Being one of the first announced Xbox 360 titles, and a game which has been planned since the PlayStation One, it’s a wonder if the development team are creating a gem of a game which takes time, or that they have the organisation skills of comparison to Scott Miller (look that one up young ones). Either way, the game has officially landed and it is time to judge how unique and original an 8 year old game can be.
From the offset Dark Sector holds promise thanks to a stylish noir introduction, dropping the player right into the middle of combat and explaining the controls at a slow pace, however, before long you will soon start to notice the tears. By placing you right into the midst of combat with a good assortment of weaponry, you will find that dealing with any encounter is a breeze as weaponry in Dark Sector is extremely over powered. A single placed bullet will throw an opponent backwards, throwing their arms in an opportune, yet honourably realistic motion. This knockback provides seconds of fire-free time to fire another shot and finish them off. Typically you will be questioning why you bought Dark Sector at this point of the game, however, if you prolong just a little further you will have your benefit of guns stripped from you, and find the hidden gem.
Upon completing the tutorial and the introduction into the weak storyline, you will find yourself in control of a glaive. The glaive is beautiful. Beautiful in a sick “I can slice a face in half” way. Holding the glaive in your right hand, and a single handed weapon in your left, you will find that gameplay becomes far more interesting, if indeed still extremely unbalanced. By tapping on RB you will launch the glaive forward, for a relatively short distance. Trying to anticipate the direction of enemies in order to slice them through the head can become difficult, as hitting them elsewhere will only stun them momentarily. This is where the advanced gameplay mechanics come into place, which are unlocked shortly after progressing through the game.
First of the advanced glaive abilities is ‘Power Throw’ which allows you to throw the glaive with increased force, slicing an enemy in half no matter where it hits. In order to do this you must power up and release the glaive at the perfect moment, similar to the Gears of War trigger reload system. Secondly, you will be rewarded with ‘Aftertouch’; the ability to slow down time and guide your glaive with the analog stick. As you can guess, the ability to precision aim the angle of slice can be extremely entertaining, and is featured cleverly throughout the game in puzzle form. For example, needing to guide the glaive over a fence in order to hit a lower switch is common place throughout the levels. Other than these two primary abilities you will also find several others, including the ability to place elements onto the glaive (fire, electricity and ice) or even to turn the glaive into a guided elemental grenade. All of these abilities help create a unique and diverse gameplay mechanic which basically, is, Dark Sector.
Looking at Dark Sector from outside of the glaive you will find little which is unique. The character control mechanic is taken right out of Gears of Wear, using a very similar duck-and-run cover system. There are also clear ties with Resident Evil 4 as you shop for additional weapons in the Black Market, bolstering weapon upgrades. Weaponry combat as mentioned previously is best avoided, as it will simply spoil the balance and enjoyment which can otherwise been had. Unfortunately the later levels will push for weapon use, up to the point of giving you large miniguns and vehicles to obliterate enemies with ease. Simply, Dark Sectors enjoyment comes in the form of the glaive, which struggles to pull the game in the right direction in the midst of a long list of flaws, flaws of which are not only present in poor gameplay mechanics but actual bugs and glitches streamed throughout the game. You will find floating enemies held lifeless in the air, grenades going off at the feet of an enemy having no effect and a slew of graphical impurities. It is a wonder if the game was ever quality assured, as online play shows just how dire the issues can become.
The storyline unfolding throughout the single player is one of which follows a similar style to Gears of War (once again), and shockingly enough holds even less of one. The cutscene storytelling is few and far between large chunks of combat, and thanks to little explanation and a poor introduction you will have little feeling for the characters, even when several twists appear which attempt to create a sense of sorrow and morality. You start as a simple soldier with the task of preventing the spread of a deadly infection, but times soon change when you become infected yourself.
Whilst the addition of online multiplayer is a welcome one, it is a small component which is typically barren of players. Little wonder with the large lag issues present in every game, the fact that throwing and gliding the glaive with any degree of accuracy becomes unlikely and not to mention the sheer overpowered nature of the melee combat controls (walk behind enemy, press B, win). Two gameplay modes, Infection and Epidemic, take place on a selection of five maps. Epidemic takes two teams of five, both of which having a single infected leader. The leader will have the glaive and all other powers fitting, whereas the other members of the team will have only guns and have to defend the leader. The first team to kill the others leader wins. Infection on the other hand pits all players against a single infected player, who generally breezes through the opposition with ease due to the advanced weaponry. Whilst both modes are welcome, and feature unique and enjoyable concepts, both are unbalanced and typically leave you either frustrated at not being the infected or annoyed at the continual issues present.
Graphically the style and presentation, whilst following the popular grit and dirt style, presents a unique and aesthetically pleasing look. The player models and environments look stunning, with a heavy use of bump mapping and bloom which only add to the games style. It is unfortunate that graphical glitches, particularly with animation, are found throughout the game. This mixed bag of quality is shared with the audio portion of Dark Sector, which combines realistic sound effects, particularly of skull cracking, with the dull and lifeless voice acting present throughout the storyline. It would seem that the game was once set to hold fantastic quality, but fell short and was rushed to fit the tight 8 year release schedule.
In closing, Dark Sector is recommended to any gamer looking for a gruesome fix of body slicing action, and whilst the game is not near as bad as the media has perceived, it is undoubtedly going up against a strong line-up of first-person shooters currently on the Xbox 360. If not a full purchase, Dark Sector is certainly worthy of a rental.