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Dark Sector

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Digital Extreme

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Dark Sector'

by Chris Lawton on April 6, 2008 @ 7:56 a.m. PDT

Dark Sector is a new and original next-gen action-thriller, developed by Digital Extreme. A dark, gritty experience packed with fast action, incredible superpowers and an engaging story. Sent on a dangerous assassination mission into Lasria – an Eastern European city on the brink of ruin that hides a deadly Cold War secret. Attacked by an unknown enemy, he awakens to find part of his body altered by an infection that has granted him inhuman abilities. Now, Hayden must learn to evolve along with his powers, to survive and to become a hero.

Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Digital Extremes
Release Date: March 25, 2008

I have a hard time writing reviews like this. I've often said that it's easy to review a game that's good, and it's even easier to review a game that's bad, but when a game is somewhere in the middle, like Dark Sector, it presents a whole new set of problems. The game isn't really bad enough to trash, but it's not really good enough to blindly praise, either.

In Dark Sector, you play as Hayden Tenno, a CIA operative working in the dystopian fictional country of Lasria. You're working to clear away a horrible biological weapon that your enemy has created and unleashed on his own people. You also become infected, but there's a silver lining. Your infection makes you sprout an awesome three-bladed boomerang, or "glaive," that you can throw to slice your opponents to shreds.

It's unfortunate that this is about as deep as the story gets. In the beginning, you're treated to this incredibly moody cut scene that really sets you up for a great narrative, but the game just doesn't deliver. You move from mission to mission without any real explanation of why you're doing it; characters come into the room, talk to you and leave, but you don't know why. It just seems like the story muddles along without any direction. I'd like to care about Hayden because it seems like he could have a great backstory and personality, but the game never really gives you any reason to care about him or any of the other people you meet.

Good for you, however, that the action is pretty solid and keeps the game moving along at a steady pace. The game plays a lot like Gears of War, with Hayden ducking behind cover and vaulting over fences. The firefights you get into can be really intense, with bullets flying at you from all directions. Your enemy is pretty sharp and does a lot to keep you on your toes; they'll duck behind cover, fire some shots, and then move. Enemies will cover each other, shooting suppressive fire toward you, while another finds better cover.

Don't think you're at a disadvantage, though, because you have one of the coolest weapons ever designed for a shooter. The best part of the combat, and easily the most fun part of the game, is the glaive. There's something about cutting through an enemy's elbow and seeing his arm fly to the side in an arc of blood that just feels satisfying. The glaive gets better as you progress; you eventually get the ability to slow down time and control the glaive with the right thumbstick, which allows you to pull the blade around corners or clip the head of an enemy ducking under cover. You also get the option to charge the glaive with an element, such as fire or electricity, for extra damage. You can even learn to use the glaive to pick up items that seem out of reach. It's a very versatile infection.

What makes it even better is that it works in close quarters as well. Move in close to an enemy and start hacking away. After a few hits, you get the option to execute an incredibly brutal finishing move. My favorite is the one where you break your opponent's arm, bring your glaive up to cut off the limb, and then bring the blade back down across your foe's head. There's definitely more than a little bit of satisfaction in utterly destroying your enemy like that.

However, as with every good thing, there's always a bad side. The glaive is pretty weak at first, and it takes multiple hits to maim an enemy, much less kill him. It's kind of disappointing because the first thing you want to do when you get it is start cutting down the hordes of baddies. The fact of the matter is that your pistol is a more effective weapon at the outset, and you'll spend most of the time using that. As you gain new abilities, your glaive becomes more powerful and more fun to use, so it balances out. I would've liked to see just one level where I could throw the glaive through multiple enemies and destroy them with ease. There's also no way to control the backswing of the glaive, which makes it kind of a gamble due to its slow speed. If you miss the enemy, you can't do anything about it until the glaive makes its way back to you.

Now, I understand that these complaints seem like pretty small nitpicks and, truth be told, they kind of are. It's just that the glaive is such a fun idea, and for the most part, it's implemented really, really well. It's these little things that annoy and bring down the fun a notch or two.

One thing you should learn pretty quickly is that Dark Sector is not an easy game. In addition to tons of enemies, including infinitely respawning ones, and the high-level tactics they'll use against you, you also have to contend with feeling lost in almost every level. There's no map. There's no radar. There is nothing to tell you where to go or what to do. Even the doors trick you; you can open some of them, but you can't open others, and there's no way to tell them apart because they all look the same. If you're going to play this game, expect to invest a lot of time and frustration.

The controls work pretty well. Everything is really responsive, and you've got plenty of moves to keep Hayden smoothly progressing through the levels. Unfortunately, as a game that plays like Gears, Dark Sector also suffers from the "that's not what I wanted to do" syndrome. Since all of your cover, dashes and rolls are handled by one button, you'll often find that you glued yourself to a wall when you wanted to roll, or dashing when you wanted to crouch. It can get kind of annoying, especially since your enemy can employ these moves without a hitch.

The graphics in Dark Sector rarely disappoint, and overall, I had no real complaints. Everything is rendered in extreme detail, with gritty and rough textures that make you feel that the town through which you're walking is completely believable. All of the character models are smoothly animated and realistically fluid. The only problems I experienced were an occasional clipping problem and a jumpy enemy here and there.

The terrific presentation continues in the sound department. All of the sound effects are top notch, and especially awesome are the enemy's bone-chilling screams when you cut off a limb. All of the gun sounds are crisp, and the voices are incredible — so good that it makes the lack of a story even worse because it feels like such a waste.

Clocking in at about 12 to 15 hours, the single-player mode is pretty lengthy, but it's the multiplayer that really makes the game worth playing. You've got two 10-player game types, which are both pretty fun. Infected mode has one player as Hayden, with all of the abilities you get in the single-player portion, while the other nine are soldiers sent in to defeat him. Whoever kills him becomes the infected in the next round. Now, if you think that nine against one seems unfair, it's really not because fully equipped Hayden has a lot of attacks at his disposal, and it was quite likely to see him cut through all nine guys before anyone could get to him.

The other multiplayer mode is a little bit different. Epidemic has two teams of five people, each with its very own Hayden, and your group's objective is to kill the other team's Hayden. This mode works pretty well and can get pretty hectic. My only complaint is that I'd like to be able to know the difference between my teammates and my enemy without having to zoom in and target, which drags down the pace a bit and can lead to a few friendly fire incidents.

Both multiplayer modes are actually a lot of fun and will provide you with hours of enjoyment. If I had any major gripes, it would be that it seems really limited because you only have two modes and, within those two modes, five maps. I hope that downloadable content and maps will hit the marketplace eventually, but as it is, the multiplayer could have used a few more things to do.

All things considered, the most important question that should be asked is whether or not Dark Sector is a fun game. That's where a bit of the uneasiness comes in. About half of it is an absolute blast to play. All of the boss battles are super fun; you have to spend some time figuring out the puzzle of how to beat them. However, by the same token, almost all of the other puzzles in the game aren't any fun; most are hampered by endlessly respawning enemies who don't give you even a second to think about your problem. It's this kind of dichotomy that makes Dark Sector such a tough game to review. I'd like to heap mountains of praise upon it, but I just can't bring myself to do that.

Dark Sector definitely has some really fun stuff to do, such as sending a glaive through your enemy's leg and watching him fall over. One should go into the title with the knowledge that there isn't much of a story, and some of the gameplay can get pretty frustrating. Although it may seem mediocre in comparison to other shooters that have hit the market, like Gears of War and Call of Duty 4, the intense and fun combat, excellent presentation and solid multiplayer are easily worth checking out.

Score: 7.4/10


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