If you were wondering what kind of impact “Gears of War” and “Resident Evil” had on gaming, look no further than “Dark Sector”, a better-than-average – mostly – shooter now out for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Graphically, the game utilizes the same over-the-shoulder third-person perspective that allowed us to chainsaw many Locust enemies in “Gears” and also manages to fit some of the survival horror aspect of Capcom’s “RE” franchise into its gameplay. It’s not going to revolutionize the gaming world but until the next “Gears” or “RE” hits, this’ll do.
You play as a black ops soldier by the name of Hayden Tenno who gets sent into an eastern European country called Lasria. Right from the start you get the feeling that there’s more to this mission than what’s being shown to you, which at the start seems more like a “Splinter Cell” op that’s heavy on the extreme prejudice. Before long the story takes a sci-fi turn and Hayden gets infected with a techno-organic disease that morphs one of his arms into a powerful weapon. Hayden gets powers like being able to generate a temporary shield or the ability to cameo yourself from the enemies but the coolest aspect of the bio-change is a three-bladed disc that emerges from your hand. This is the Glaive and if you’re brain is filled with almost useless knowledge about bad fantasy movies from the ‘80s, you might recognize that same kind of weapon here in “Dark Sector”. That’s not such a bad thing since the coolest thing about “Krull” was its own Glaive and here we are 26 years later with a videogame where we can get to use it. In fact, while there are guns you can use in the game the designers have specifically made it hard to use a firearm to take out your opponents. They wanted gamers to use the glaive to get the majority of their kills and as such it’s a fun weapon to wield.
As you progress through the “Dark Sector” levels and the story gets fleshed out you’ll be able to grow Hayden’s powers and get better control over the Glaive. The graphics are pretty when you can see them since a lot of the game’s action takes place in dark corridors or shadowy hallways. Even when you’re outside, it’s under an overcast gunmetal sky. When you get to a point where some added color is found, say from a sparking electrical panel or open fire, then you can see that this game looks pretty spiffy. There’s a nice moment when Hayden finds himself in a large sewer room and the only lighting comes from a small, faraway light source – and then he gets attacked by infected people that do their best zombie impersonation. While it’s dark to make out the action at times, it’s a cool atmospheric moment and shows that Digital Extremes had in mind how to use the game’s gloom to their advantage.
That said, “Dark Sector”’s gameplay is pretty standard from most shooters. The designers have removed the health bar to make you focus on the character and for the most part it works; your screen becomes progressively filled with more red as you come closer to biting the bullet. As you get more familiar with the glaive and are able to start powering it up as well as better control it as it arcs through the air your ability to take out the enemies improves. The glaive combat is by far “Dark Sector”’s best aspect and if you were to remove it you would have a fairly standard shooter game. The storyline, while somewhat interesting, has strong echoes of other gritty FPS games. The sound effects are clear and hearing your glaive whistle through the air as it slices through an enemy is fun but the ambient background sounds could have been better developed to present more of a creep factor. A strong asset is the use of “Smallville”’s Lex Luthor, Michael Rosenbaum, as the voice of Hayden. Rosenbaum does a solid job of giving the character a different tone than his TV work and pulls off a good performance.
There are two online gamemodes you can play. In “Infection” one player is Hayden and up to 9 others are regular soldiers out to take the hero down. With the glaive, shield and stealth abilities Hayden has more of an edge but the troopers have numbers on their side. This mode is best suited for more than 5 players; less than that and the odds favor the player being Hayden. If you’re playing as a soldier and take Hayden out it’s your turn as the glaive owner next round. In “Epidemic” there are two teams of four soldiers and one Hayden, with the object to take out the other team’s H-man. The multiplayer modes are alright but I wish that there were more than just the two offered.
Overall “Dark Sector” is going to be more enjoyed by the gamer that wants his next “Gears of War” hit and doesn’t want to wait until November. It’s not going to win any awards for its originality but it’s not fair to say that “Dark Sector” is a disappointment either because it’s not. However, if there had been more effort into originality, be it in the storyline, gameplay and settings, “Dark Sector” could have been more of a standout from the crowd shooter. As long as your expectations are in check you should have a decent enough time glaiving (look, a new active participle verb has been born!)