Dark Sector Review
Written : Sunday, April 13, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Dark Sector is a third person shooter made by Digital Extremes (Unreal Tournament) and published by D3 (Earth Defense Force), which features a unique take on the shooting genre with an added element: the glaive, a boomerang-type weapon with three long curved blades in a circular pattern. Set in a fictional Soviet country where a new type of biological weapon has been unleashed and most of the country deserted, a CIA clean-up man by the name of Hayden Tenno has been sent in to take out the creator of the weapon, though the full range of his government's plans are not known to him. Hayden is the perfect secret agent for a very unique reason: congenital analgia. A real disease, this causes him to feel no pain whatsoever. Early in the story, Hayden is infected with the biological weapon, which normally would drive people insane because of the pain, but his disease prevents this and he can reap the benefits of the weapon without the side-effects.
As you progress through the game, you'll seemingly out of nowhere clutch your arm (in direct contrast to the "feel no pain" aspect of the story) and realize something new about your powers. Conveniently this happens just before you need said power to progress the story. Be it simply learning to throw your glaive harder or control it mid-flight, these abilities are all very useful and do not feel tacked on. There are a few "puzzles" to solve with your glaive that really aren't more difficult than throwing it to break something or hit a switch to progress, though they are a nice break from simply mowing people down and moving to the next area. Additionally, your glaive can harness certain elemental properties found in various locations which add that element to the glaive's normal damage as well as helping you solve the puzzles and progress the story. Some doors are sealed shut with no power and need electricity to force them open, while other areas are blocked by a black goo that needs to be burned away or frozen and shattered.
In addition to the few puzzles in the game, there are a few boss battles that require distinct actions to succeed. Most are fairly simple and require use of the element damage of the glaive to stun the boss long enough to get up close and use a "finisher" move, which can actually be done against any enemy in the game and result in a slowed down mini-cutscene where you dismember or otherwise kill the enemy. The first (and largest) boss in the game requires multiple finishers, and while the rest of them take just as long to kill, only one grand finish at the end of the fight is required. The battles don't really win any awards for creativity or difficulty, but they are fairly fun.
The gameplay in Dark Sector feels a bit like a Gears of War clone. It has the "roadie run" where you hold down the A button and sprint for short distances which you can control with the left thumbstick. It has the cover system to hide behind pillars and benches. It has the diving system to dodge attacks. The glaive is really the only thing that brings it into its own, and a mighty fine job of that it does. Controlled with the right bumper, your glaive can be flung at enemies to severely damage them and knock them off balance, and later on in the game you can execute a "power throw" for quadruple damage which for most enemies is a one-hit kill, slicing them completely in half, decapitating them or cutting off a limb and letting them bleed out, depending on your aim. A bit later in the game, you can go into "aftertouch" mode by throwing the glaive, then holding down the bumper again, allowing you to steer the glaive around corners or over cover to find the enemy in hiding and take him out without a fight.
However, the glaive is not your only weapon. You always have a gun with you and can fire that with the right trigger while your glaive flies around decapitating, so you aren't defenseless once you've attempted to attack someone with the glaive. In fact, I found the gun to be a bit safer because I could pop out from cover and fire a few quick shots, whereas the glaive takes a few seconds to charge a power throw, leaving you very vulnerable. Throughout the game, you can find money laying about which you can use to purchase new weapons in the Black Market, accessible through a number of manholes found in the game, usually once per level. You can also use the upgrade cases found hidden through the game to make your guns more powerful and accurate, or even extend the clip size and firing rate.
Lush environments, even in darkness.
Graphically, Dark Sector is one of the best I've seen on the 360, up there with Gears, Lost Odyssey and BioShock. The environments are rich, despite most of the game being shrouded in darkness. The lighting effects from fire, body movements and physics are all very well done. The only problem I had was actually with Hayden's face, which for some reason just looked disproportioned to the rest of his body. The other characters are all good but his just seemed funky. Maybe he was just ugly, but it never sat well with me during the cutscenes. Sound-wise, everything was extremely well done. Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on Smallville) voices Hayden and the rest of the cast is done fairly well, though I don't think anyone of interest voiced them. The dialogue is actually pretty bad, but the cast delivers it well enough that it doesn't completely ruin the experience. The sound effects from the glaive, guns and monsters are all excellent as well.
The online play was a bit of a mixed bag. The servers were good and I didn't experience any lag, but the community was somewhat sparce. I am guessing this was mainly because of the available gametypes. There are only two to start, not giving much variety to the experience. The first is called Epidemic which was basically a VIP or Team Leader type game with both teams having an "infected" player (Hayden) and any other players being normal hazmat suit guys trying to take out the enemy leader. The other is called Infection and features only one "infected" player with a free-for-all of players on the other side trying to take him out. The gameplay resembled Gears even more during online play, even featuring the "down" system where the infected player would drop to his knees and need to be finished in close range. The problem I had with this is that there was never a fully even playing field. No normal deathmatch or team deathmatch, and someone was always more powerful with the advantage of the glaive, the ability to go invisible for a short period, as well as more health.
That's going to leave a mark...
The achievements in Dark Sector are fairly good, but have a few flaws. You get a good chunk (425) simply beating the levels and bosses, as well as many smaller achievements for using things like power throw or aftertouch to kill enemies, most of which will come naturally but a few you'll have to go out of your way for which can be a bit annoying and take you out of your comfort zone. There is a collection achievement for the upgrades, but at least these give you some benefits during the gameplay rather than just being a chore. The main problem I have with the achievements is for beating the game on Brutal difficulty. I have no problem with beating games on harder modes, that should definitely be an achievement, but the problem is that is isn't unlocked until you beat the game. So in essence you are forced to play the entire game twice. If your game is good enough, I'll play it twice, don't force me through achievements to do it. Additionally, there are achievements for getting 500/2000 points in ranked online matches. You get 3 points for killing an infected player and 1 point for normal hazmat guys, so it definitely takes a while to finish those up.
The voice acting is very well done and the sound effects are great as well. The only downside was the enemies who constantly spouted the same few lines. Just because they swear, doesn't make it cool to say over and over.
Definitely among the best I've seen on the 360. Again, Hayden's face annoyed me, but aside from that everything was good. Random lags were rare (maybe happened 2-3 times during the entire game) but again, perfection is demanded these days.
Considering everyone and their mother has played Gears, the control scheme will feel very familiar. The only addition is the use of the right bumper to control the glaive, but it feels very natural to switch between that and the right trigger when in a large firefight. Very well done.
Again, the similarities to Gears hurt its originality, but the glaive is simply awesome. The story was fairly weak and contradicted itself at times, but the overall experience was very enjoyable.
Getting a large chunk from the story is always nice and the bosses being secret achievements was a good touch. I found myself struggling to find enough electric and cold spots for those element achievements, but I got them eventually. The collection achievement is never fun and the forced second play for Brutal difficulty was quite annoying. The online achievements are also a chore with the small community and low point counts.
Dark Sector is a very underrated and underappreciated game. It didn't receive much press or hype and I think that actually turned out well for it, because the similarities to Gears' gameplay would have severely hurt it in most people's eyes. I really liked this game though. The story was a bit weak, but the gameplay more than made up for that. The glaive is one of the best weapons I've had the pleasure of killing people with and the extra abilities that come with it (aftertouch and elements mainly) were very fun to mess around with. I don't know if I'd advise buying it (unless you want to do the online achievements), but this should be near the top of everyone's rental list for sure.