for what seemed like an eternity, and the numerous delays of Dark Sector certainly didn't help. So, now that it's here, was it worth the wait?
For the most part, it is. Dark Sector is an action game that borrows heavily from other games such as Metal Gear Solid 3 and Resident Evil 4; so if you're a fan of either, you may want to consider a copy. You are Hayden Tenno, a CIA Operative. He is the CIA's go-to guy, because of his skills...and, more importantly, a disease that prevents him from feeling pain called congenital analgia (it's an actual disease, too).
The game starts out with a very Metal Gear Solid-like intro, a gas-masked Hayden enters the screen, crouches, and proceeds to talk on his communications device with his supervisor. The intro is quicker than Metal Gear Solid's, but the cues are still obvious. From there on, you're given control of Hayden and so begins the game. The entire first level is played in black and white, which I found to be quite a nice touch. It also does a great job of familiarizing you with the game's gunplay, as firefights are quite heavy. I really enjoy using the guns, as firing them has a very satisfying feel. And later on, you get the option to dual-wield.
But perhaps even more satisfying is when you are infected with the virus and your arm develops powers, and you possess the use of the Glaive - the tri-blade weapon you see Hayden holding all the time. As its shape indicates, the Glaive can be thrown like a boomerang or a shuriken, and return back to you automatically. What makes this a satisfying weapon to use is the fact that you can cut off limbs when you throw it, immediately killing an opponent.
Furthermore, the more you play the game and the more you use the Glaive, it'll enhance itself and the game will present you with more of its abilities. Some abilities include a powered-up throw, picking up items, absorbing elemental powers, and being able to control the flight of your Glaive. Controlling your Glaive's flight will come in handy in the game, as it'll allow you to hide behind a wall, throw your Glaive, maneuver it around the wall, and right into the nearest enemy - think of it like a manually controlled homing device.
If you're faced with an opponent nearby, you can always put your Glaive to use for close-range combat, and kill an enemy that way. Plus, if you perform close-range attacks, you'll be able to pull off a finisher move, too. And later on in the game, you'll encounter a marketplace where you can buy weapons and weapon upgrades with the cash you pick up. So, as you can see, the Glaive isn't the only attack you can upgrade; your firepower can be enhanced, as well. Across the game are scattered briefcases that feature various high-level technologies, and the marketplace is where they can be applied to Hayden.
To further explain the similarities to Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil 4: Dark Sector's camera setup is directly taken from Resident Evil 4. Gunplay camera is well done, using an over-the-shoulder perspective for aiming and shooting, and an off-centered perspective for walking and running. On the Metal Gear Solid side of things, when you're on the defensive, you can perform a roll dive, lean and sneak against walls, and peak around them for some return fire. The marketplace also feels similar to RE4's, and Dark Sector's story and presentation often reminds me of a mixture of both games.
Despite borrowing from two other class-leading titles, Dark Sector is still a solid game on its own. But it isn't without its faults. For one, I'd have liked to see the hand-to-hand combat feel a bit sturdier, with an emphasis on combos. I'd have also liked a crouch button to use when you wish to sneak around; otherwise, the only way to crouch in the game is to get near a short object. Next, I suspect those who get motion sickness easily will not be able to tolerate the game's excessive camera-bobbing. And I feel that not having an option to turn it off is poor decision making, as it's a fairly common option to tinker with in other shooters. Another trait missing is the ability to extend your arm and blindly shoot around or over an object/wall, as you lean against it.
Still, despite that, Dark Sector still makes for an enjoyable experience. It may not feel as epic as a Metal Gear Solid game, but it still boasts enough great features to make the gameplay stand on its own. Additionally, an online multiplayer mode was also a nice touch to a game that could've gotten away without it. While it isn't what I'd call fantastic, as it only features two modes, the online still makes for a decent diversion and is good for up to 10 players. Lastly, you can expect your adventure to last between 10-15 hours, which isn't bad considering some of the 3-5 hour titles we've got out there.
Naturally, we had always worried about the graphics of the PlayStation 3 version. After word had gotten out that Digital Extremes had problems with the PS3 version running well along the Xbox 360 version, it raised our eyebrows. But Digitial Extremes was quick to state that those issues were resolved, and that both PS3 and Xbox 360 versions looked practically identical. We felt that maybe D.E. was preemptively controlling damage, much like many publishers and developers do.
But such is not the case; Dark Sector runs very well on the PlayStation 3. The first thing I did was inspect the framerate, as it is the most crippling aspect of an action game; I attempted to nitpick it and paid close attention to it, but didn't find much. It's a solid 30 frames per second, and the image renders at the requisite 720p. Environmental texture detail will become immediately noticeable, as D.E. applied some nice touches to them, in particular dealing with the lighting. Character detail is also solid, but enemies could've used more variation in design. And I will say that some of the bosses are also pretty nice and fairly towering. But Dark Sector isn't perfect, there are some jaggies in the distance, and you'll definitely spot a muddy texture here and there. Still, as a whole, it's a good looking game and it runs on its own engine, too.
For audio, Dark Sector features plenty of voice acting, too. You'll frequently here conversations between Hayden and his supervisor throughout the game. You'll also hear banter from enemies as they scream at you, primarily in Russian. There are numerous cut-scenes, as well, and they do an acceptable job of unwrapping the story. Hayden himself is voiced by Smallville's Michael Rosenbaum, so if his voice is familiar, you'll know why. The game isn't riddled with voice acting, though, so don't expect an extremely cinematic presentation. Sound effects sound pretty good, as gun shots not only feel satisfying, but sound it too. But I do wish for a soundtrack that sounded more engrossing; it actually starts out that way for the first stage, reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, but ends up being forgettable later on.
All in all, despite a number of problems, Dark Sector is quite an enjoyable game and one that I don't mind recommending. Fans of Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil 4 should enjoy the game quite a bit, as should fans of the action genre, altogether. Dark Sector's various ways of combat are nice, even if one of them (hand-to-hand) is broken. Visually, the game runs at a solid framerate, without many plagues that cause image problems. And with an adventure that'll last between 10-15 hours, as well as online gameplay, Dark Sector makes for a pretty good experience.
3/27/2008 Arnold Katayev