Resident Evil 4, Gears of War and Krull walk into a bar, have a few too many, go for a kebab, take a taxi home and go at it in a rather interesting ménage à trois. Nine months later, in a biology-busting turn of events, a child is born from all three drunken participants. That child is Dark Sector.
By far the best way to describe this latest action title is to sum up its various parts, and those already familiar with the three titles above will instantly know what to expect here. But, let’s look at things in more detail.
Dark Sector puts players in the role of Hayden Tenno, a Special Forces agent sent on a mission to a fictional Soviet state in the near future. Here he has to find and destroy his target – a possible viral warfare stash, and also locate a captured agent before any secrets are given away.
Starting out in stylish black and white, Hayden arrives at his location, and proceeds to take out anyone who stands in his way. Eventually reaching his target, and having to eliminate a helicopter gunship, he’s confronted by the enemy, General-type geezer. But, before Hayden can attack said bad guy, another, less human, soldier enters the fray, and pins Hayden to the ground by stabbing him in the arm with a strange-looking blade.
After a while, Hayden recovers consciousness, and finds that he’s infected with the ‘Technocyte’ virus, the very thing he was sent to destroy. Somehow, Hayden is able to retain his humanity, and instead of turning in a mindless monster, his arm sprouts a rather nifty glaive – a throwing star-come-boomerang of doom. Oh, and the game also slips into colour as Hayden is stabbed, in a rather cool, if slightly-Dorothy effect. From this point on, queue plenty of shooting, glaive-ery and puzzle solving, as Hayden sets about completing his mission.
Okay, so the story’s not up to much, and the more you play, the less interesting it becomes. Not that it’s bad, not at all. It’s just the same bad-guy-creates-monsters-with-a-virus-and-wants-to-infect-the-world clichéd fare. We’ve all been there, fragged the zombies, and worn the t-shirt, many times over.
Luckily, the story isn’t all that relevant. What is important is the gameplay, and thankfully, Dark Sector is more than capable in this area. Taking very obvious elements from both Resident Evil 4 (camera angle, aiming, crate smashing, amongst others) and Gears of War (cover-and-fire system, shaky running cam, and the obvious graphical style), Dark Sector creates a predictable, but enjoyable, romp in a semi-futuristic world.
Like Gears, Hayden is far from invincible (at least to begin with), and can’t take much damage before the screen fills with red, his heartbeat gets louder and he keels over. So, in most firefights you quickly need to find cover to hide behind so you can exchange fire from relative safety.
Starting out with a simple pistol, Hayden quickly acquires machine guns and the like, and swapping fire with enemies is very satisfying. Each gun feels meaty, and you can further upgrade them via the black market vendors that can be found in the sewers around the world (yes, sewers). But, although the gunplay is great, it’s not until you acquire the glaive that things really pick up.
Right out of Krull, this is a deadly, and gory, weapon indeed, and once Hayden has it, you’ll keep it selected most of the time. With a quick tap of RB, Hayden throws the glaive towards his target, where it will rip through flesh and bone, before returning, loyally, to Hayden’s grasp.
At first the glaive isn’t all that powerful, but as you progress through the game, it will gain more abilities. These include the ability to throw the glaive with a power shot, killing enemies in a single hit, and the much-vaunted ‘after touch’ system. By holding RB again after throwing the glaive, time slows down and focuses on the glaive.
Then, using the right thumbstick, you can guide the glaive wherever you want it to go (most of the time, right into an enemy’s face). The glaive can also be used with elements such as fire. Throw it into a flame, and it will catch fire for a short time. This has obvious benefits when thrown at a foe, but also acts as the main puzzle element, with fire being required to clear some obstacles, and electricity needed to open some doors, shutdown enemy tanks and so on. These elemental abilities are used in boss fights too. As well as the glaive powers, Hayden also gets other abilities, such as a shield that lets him deflect bullets and other projectiles towards his enemies.
But, despite his new powers, things aren’t simple, by any means. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and are all deadly. There are the standard soldiers, who you’ll spend most of the time fighting, and seeking cover from.
But then there are the zombies. Fresh from the Resident Evil 4 School of villainy, these surprisingly fast foes charge at Hayden with fists and pipes, and attempt to give him the French kiss of death, and when they attack, they always attack in droves. Other foes include robotic, walking tanks, massive, gorilla-like beasts, zombie dogs, and a number of other creatures infected with the virus.
And, even with the glaive, combat is never easy, especially when an army of zombies is charging at you from all directions, often in pitch-black darkness. Adding to this is the fact that enemy weapons have special devices fitted to detect viral infection, and should you pick up an enemy’s gun, it’ll only work for a few seconds before self-destructing. The only option for permanent firepower (above and beyond Hayden’s ever-faithful pistol) is to buy modified weapons from the black market. These are expensive, and you’ll need to search high and low for Roubles in the levels if you’re going to be able to afford them.
There’s plenty to like about Dark Sector. It looks great, and effects like the time slowing after touch, with the whupping of the glaive’s blades, are superb. Combat is enjoyable, not just with the glaive, which is indeed the highlight, but also with normal guns. Firing from cover, and dodging out of the way of grenades is fun, and the combination of glaive and pistol works very well.
However, there are some imperfections. Melee combat is very, very clumsy, and surprisingly ineffective. Even though Hayden has a bloody great, razor sharp glaive attached to his arm, it often takes seven or eight hits to take a foe down (if you don’t get a seemingly random ‘finisher’ prompt, that is). Some elements of the cover system are also a little broken. For example, Hayden’s S.W.A.T. turns and dives (from cover to cover) don’t work most of the time, and instead of moving back to cover after clearing the gap, he just stands right up, often in the sights of his foes. This can be a deadly mistake, and is a little irritating.
Puzzle elements are welcome in any game in my opinion, and at first, Dark Sector’s puzzles are fine. But, after several almost-identical glaive/elemental puzzles, the novelty soon wears thin, and you’ll find yourself wishing for some more variety.Longevity is extended by the Xbox Live multiplayer, but this isn’t anywhere near as good as it could have been. With a paltry two game modes, and lacking of any new ideas, it’s simply so-so, and isn’t something to eat away at my COD4 session. This makes Dark Sector primarily a single player affair.
Dark Sector is still a good game. It’s not the Gears of War beater I’d hoped for, and solid combat doesn’t entirely make up for some repetitive elements, design flaws and poor multiplayer. But until Gears 2 arrives, this should fill the gap nicely.