From: D3 Publisher
For: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action, Sci-fi, Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)
For a game all new-gen high-def, Dark Sector starts out starkly, all black and white and cinema-artsy for the whole first level, a prologue, as a Soviet salvage crew finds something alien in the hull of an old submarine. Our hero, Hayden Tenno, sent into some Soviet base to eliminate a former CIA operative, is stabbed through the chest and infected by some metallic alien freak, at which point the visuals finally transition to color while the flesh on his hand melts off and reveals a metal prosthetic and a tossable, tri-bladed glaive capable of de-limbing baddies, boomerang style, and a host of other multitool tasks. It's a dramatic moment worthy of art house sci-fi and sets the stage for further flesh-melt moments up the arm and beyond, superbly paced throughout the game as upgrades are introduced; as the infection sloughs more skin, more glaive abilities are unlocked.
Glaive-chucking aside, Dark Sector's gunplay is attentively geared to full-on fun, just like you'd expect save for the fact that similar games often fall flat when it comes to basic expectations. But here, when you pick up weapons dropped by dispatched enemies, they're full of ammo -- thanks! Too, a finely placed headshot is always fatal, not just a thonk on an enemy's noggin that must be inexplicably repeated -- isn't a projectile lobotomy somewhat instantly terminal? Why yes, yes it is. Clearly Dark Sector's developer, Digital Extremes, has been paying attention to the foibles of other third person shooters and neatly avoids many of them here.
And there's still that tri-glaive-boomerang tossing thing, a wholly unique weapon/skill that allows Dark Sector to stand on its own merits.
Unlike a gun, you can toss the glaive blind and it will usually find a target. Good thing too, as it's not uncommon to find yourself in the thick of it, desperately hiding behind cover and firing off some shots only to have said cover literally blown to shreds, leaving you exposed and rushed, but you can roll to the next available hunk of cover and throw the glaive out with a quick backhand motion.
Like a faithful hunting dog, the bloody glaive returns to you and there is one hazmat trooper out there who is no longer rushing; now too busy trying to find his own legs to shoot at you. How cool is that?
That said, Dark Sector is an acquired taste. Boss encounters are often bitter, obtuse ordeals of trial and error, while level design comes wrought with sour, unexpected dead ends and quite a bit of backtracking.
Still, shooter fans will appreciate the well-attended gun combat, the reward of a deftly executed, right-bumper-charged power throw of the glaive, switching between gun and glaive attacks on the fly, and guiding the glaive in slow motion "aftertouch" mode in the hopes of decapitating several enemies at once -- not to mention the nuanced mechanical details like using the glaive to collect fire and other elements for puzzles. It's all good.
Sure, it's light on story but the premise is intriguing enough. More importantly, Dark Sector's action clearly represents evolution for the genre in general -- sweet, bloody, polished evolution at that.