Dark Sector (360) – Review

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Dark Sector by Digital Extremes and published by D3 Publisher, is a third-person "shooter", in the sense that while there are guns, the primary feature is a "glaive" that your character gains early in the game that can be used both offensively and to solve a handful of puzzles as you work your way through the game.  The game is not bad; it’s a fair challenge and its presentation of new gameplay elements is well paced.  But as a game with any lasting power, its weak story and uninspired gameplay and design make it hard to put this as anything but a rental to try and see.

Story: C+

You play as Hayden, an American special forces agent sent to a fictional Soviet country in which a horrific bioweapon called Technocyte has been used to infect the population by a powerhungry man known as Mezner.  While attempt to learn information on Mezner’s location, Hayden is incapacitated and forced to be infected by Mezner; while Hayden was given booster shots to limit the infection before the mission, the infection causes his right arm to become a powerful weapon, able to make a glaive (a 3-pointed boomerang) and other abilities that allow him to fight through Mezner’s forces and other humans already fully taken by the Technocyte in order to prevent Mezner from releasing the virus across the world.

The story is certainly confusing – they throw you into the character without establishing much of the details, and, unless you have subtitles on, making out what some of the heavy Russian accent lines are trying to say is difficult. The game could have used maybe a 1-2 minute details intro to establish the setting just a bit better, as you’re not given much sense of the scale of the problem; sure, the local country has clearly been infected, but the plans for worldwide infection don’t seem apparent until later in the game, and it would be odd to send an agent into a country just to become infected as such.  The handful of cutscenes (done in engine but with no interaction) help to resolve this but only by about 50% of the way through the game did I realize what was happening.  Add in either bland or stereotypical characters, and you have a rather boring story overall.

Gameplay: B

Dark Sector is a third-person “shooter” in the sense that as you play more through the game there is less focus on using standard weapons and more on your glaive and other powers.  The weapon aspect is downplayed in two ways: first, you only can carry two weapons, a handgun and a two-handed weapon like an assault rifle or shotgun, at any time, in addition to grenades.  Ammo is available but limited (you can’t get it off dead foes) so the game challenges you to make the best use of other means to battling forces.  The other way that weapons are downplayed is that one Hayden is infected, most guns in the game have a self-destruction mechanism that will go off after about a minute of being handled by Hayden, enough time to use it for a rush of foes but not to carry between battles.  There is a black market that you can enter throughout the game to buy weapons that do not have this lock (and thus can be permanently carried) and that can also be upgraded to attach various weapon enhancements to improve the rate of fire, damage, or the like.  However, the money to buy these are limited, and likely with normal progress through the game, you will only buy two or three weapons from there.  You’re still limited by ammo, which the black market (surprisingly, but for game strategy reasons) does not sell.

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Instead of weapons, the focus of the game is on the glaive, which can be used in conjunction with a one-handed weapon.  As implied, it slices and dices foes nicely particularly if aim well, but often you may need to follow up with a few bullets or get in close with a finishing move when the enemy flashes a certain color.  Over the course of the game, you’ll gain more abilities at preset points; you’ll gain the ability to throw a powerful shot with the glaive by timing the throw just right, put aftertouch on the glaive to direct it into tight spaces, or charge the glaive with an element (fire, electricity, and ice) which can then be used to inflict more damage on foes or to open up further parts of each level.  You’ll also get the ability to create a shield to reflect bullets and a brief period of invisibility.  These new powers are decently peppered throughout the game and give you a chane to try them out on a necessay blockage or the like in order ot progress forward.  Fortunately, all these powers are pretty much intuitive and require no additional oddities with the controls.  There are some minor puzzle elements with respect to these powers, notably the element-infusion one, and only one annoying case where you need to use the aftertouch controls while under a rather long but still present timer in order to escape.

Foes make you use a variety of approaches to take them out.  Biosuit-dressed foot soldiers will try to kill you with firepower, requiring you to use a combination of long-range attacks and the glaive, while when you start getting into the thick of things, you’ll encounter those already converted by Technocyte and require a more upfront-and-personal attack.  The enemy AI is nothing special in this game, as they will attempt use to the same pieces of cover or take the same tactics to approach, though I will note that they did a good job with soldiers using riot shields that will take their time to sneak up on you, and if you aren’t ready for them, can you down in one shot.  Some enemies if they get close to you will force you to do a quick button-mashing minigame to break free and stun the foe, but nothing as bad as quick reaction events ala God of War.  The level design is pretty straightforward in order to usher your towards this points of battle, and the usual tricks of having waves and waves of enemies in some areas, or areas where after you pass through it once and return again, more enemies will be waiting for you, are commonplace here; to one benefit, there are areas that free like they should be ambush points and such, but instead are simply there for decoration to help add some flavor to the game.

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The game is otherwise pretty straightforward in almost all other aspects; in fact, I would almost call it a by-the-books approach.  That is, the game is pretty well done and has few faults, but also has no personality to it.  The level designs and and the enemies are all decent but also seem stale and lacking a certain something that makes the game feel like it was desigend by committee.  The learning curve is also good, but also a very textbook approach to the game; while you’re likely going to want to use weapons at the start of the game, it slowly works out weening you off them by both lack of ammo on later levels as well as more effective glaive powers to make weapons secondary to the game.  This stuff isn’t bad, but it’s also what makes it a rather lackluster game.

Value/Replayability: C

The game isn’t long and will probably take most people just about 10 hours to complete; there are harder difficulty levels but there’s little that will change with the actual game.  There’s are multiplayer modes but they seem rather uninspired and simply functional add-ons to the core gameplay.

Graphics: A-

While Dark Sector may explemplify the current trends of having worlds of brown and grey to give way to bloom effects, it seems to be done well here; interestingly whether by choice or happenstance, the game starts off mostly as a black and white world but as your character succumbs to the bioagent, the levels seem to become more colorful.  A few levels when in the pouring rain do convey the sense of being drenched.  And the lack of color to most of the world does help to highlight key features of levels that you need to be aware of (such as panels that need to be electrified to activated).

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Audio: B

The s0und effects in the game are ok, obviously focused on the spinning glaive, but other effects are good to help alert you to nearby foes.  The incidental music is nothing special, nor is the voice acting, save for the fact that some of the voice work employs overly thick Russian accents that can make it difficult to understand without subtitles.

Overall: B-

I would not call Dark Sector a bad game, as the core gameplay elements and approach are pretty decent and feels like a textbook example of how to lay out elements in a learning curve to help the player familarize themselves with all the functions of the game.  However, the game itself lacks any type of personality or significant innovation to really make it a strong title.  It’s worth a trying out and working through the single player campaign, but beyond that play, there’s not much else too it.

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