2008 Reviews

Dark Sector

  • Review Date: 2012-09
  • Release Date: 2008-03
  • Developer: Digital Extremes
  • Rating: 6.0

Digital Extremes is well known for it's hand in the Unreal franchise, particularly the multiplayer games Unreal Tournament. By 2005 they developed their own new IP; Pariah, which was an average game at best. Warpath followed a year later and I didn't have the heart to play it since Pariah was a skippable title and Warpath was critically received as even worse.

So it's not a far stretch to assume their next IP; Dark Sector, might fail as well. It's an early-2008 game although it didn't get a PC port until 2009. Fortunately Digital Extremes have developed their own engine for Dark Sector instead of re-using the aging Unreal Engine 2.5, or at least aging in their hands.

The engine, named Evolution, does a pretty good job of making the game look appealing. My only complaint is that they went way overboard on the post-processing and visual effects. The amount of blurring on anything that isn't direcly in the centre of the screen and up close, is ridiculous. But the lighting all looks good. It looks about what you'd expect for a 2007/2008 gaming engine with all the visual effects hammed up to the max. Very, very similar looking to Infernal.

The art is also satisfying with tonnes of details on the textures throughout the game. Most of the levels look solidly good all throughout the game; there's nothing dull here. But there's also nothing awe-inspiring. The levels are all tight and claustraphoic, with a slow walking speed so you don't really notice that between each level load there's really only a few rooms sometimes. It's a corridor crawler basically, although with plenty of outdoor areas as well, they're still very linear and tight with random, unrealistic barriers used for cover everyone. There's no treking off the beaten path for exploration in Dark Sector, so expect linearity at it's hardcore.

The gameplay is where Dark Sector fails for me. Crystal Dynamics introduced a variety of unique features into the game, most notable the spinning blade you launch at enemies while holding a handgun in your left hand. So you can shoot and blade at the same time, which is great for a while. The first half of the game has you up against humans with guns; nothing different to every other shooter, but at least it's fun. Then a little past halfway they change into the infected, which are basically Doom 3 Imp's that fire yellow or blue crap at you. Two good shots from this fast projectile stuff and your dead. The health is regenerating but once the screen goes red it's several painstaking seconds before your health has returned to normal. Furthermore the infected are launched at you in spawns of 3, 4, 5 at a time and as soon as they're dead more keep spawning. As you get further into the game and different types of monsters are introduced, they have more and more health to the point where you need to hit one four or five times with the blade to kill it. Four or five times?! I might as well be using saucer than a hardcore three-edged blade!

This all wouldn't be so bad if there were quicksaves, but of course Crystal Dynamics doesn't care about PC standards, they're all about consoles, so you'll be replaying many of the checkpoints two or three times till you get through. It feels like sometimes getting through a fight is more luck than skill in Dark Sector. If you just happen to run the wrong way and there's an infected imp spoofing you, and you miss the powerhit, then you won't get away because the damn player moves too slowly.

It's a lot easier if you're able to use your guns and blade 50/50, but there's not quite enough ammo for that, so you'll spend a lot of time hiding behind cover picking things off slowly. Most of the game isn't too bad, but it's just some scenes where you have monsters spawning over and over again and it can get quite overwhelming in the later stages.

What they need to do to fix it was make the blade FAR more powerful. Sure you can do a more lethal hit if you hold the blade key down and release it at the perfect time, but it's hard to get the timing right so you'll only get the powerhit 40-50% of the time. The blade should have been an awesome weapon of destruction ripping through enemies. Along with a faster player and perhaps less reliance on the Gear Of War-ripoff cover gameplay and a faster regenerating health system, and Dark Sector would have been a much more enjoyable game. Either that or include a damn difficulty selection instead of just one difficulty.

And the boss battles were some of the worst I've ever played without any quicksaving or checkpoints during the battles - they're hardly worth wasting your time on without putting a cheat on to get through it.

Overall a good looking game, despite there not being anything too epic, but the gameplay could have been a lot more fun but just became monotonous and annoying by the last quarter of the game.

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