Publisher: D3Publisher of America
Developer: Digital Extremes
Release Date: January 2008
Every significant game eventually breeds a series of imitators, and just as Resident Evil 4 helped beget Gears of War, Epic's smash shooter is paving the way for several other games, including D3Publisher of America's Dark Sector. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, but the term carries with it an inherent negative connotation, as the imitator is perceived to be lacking in originality. But if a game can bring enough to the formula to truly set it apart from its inspiration, it can drop that moniker, becoming its own beast and earning respect and admiration in the process. Gears of War did it with aplomb; can Dark Sector do the same?
It's hard to say at this point, because everywhere we look, it's Gears, Gears, Gears. We've had a chance to see and play the game twice over the last month (at E3 and a D3PA event in June), and though there are key differences, it's hard to overlook the similarities. Dark Sector started out as a sci-fi shooter of sorts, but after spending significant time in hibernation, it reemerged last year with a new flair for realism, including the crumbled, brown-heavy environments seen in Gears. Add to that a familiar behind-the-right-shoulder third-person perspective and a similar cover/vaulting system, and you can see why questions still linger.
What will set Dark Sector from its spiritual predecessors (whether acknowledged or assumed) is its use of the glaive, a super-sized shuriken of sorts that returns to the player like a boomerang. As a melee/projectile weapon, the glaive can be used to slice off limbs and cut enemies to bits. However, it's the supernatural powers that protagonist Hayden Tenno wields that give the glaive its most important abilities.
As a member of a secret governmental agency, Tenno is often sent in to clean up messes that cannot be publicly acknowledged. Dark Sector finds Tenno sent to Lazria, an Eastern Bloc wasteland recently devastated by an infectious outbreak. Shortly after the start of the game, Tenno is attacked and left for dead, eventually waking to find his arm savaged by the mysterious virus. The virus may lead to his downfall, but it also imbues him with a trio of supernatural powers, two of which have yet to be revealed.
After discovering the glaive in the early portion of the game, Tenno will be able to use his unique powers to draw energy from fire or electricity sources and temporarily store it on the glaive. The powered-up glaive will allow Tenno to burn through webbing, light up the darkest of rooms (of which there are many), and have an extra advantage against his vicious foes. The zombie-like enemies seen in the fourth mission of the game are particularly susceptible to the fire effect, as it will cause them to explode and start a chain reaction with other nearby aggressors.
Tenno's infection may give him an advantage in some regards, but it also opens him up to attack from gas grenades and special forces teams bearing back-mounted gas sprayers. When Tenno comes into contact with the anti-infection gas, it unleashes a blinding filter onto the game screen. The glossy, negative image makes it damn near impossible to launch a competent attack, forcing Tenno to back off and regroup before reinitiating battle. At first glance, it was a frightening effect, almost convincing us that we'd somehow busted the debug code. While it will likely catch gamers off-guard at first, it seems like an interesting addition to the formula.
While the glaive is an integral aspect of the experience, Dark Sector is still a third-person shooter, and Tenno will be able to wield all sorts of weapons, including those dropped by his fallen foes. Additionally, accumulated rubles (which are scattered all over the place) can be used to purchase firearms on the black market, which is accessed from any sewer drain. In the segment we saw, Tenno had access to shotguns, sniper rifles, revolvers, and grenades, and everything he carries will be visually represented on his being. Longer weapons (such as the shotgun) can be seen on his back when not in use, while handguns will be held in holsters. This was done to keep the player in the game at all times, while avoiding the suitcase inventory system seen in Resident Evil 4.
Dark Sector utilizes a proprietary engine to craft generally impressive environments, displaying sharp architecture that is often flanked by the disheveled remains of statues and smaller structures. The same cannot necessarily be said for Tenno himself, whose character model looks downright silly on the black market menu and remains perfectly still when crouched behind cover. Such issues may ultimately be corrected before the final release, but they currently give the game an uneven, often generic feel. Luckily, the various lighting effects (from Tenno's powers and other "natural" sources) cast an impressive sheen over the visual experience.
Showing your entire hand can be hurtful to a game in development, but equally damaging is withholding too much information, especially when dealing with an original IP from an emerging publisher. Dark Sector may indeed play host to a unique, well-rounded action/shooter experience, but it's hard to come to that conclusion based solely on what has been unveiled. Though a general outline has been provided, the extent of the storyline and the cinematic aspects of the game are still under wraps, and the multiplayer experience is still being kept under lock and key, despite a promise that it would be shown at E3.
As such, the recently announced delay to January 2008 is probably a smart move, as it will give the team a chance to smooth out the rough edges and bring everything together, not to mention avoid the glut of holiday blockbusters. Dark Sector is currently scheduled for release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but don't count out the supposedly cancelled PC iteration. While flat-out denied at the pre-E3 event, producer Brian Etheridge acknowledged at E3 that a PC version is under consideration, though nothing can be confirmed at this time.
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