Dark Sector Review

Dark Sector's got great-looking character models, but the slow and repetitive gameplay really holds it all back.

Dark Sector is notable for being the first "next-generation" game announced all the way back in 2004. Back then, it sort of had a stealth-action look to it, like a futuristic version of Splinter Cell. It would have been interesting to see how that game would have turned out, but I have a feeling that the 2006 release of Gears of War made a pretty deep impact on Dark Sector's development, because the final product takes several cues from Gears. Unfortunately, it doesn't clone it well enough to actually be a clone worth playing to completion.

Hayden's a pretty lithe dude, but he moves a lot slower than you'd think.
Hayden's a pretty lithe dude, but he moves a lot slower than you'd think.
On the surface, Dark Sector seems pretty cool. The character you control, Hayden, is sent into an area that's been infected with some kind of hideous, post-apocalyptic disease, but he's quickly pinned down and infected himself. As you play, the disease takes hold and you unlock new abilities. The first thing that happens once you become infected is that the game goes from being guns-only to giving you a boomerang-like glaive that you can use to chop off the heads of enemies, if you're a good aim. You eventually get a shield, the ability to control the glaive in mid-flight, and the ability to turn invisible for short periods of time.

The game also tosses some light puzzle-solving at you here and there. The glaive can be infused with fire, ice, or electricity by throwing it into fire, something frozen, or a power box, respectively. You'll occasionally need to burn things to clear a path or charge up a jammed door with power to proceed. 

Once you're fully powered up with all the different abilities, you have some options for how to best deal with enemies, but you're always stuck with a few nagging problems. Hayden moves extremely slowly, plodding around the environment like a man twice his size. For a guy who looks like he should be flipping out and beheading enemies like a ninja, the movement speed doesn't make much sense, and it really makes things drag. You can sprint for short periods of time, but the sprint is Gears of War-like in that you lose a lot of lateral control. Again, that's something that makes sense for a linebacker-sized dude like Marcus Fenix, but when applied to a lithe operative like Hayden, it doesn't fit.

While you'll be inclined to do most of your fighting with the glaive, you'll also get some guns to work with. You start with a pistol, and as you collect rubles and briefcases with weapon upgrades in them, you can make your weapons better or replace them at black market checkpoints found in the levels. The weapon purchasing and upgrading systems don't seem to be a major part of the game, and you can make it through with limited purchases.

Most of the game has Hayden running from place to place, occasionally stopping for an encounter with gun-toting humans or pipe-wielding zombies, neither of which are very smart. Humans will randomly shoot into your cover point without ever getting tactical, and the zombies move too slowly to ever be a serious threat. This reduces most encounters to an easy shooting gallery where the only occasional problem is the range of your glaive and the general lack of ammo for your weapons. Once you earn the power to turn invisible, the game gets even easier, since you can just blink out, run up behind a guy, and take care of business.

If you toss your glaive through fire, you can set dudes on fire with it.
If you toss your glaive through fire, you can set dudes on fire with it.
The game has a basic cover system, letting you pop in and out of cover to take shots or toss your glaive at distant enemies. Up close, you have a melee attack, and if you get behind someone--which is super-easy with the slow-moving zombies--you can execute them with a finishing move, which triggers a canned animation that shows you snapping a zombie's neck, slitting the throats of some enemies, or just jamming your glaive into the skulls of some creatures. The finisher animations look great and do a nice job of showing off the game's detailed character models, and it's a shame that there aren't more of them, because they get really repetitive. The rest of the game looks pretty good, too, with decent-sized environments and nice blur effects. Hayden's face is probably the only thing in the game that doesn't look so great. It's too flat, maybe? I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about the way it looks and animates just seems totally wrong.

There's a multiplayer option in Dark Sector that lets up to ten players play one of two modes. One has two teams, each with one Hayden that must be protected. The other puts one player in the Hayden role, with the other players trying to bring him down for the right to be Hayden in the next round. Neither mode is much fun, and the whole game can be a mess if everyone isn't using a good, fast connection. Dying for no visible reason, warping around the map, and other glitches came up pretty consistently in every match I played.

Dark Sector feels OK for the first two chapters, but there are eight more to slog through after that, and if I wasn't working on a review of the game, that's probably where I would have stopped. The occasional variety of a boss battle or vehicle sequence doesn't break things up enough to make the campaign an interesting one, either. Between the dreary action, the sluggish movement speed, and the seemingly tacked-on multiplayer, you'll probably want to pass on the whole thing.