It has been a while since we have seen Digital Extremes in the video game arena, the co-developers of shooter classics such as Unreal Tournament and Pariah. Now, they have come to summon us for Dark Sector, a third person shooter that brings something fresh to the plate. Dark Sector is all about Hayden Tenno, an Agency operative. He’s been tasked with killing Mezner, a military psychopath who has let loose an infection in the fictional Soviet-bloc nation of Lasria. The infection mutates the body in a gruesome way, turning most of its victims into crazed zombies, maddened by the pain. Fortunately, Hayden has congenital analgia, a real-life condition that makes a person unable to feel pain. He contracts the disease during this operation, which transforms his right arm and grows a three-bladed disc called a glaive.
The gameplay in Dark Sector is very refreshing and totally unique, thanks to the addition of the glaive that offers a different angle to precision combat. At the start of the game, the handling is quite similiar to Gears of War, using a familiar cover mechanic. Needless to say, as soon as the glaive is introduced, Dark Sector begins to take on a different rule of engagement that is unlike most third-person shooters. While hunting knives, frag grenades, and machine guns have been the usual components players heavily relied on for assault, the glaive is your main shooting weapon here; it can be thrown and controlled in mid-air, and can incorporate elements in the environment to affect itself, such as catching fire, or being charged with electricity. It will always come back to Hayden, and can always be called upon. Of course, it’s not overly powerful; it has a maximum effective distance, and Hayden double-wields a pistol with the glaive which is useful in those situations where an enemy is just a tad out of range.
Another twist is the addition of “weapon governors”. These devices, attached to most enemy weapons (which are superior in the distance and power of the pistol), detect the infection in Hayden and thus disable the gun after a certain period of time. This puts an awesome spin on the gameplay, as it forces an ever-changing situation due to the fact that a single gun cannot be relied on for an entire gameplay section. The frantic action of trying to lock on a horde of rushing enemies off at a distance using a rifle, only to have it become disabled, adds a sense of improvisation into the game. Special abilities, such as a projectile-reflecting shield, add yet another layer of depth and strategy to the game’s momentum. These abilities are seamlessly integrated and when Hayden adapts one, it is shown in the form of an icon on his arm.
Dark Sector’s greatest asset is that the action never gets repetitive; there are so many diverse enemies, boss fights, and ways with which to deal with your foes that a second play-through is guaranteed. Hayden isn’t always in combat because he’s sometimes faced with puzzles that incorporate the glaive for new abilities he has learned. It’s nice to see you can also install upgrades to your weapons or purchase new arsenals via the Black Market entrances scattered throughout the game’s chapters. Unfortunately, Dark Sector suffers from a lack of an engaging storyline, but definitely has some unexpected twists that serve to keep the game in play. While Dark Sector is very single-player oriented, the multiplayer aspect is worth checking out. There are two game modes: Infection and Epidemic. Infection is a survival-type of atmosphere, where one player is Hayden, and the rest are soldiers trying to kill him. Hayden has all powers at his disposal and whoever kills Hayden becomes him. This is a frantic battle to survive as non-Hayden players work together for the kill, but no one really wants to be the actual prey.
In terms of multiplayer, two teams have their own Hayden-character, and the goal is to kill the other team’s Hayden. Battles range from breakneck speed to slower-paced ones, and the pace is largely controlled by how the two Haydens interact with the other team; the tempo of the battle raises considerably when both Haydens are exposed, and the tempo slows down when both teams have their Haydens defended. The graphics in the game are quite impressive. It’s no surprise to us that Digital Extreme would extend their visual fidelty by sporting its familiar engine from their past Unreal titles. Even games like Gears of War and Call of Duty 4 are given a run for their money by the lighting effects that Dark Sector splashes you with. With respect to weapons design, the glaive is incredibly detailed and the kills you racked up with it are even better! The game is extremely violent. But that layer of brutality is only to showcase its dramatic amputation of the limbs and to give a convincing decapitation to the head.
Although the blood used in Dark Sector is way over the top, it’s nicely justified. The animation is smooth though we haven’t noticed too many glitches during our play. As for the audio mechanics, the sounds are quite immersive; players will appreciate the distinction of various weapons, where powerful guns produce louder bang, while the weaker types are generally faint. Hayden’s glaive gives off an intimidating cut as it coasts through individual flesh. The screams of an enemy whose arm has just been chopped off are quite an experience to behold. The music is well-composed, too! The game’s soundtracks set the tone for an adrenaline fight, and are appropriately tuned to create a grueling anticipation as you navigate dark corridors of different levels. Overall, Dark Sector is a great game. The gameplay is very fresh and intriguing to say the least. Though the story is somewhat lacking, the unique experience offered by this game is unlike what most other shooters deliver. Because it is a boomerang style of combat, Dark Sector is easily considered to be one “razor-sharp” shooter for the Xbox 360.