Dark Sector Review
Lets face it; D3 hasn’t historically been a publisher known for quality releases. For a long time, they put out terrible PS2 game after terrible PS2 game with some licensed crap thrown in here and there for good measure (Pirates of the Caribbean, Ben 10, Kim Possible, etc.). Somehow, around a year ago, D3 quietly reversed their fortune and put out two of the very best games of 2007, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (available on the DS, PSP and PC) and the criminally underrated Dead Head Fred (PSP). Two quality releases doesn’t exactly make up for years of borderline painful games, so I was understandably skeptical about Dark Sector (PS3, 360). The game wasn’t even a blip on my radar until a few weeks ago (usually a bad sign… like a movie that you don’t see previews for until right around its release). After I checked out a couple of screens and gameplay videos, I left myself become cautiously optimistic. Now that I’ve spent some time with the game, I’d say that Dark Sector is both blessed and cursed to follow in Dead Head Fred’s footsteps. Like Fred, the game is a blast to play, but lukewarm advance reviews and a curious lack of marketing will probably hurt the sales numbers. Blockbuster smash or no, Dark Sector is an action extravaganza, with one of the coolest weapons ever, that may very well become 2008’s best game no one played.
After a brief, yet fantastic looking, opening scene, Dark Sector instantly reveals to the player that in a world populated by sub-par FPS games and usually even worse 3rd person shooters, the designers weren’t afraid to buck the trends and go with (i.e. copy) a very Resident Evil 4 style of play. Being that RE4 is one of the Top 10 best games I’ve ever played (the Wii version is the definitive package; the GCN version was great, the PS2 version was unplayable… the Wii version topped them both), the over-the-shoulder, zoom-in-to-aim setup grabbed my attention from the very start. Unlike RE4, though, Dark Sector controls almost like a FPS, whereas RE4 didn’t have the same dual analog move/shoot setup. RE4 essentially froze the player where they stood while aiming a weapon; Dark Sector allows your character to move and shoot at the same time. If you’ve played though RE4 as many times as I have (8 and counting), this might take some getting used to. If you were born and bred an FPS player, you won’t have any trouble at all. Just for good measure, the developers threw in a little duck-and-cover mechanic that is very, very similar to Gears of War and it works just as well as the RE4 mechanics. I don’t really have a problem with games, in this case, Dark Sector, cannibalizing other games for ideas if the source material is as good as RE4 and Gears of War. The controls are tight and aside from sometimes-dull control sensitivity (it can be adjusted) and something I’ll get to later, Dark Sector feels fluid and smooth from the get-go.
After you get over the quality of the controls, you’ll notice two things while playing through the game’s prologue chapter. The first is that the game gives you only a handful of cursory hints (what button does what); things like reloading, running, switching weapons, etc. are pretty much your responsibility to figure out. While the lack of assistance isn’t as bad as, say, Mass Effect, I find that this kind of trial-and-error, “Hey bud, why don’t YOU figure it out” stuff to be the kind of thing that usually gets a game I’m playing sold or traded in. I like my games challenging, but not in the way that figuring out in level four or five that, yes, your character can jump can be challenging. Bosses, lasers, enemies, bottomless pits – these are cool. Having to find out by accident that you can reload before a clip of ammo is gone isn’t.
The other issue is that at the start, the player has absolutely no idea what is going on. Why is this agent infiltrating a decrepit castle? What’s this about a virus? Are we in Russia? Why shoot a man tied to a chair? How do submarines, zombies and generic Russian villains (complete with awful accents) fit into all this? Why is Saren stabbing me (another Mass Effect reference… play the game and you’ll get it)? It certainly wouldn’t have been a bad thing to give the player even just a little more plot, if for no other reason than to hook finicky, easily distracted gamers. The story picks up in later levels, but you’ll be completely lost at first. Imagine playing Crisis Core or watching Advent Children if you had never heard of, let alone played, Final Fantasy VII. That about as lost as you’ll feel when starting Dark Sector.
Unfortunately, it would be impossible to write a spoiler-free review for this game. Why? Because you don’t start the game with the weapon-to-end-all-weapons. I don’t feel too bad, though; if you’ve seen a television commercial or even the box the game comes in, you know that Dark Sector’s biggest draw is a thrown, three bladed boomerang called the Glaive. If you’ve seen “Ninja Scroll,” picture the rock-skinned villain’s boomerang-o-death. Now make it handheld and add a third blade to it. Or simply imagine what the blade in a food processor looks like and how much damage it could cause if you hurled it at someone. Using the Glaive, you can hack multiple enemies to bits in a single brutal throw. Even better, when thrown, the camera zooms right up to the weapon, giving the player the chance to control its path as it bounces off walls and takes off scores of heads and body parts.