The trailer for Dark Sector was one of the first “next-generation” videos anyone ever saw. Featuring what the developer claimed was in-game footage, Dark Sector purported to be a stealth game set in outer space. It was intriguing and original, but the game soon fell under the radar. Now, in 2008, Dark Sector is finally seeing release. Things have changed in the four years since it was first revealed; but luckily, the premise is just as interesting and original as it was in the original trailer. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the gameplay, but even there, a few features make a positive impression. If players can overlook the slapdash storytelling and derivative base gameplay, Dark Sector will provide exciting combat and a rich atmosphere.
Normally, I devote an entire paragraph to a game’s story, right off the bat. I believe that, like any other art form, video games are capable of conveying a great story, be it a simple good versus evil tale, or a deep analysis of some social topic. Dark Sector perpetuates the stereotype of “stupid” games. The story is practically nonexistent, and poorly told. Somewhere in eastern Europe, a virus is turning people into hideous zombies, and it’s up to CIA agent Hayden to see what the problem is. You’d think this would be enough of a foundation for a game, but Dark Sector seemingly goes out of its way to confuse players. Hayden gets infected by a decidedly Resident Evil 4-ish villain. This virus should zombie-fy Hayden, or something, but instead of going insane he grows a metal throwing star out of his hand.
Let’s back up a few minutes. In the opening cutscene, Hayden was complaining over his mic that “the booster you gave me isn’t working”. Given the fact that the game has already been hinting at nasty zombie viruses, I assumed that Hayden was already infected. Not the case; after doing a little digging on the internet I discovered that he suffers from a congenital condition that makes him impervious to physical pain, but often leaves the victim hyperactive or unfocused.
See, that’s interesting. That’s an honestly interesting plot device. It’s a real condition, and he portrays the symptoms quite well, once you realize what’s going on. The game’s poor storytelling absolutely ruined that plot tidbit, though, thanks to a lack of character development and poor dramatic timing. When people are talking about medicine in a radioactive environment, the audience naturally assumes they’re talking about the medicine that will protect them from it. Sure, a little dramatic confusion could have worked out well in this particular situation, setting the gamer up for a big reveal, but nothing ever comes of the writing in Dark Sector. It’s convoluted, poorly presented, and just disappointing in general. Thankfully, the rest of the game is much more enjoyable.
The gameplay in Dark Sector is no longer a stealthy affair. Much like Gears of War, Dark Sector focuses on urban combat in war-ravaged environments. It’s a nice atmosphere, and players will get familiar with the flow of gunplay quickly. However, it’s the previously-mentioned throwing star that makes the game more interesting. The Glaive, as it’s called, can be thrown like a boomerang, essentially becoming your ticket to a one-hit kill on whatever poor sap is in the way. The Glaive can be charged for more power, hold fire or electricity, hit far-away switches, and even double as a flashlight. It’s a fun toy to play with, especially in combat. Dark Sector is probably the bloodiest game yet on the Xbox 360, featuring stylish and gruesome kills. It doesn’t wuss out, either; human enemies are just as fair game as zombified ones. Expect to see things chopped in half, decapitated, disembowled… it’s not pretty, but it fits the atmosphere perfectly. As violent as it is, it’s never glorified or celebrated; the desperation and fear in the atmosphere complement the ichor-soaked visuals in a way that evokes a grim sense of kill-or-be-killed. Similar to movies like 28 Days Later, Dark Sector portrays a disgustingly violent situation with poise and maturity. If only the story carried the same weight; but as it stands, Dark Sector crafts an excellent mood for players to experience.
The graphics in Dark Sector are brilliant. It’s hard to believe that the game runs on an engine built from scratch – no shiny Unreal 3 middleware involved. From the moody title screen to the sun-scorched streets of Russia, Dark Sector amazes the eye. While the textures aren’t aways the best, most areas are lovingly detailed with grunge and dirt. The lighting, on the other hand, is peerless. The soft lighting pours out of windows, dancing over Hayden’s metal arm and illuminating the rest of him in a realistic aura. Flames dynamically light the darkness. Water spills out of the side of a ship’s hull and into an ever-rising pool. It’s all beautiful, and the developers deserve the highest praise for creating such a beautiful game world. The sound design, too, is jaw-dropping. In solace, the wind can rustle and howl in the distance, and raindrops can patter on the streets and rooftops, each area featuring a different rain sound effect. In combat, the earth-shattering gunfire will convince you to keep Hayden in cover, and the blood-curdling screams of your foes will pierce your ears. It’s a shame that the game simply doesn’t have a good story to back all of this work up. From a audiovisual point of view, Dark Sector is absolutely fantastic.
In the end, Dark Sector is worth playing. The shoddy script will annoy and disappoint everyone, but luckily, the rest of the game is solid, and even impressive. The familiar gameplay will entertain, and extra features like the Glaive add an extra layer to the game. The multiplayer is a nice bonus, too; the best mode features one infected player wielding a Glaive and a team of hazmat soldiers fighting to take him down. Hopefully, Dark Sector will last a while on Xbox Live. Otherwise, play Dark Sector to gape in awe at the incredible atmosphere. The gorgeous graphics and haunting sound design make Dark Sector a trip worth taking.