Strike a light, it's not half bad.
Xbox 360, PS3
This is one of those games where you see it now and you think 'meh', then you look at its past iterations, when it was set in space and had a far stronger sci-fi feel to it and you wonder why it wasn't just left like that. I suppose the focus groups and marketing twats couldn't handle it if it didn't at least try to tie in with the real world, and the Yanks wouldn't let it past without the pesky Ruskies being involved somewhere. Oh well, we still have Dead Space to look forward to. Unless they decide to rip that one up halfway through and set it in Bognor.
Dark Sector, for all it could have been, has turned out pretty okay. It isn't a good enough game to go shouting from numerous rooftops about, but it certainly isn't one to be burned on the pile alongside Sonic Rivals 2 and Donkey Kong: Jet Race. Small mercies are welcome in this world. Players take control of a man - apparently he has a name but it just sounded like white noise to me every time they said it. Probably because the story is awful, told through needlessly long (though skippable) cutscenes with characters you don't care about, yet are made to care about. Even though you don't. The old man can sod off, for all I care. Plus it should be noted that the main character, Billy Bunting or whatever he's called, has no discerning facial features whatsoever. This makes him look like a pink balloon with a foppish wig on.
But I suppose that could be down to the fact that the real star of the show here is the glaive - the metal disc-o-boomerang that Billy can create at will from his infected body. Once you get access to it at the end of the stylishly black and white tutorial mission, it's business time. There are numerous other weapons in the game and you are sure to have to employ them throughout, but they all pale in comparison to the spinny sharp thing. Throwing the glaive at groups of enemies and watching as their limbs, heads and torsos go flying off in every direction is incredibly cathartic, and only gets better once you get a hold of the aftertouch power, allowing you to control the direction of flight. Pinpoint decapitations all round, go!
Now, the introduction of the glaive may make you feel like you have bona-fide superpowers, on a par with that Superbman or Batfink. But don't be drawn in to the trap - if you run in all glaives blazing, you are likely to get taken down in seconds, especially as the game progresses. This brings in a few factors, and a few problems alongside them. You need to employ cover to avoid getting shot to ribbons, but the cover system (ripped shamelessly from Gears and Uncharted) just doesn't work well enough; far too many times I ended up leaping into the middle of a room instead of sticking to a pillar for some much needed respite. This lack of effectiveness stretches to other things like picking up weapons, or using mounted guns - instead I ended up melee attacking them, much to my annoyance.
Another problem dredged up by the way the game functions is that you are nigh-on forced to play through each battle - of which there are many - very slowly, picking away at enemies one by one. And there are so, so many of them everywhere. If you don't take a section quite slow enough and do end up on the wrong side of that whole 'living' thing, you are forced to restart from a checkpoint - fair enough - but having to (slowly) plough through the same enemies again is incredibly off putting, even with the glaive being as much fun as it is.
When did this stop-start-stop-start gameplay become vogue? Because it seems to have taken over the vast majority of the action genre these days, and it's not a particularly good thing. Bring back the days before cover, I say.
Anyway. After slowly making your way through the legions of cannon fodder you will encounter a number of different bosses. Each one needs a different manner in which to take it down, usually something more than 'shoot it a lot in the face'. The problem comes from the fact that you are given no direction as to what you are supposed to do. Now I'm not saying hold my hand as tight as possible and guide me through everything with the maximum of patronising bollocks (Army of Two, I'm looking at you), but please - just give out hints. Subtle ones, if you must. Don't expect me to say I'm having fun when taking on a boss for 45 minutes, solely because it's taken me half an hour to figure out what I'm supposed to do to him, then I realise I have to wait for the bugger to trigger something so I can actually hurt him, then he decides to not do said trigger action for another fifteen minutes. Oh, and let's add in to that that he was capable of one-hit kills. That's just not fun, that's irritating in the extreme.
The look of the game is another interesting factor, and one that I'll whine abooout... now! The game starts out, intentionally of course, in black and white. Soon enough you get a Dorothy-style colour infusion into the world and things start to look better - it ain't interesting architecture, but it certainly fits the mood of GENERIC SOVIET BLOCISTAN. Then things gradually do downhill - day turns to night, subterranean dwellings become the basis of entire levels and everything just gets shrouded in boring, drab darkness. Most of it is surely to create artificial tension and scares, but it just doesn't work. It's tiring and boring looking, with only a few scary jumps popping up here and there. It certainly has atmosphere, it just isn't thick enough to really drag you into things.
The story is crap, the general mood of things is boring, the main great factor - the glaive - becomes seriously underpowered towards the end, the melee combat is fundamentally broken (your superpowered Billy is a weakling up close, it would seem), it's clunky, there are glitches all over the place, the bosses cheat, it isn't as scary as it wants to be and the weapons are far too expensive (or there isn't enough money in the game).
So about 1,093 words into this review I'm going to tell you I like it. Because it's a proper game. It doesn't fanny about with being arty, nor has it ever made any claim to. The boundaries others are out pushing are ones that Dark Sector sits and watches with a puzzled expression on its face. It doesn't come into your house, demand attention and boast about how you've never played a game like this before, because you have and it knows damn well you have. For the ten or so hours it lasts, this is a decent enough game and is sure to provide at least some fun, even if it is just from lopping heads off. Elements feel unfinished, underdeveloped and downright broken, but it doesn't matter when you can breeze through it as swiftly as you can, as long as you are capable of ignoring a few faults along the way.
See? There are positives. The manner in which you are drip-fed powers keeps things fresher than they would be otherwise, and even though you do receive the vast majority at the beginning of the game, you do still pick up a couple towards the end. Inviso-stab, go!
Multiplayer is another definite positive, though there are only two modes. Epidemic sees two teams of up to five players facing off against each other. Each team has one Billy on their side, who has to be killed or defended, depending on how you want to look at it - the rest of the team is made up of bog standard soldiers. It's an interesting dynamic and one that works well, especially when the full quota of ten people are playing. Infection is the other mode and is by far the best, even if I did do nothing but die immediately on it.
One player takes the role of Billy the infected with the other (up to) nine taking again the roles of bog standard troopers. Nine on one is good odds for a skilled Billy though, and it's a fantastic balance necessary for success on either side - the infected needs to be able to take advantage of all of his skills to remain undetected, picking off enemies, and the troopers need to work and stick together to flush Billy out and try not to get picked off. It's better than just a standard deathmatch, put it that way.
As an expression of artistic fortitude pushing forward the boundaries of what we know as a collective consciousness, Dark Sector is a failure. As a decent action romp, it's a hearty - though flawed - success. Borrow this one, rent it or get it for free - it's not worth a full price purchase and it only lasts a short amount of time.