No-one ever complains about safe and dependable cars. Companies like Volvo and Subaru keep pumping out stolid, reliable cars that have basically looked the same for the last 30 years. When it comes to games however, it is a different story. Safety and reliability often lead to mediocre critical and commercial success. Which is pretty much how Digital Extreme's over-the-shoulder shooter was received in 2008 when it was released for the PC, 360 and PS3.
Dark Sector itself, in a vacuum, has nothing much wrong with it. Quibbles with the enemy AI could be raised, (with outrunning them and shooting them from behind being a viable tactic), there is nothing about Dark Sector that jumps out as being faulty. Indeed, with its very occasional mech driving, good enough story and impressive physics there is a lot that the game does well. The problem is, even by 2008, all of this had been done before, and better.
Comparisons to Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War are common, and well-deserved. The brown and gray environments match those of Resident Evil 4 as does the over-the-shoulder perspective. There is cover-shooting available, but it's often an encumbrance, with you able to shoot through the cover you have stuck to. There is the RE4-like smart-mouthed weapons dealer, which I found mostly useless given the lack of funds.
What differentiates the game is the glaive weapon. It's basically a three-spoked razor-edged boomerang. You can use it to cut down enemies, or more enjoyably, to solve room puzzles. You can aim it toward a faulty electrical outlet to charge it, and then send it toward an appliance that needs a jump-start. You can also imbue it with the properties of ice and fire. Often though, particularly in combat, you will rely on one of two weapons, which you can upgrade through the game. The glaive is too weak of a weapon, and too slow in returnign to you in heavy fire fights.
In the PS3 version I played, you can apply an after-touch ability to the glaive while it is in mid-air and use the dreaded Sixaxis controller to manipulate it. In fact, you will be required to do this about 5-6 times in the game. What you are asked to do with the Sixaxis will prompt you to think of what you would prefer to do with the Sixaxis and a certain part of Kaz Hirai's anatomy. Fortunately, in the option menu you can instead choose to apply after-touch using the right analog stick.
The shooting in the game is pleasing enough, as are the levels. The fire fights are pleasantly challenging and but for two parts of the game (outside of Sixaxis control) most players won't become frustrated. The mech levels are great fun also.
If you enjoy third-person shooters like Resident Evil 4 or Gears of War, Dark Sector will ceratinly not disapoint, just don't expect it to surprise.
*Also suggested is the 360 version if you have the option, as the PS3 version does not support Trophies.
- Phil Fogg