It's certainly a unique challenge to write a review for a game that's old enough to be found in bargain bins. As of this writing, I can find a copy of the Xbox 360 version of Dark Sector, which was released on consoles in 2008, for $6. It's an incredibly difficult task to muster excitement for an old game, even when it's good. Unfortunately, Dark Sector is a completely forgettable game, and the PC iteration is the definition of a cheap, quick and dirty port. There is one thing that stands out about Dark Sector, and even that concept wears thin by the time you're finished with the game.
Dark Sector starts off well enough. You play as Hayden Tenno, a troubled antihero, who is investigating a slightly mysterious, if uninteresting, zombie-like infection that's spreading through the fictional eastern European country of Lasria. Unfortunately, it falls apart quickly, and the initial promise collapses into a void of confusion. Cut scenes have very low production values, the script is laughably bad, and while attempts are made to explain the plot and some of Hayden's background, it's so poorly conceived and poorly delivered that it's difficult to follow and impossible to care about.
The setup is pretty standard fare. Hayden is a CIA operative who's been dropped into a zone of the "infected" with orders to kill a man named Mesner, who is apparently behind this new infection. Hayden is apparently a troubled spy who doesn't want to kill anymore. This is established in a scene where Hayden breaks a man's neck and then cries out, "I won't do this anymore!" Thankfully, his whining about killing ends quickly, or that would ruin any fun you could find in killing the endless hordes you'll face over the course of Dark Sector. Of course, things go horribly wrong as you run around shooting things, and you end up infected. Instead of turning into a zombie, your arm turns metallic and you get a really awesome weapon. Meet the glaive.
The glaive is the highlight of Dark Sector, and the combat would be completely and utterly unattractive without it. This is somehow generated by your arm, and you can throw it, touch up on its movement, and do all kinds of neat things to tear people to shreds. Achieving the perfect throw to shred people's limbs is all kinds of satisfying. Watch a hazmat guy stare in horror at his missing leg and hop around before he falls to the ground in a dead heap. Enjoy the brief burst of gore as you cut a man clean in half with the glaive.
The rest of the combat in Dark Sector, however, is pretty boring. There's no intensity, and the AI doesn't put up a very strong fight, as it rarely moves aside from occasionally charging right at you. You can pick up weapons from your slain enemies, but every guard's weapon is equipped with an Infection Governor, which registers the infection level of anyone who picks it up. If the infection is over a certain threshold, the gun automatically detonates a "burn out" charge that renders the weapon useless. You can collect money to purchase new weapons that are Governor-free, but you can't carry many weapons, and ammunition is scarce. Ultimately, the gun combat isn't very satisfying, so you rely on your glaive, but when everything but one weapon isn't any fun to use, there's a very clear problem with your combat.
Occasionally, there are very simple puzzles that require you to set the glaive on fire or charge it with electricity, but it never gets more complicated than that. The only other thing you'll have to contend with is some very bizarre level design. Dark Sector is extremely linear in its level design, an you can never take more than one path through a level. However, finding that path isn't always easy. Many combat situations place you in relatively open areas, and it often feels like the game holds you in one spot for too long with just too many waves of enemies. The game often completely fails to guide you to an exit. More often than not, this exit is a door that needs to be opened, but it fails to look any different from any of the other doors that are scattered around the area. You'll end up spending far too much of your time simply running into doors and looking for one that actually opens. This kind of level design is unacceptable.
As you explore the environments, you'll slowly find two different items scattered around. Both of these tie into the black market, which exists in the sewers of the game. Hidden in briefcases you'll find in many corners are upgrades that can be applied to weapons to give them an extra kick: stronger firepower, firing two bullets with one shot, etc. Currency is conveniently left all over the place, and you'll need it to spend on new weapons, should you actually want to use something other than the glaive. These guns are useful when you encounter enemies who are just out of the range of your glaive. The entire black market isn't very involving, and the game can be done without it, but it's still a nice touch.
All in all, Dark Sector will probably take you eight hours to beat, but most players will probably stop playing before the game is over. The plot won't catch anybody's interest, the level design will aggravate, and even the outstanding glaive combat starts to wear thin by the halfway point.
If you happen to find yourself in a house with a huge LAN network between eight computers and have a copy of the game on you — the game seems to lack any copy protection — you can engage in some multiplayer. There are two multiplayer modes. One pits everyone against a player who gets to control a fully powered-up Hayden, and whoever gets the kill gets to be Hayden in the next round. The other mode pits two teams against each other, with each team getting one Hayden and everyone else playing as a gun-toting guard. These modes can be fun, but as I've said, the gun combat isn't very satisfying, and the person playing Hayden is generally so overpowered that he can destroy anyone in his path. Completely ruining the multiplayer is the fact that the online functionality has been completely removed from the PC iteration. This greatly cripples the game's replay value, as most people can't get eight people together for a LAN event. Nobody is going to want to play the multiplayer portion of Dark Sector when there are hundreds of games with better — and online — multiplayer out there.
The removal of online play isn't the only place where it's evident that Dark Sector was a dirty port. The visuals have some serious issues. The game can sometimes look fantastic as you run around killing everything with the glaive, but it often falls into bland and uninspired-looking environments. Dark Sector is a massive offender of the "real is gray" department. Gray is by far the game's favorite color, only venturing into colorful, well-lit environments on occasion. That's not the biggest problem with the visuals, though. Since this is a PC game, you expect to be able to control detail levels on the game, but they're only barely present. You're given three boxes that can be checked to turn on a few effects here and there. The second huge problem is that visually, the game is completely broken for players on a widescreen monitor. Although the console versions of Dark Sector play at 1280x720, which a widescreen resolution, the PC iteration will only display properly on 4x3 resolutions. Choosing any widescreen resolution will result in the game displaying in a 4x3 aspect ratio and stretching it. This is incredibly lazy work on the developer's part and a backward step for the game.
While the audio isn't broken in the PC version of Dark Sector, that doesn't make it something worth listening to. The voice work in the game ranges from mediocre to laughably bad, but the soundtrack really suffers. The soundtrack ranges from forgettable to scene-ruining. Never before in a game have I actually wanted to finish a fight just so the music would stop. In the sequences where you're fighting the infected, you'll hear some of the most annoying music to ever grace a video game.
Redeeming some of these problems are the sharp controls. The keyboard controls work reasonably well, and I never really felt like they get in the way. It never feels natural, but you won't ever feel like you're fighting the control to get them to do what you want. If you have the hookups, though, plugging in a 360 controller is the way to go. Dark Sector recognizes it right away and maps out the controls perfectly, which results in a very tight and responsive control scheme that's by far the best way to play.
Dark Sector isn't a terrible game. It's just a game that is built around one great idea and surrounded by mediocrity. The glaive combat was such a heavy focus that everything else suffered as a result. Making the package less attractive is the removal of online multiplayer and broken visuals for players with widescreen monitors. Dark Sector is just simply a third-person shooter with one neat concept that becomes old before the game is even done. The title has already been largely forgotten and overshadowed by all of the fantastic shooters that have been released since March 2008, when Dark Sector first appeared on consoles. While the PC port didn't show up until a year later, it has fewer features and is made even less compelling by the year between the console the PC releases. It's also over twice as expensive as the console version of the game. If you must play this game, get it on a console; it's cheaper and a better overall experience. If PC is your only option, you should probably just go look for a better game to play, as Dark Sector really isn't worth anybody's time this far down the line.Score: 6.0/10
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