Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dark Sector: A Three-Pronged Flashback

As a gamer, you've probably experienced it: The wonder of discovering a bargain-bin title that's jazzy enough to make you wonder why you didn't pick it up when it was new. I've been spending this weekend enjoying just such a title: Dark Sector. Available on Steam for a mere $10, and worth every cent, Dark Sector was designed by Digital Extremes (probably better known as the developer of the much more recent The Darkness II) and revolves around an alternative cold war timeline involving biological warfare and a secret, boomeranging superweapon.

Said object, which serves as the game's gimmick, is the glaive - much like the one featured in the schlock sci-fi film Krull, only this bladed terror Frisbee one comes with two fewer prongs and a much better story taking place around it.

A third-person action game, Dark Sector puts you in the shoes of Hayden Tenno, a spy in a operating in a rainy, moody Eastern Europe city. Almost immediately, Hayden becomes infected with the Technocyte Virus, a devastating bio-weapon that usually turns its infected into - I hate to use this word, but it's appropriate here - zombie-like beasts set on devouring brains.

Just kidding. They don't want Hayden's brain, just his death.

A bullet to an enemy's works wonders for your well being.
Somehow the infection, rather than reducing him to just another zombie mindless humanoid berserker, the infection renders Hayden stronger than ever, and it's up to you to upgrade his superpowers and make him cooler than Wolverine. Central among his powers is the glaive, with which Hayden can lop off the limbs and/or heads of his enemies in melee or from afar. He can dual-wield a pistol with the glaive to help blow away bad guys, and for limited periods he can also use military weaponry (shotguns, assault rifles, and such, plucked from Eastern European soldiers hell bent on separating Hayden from life), to further even the one-dude-against-the-commies odds.

I played this game, which was originally released in March 2008, on Xbox 360, and got all of about a quarter of the way through before unceremoniously abandoning it. I kinda-sorta dug it, but controlling it with a gamepad sucked. It currently holds a Metacritic score of 66 out of 100. Why did I experience such a drastic change of heart to the point at which I recommend it to my enormous, influential readership (you, you and you)?

Employing as little research as possible, I discovered the complaints listed in blurbs on Metacritic call it linear, incoherent, predictable, clich├ęd, etc. The highest score listed on the Metacritic page, a 77  out of 100 from IGN, comes with such gripes as Dark Sector having a weak storyline and repetitive waves of opponents.

The glaive brutalizes your opponents.
Most of those statements are, to be fair, true. That repetitive gameplay, however, also comes with enough twists, powers, upgrades, and combat to keep it surprisingly interesting. Yes, Dark Sector is linear; yes, it's predictable, and yes, the plot might be hard to follow if you daydream through the cut scenes, but so what?

Blasting a juiced-up glaive through some poor schlep's neck from fifty paces is enjoyable. There's blood galore for the gore fans, lots of those those zom - er, mindless beasts to mow down, cover-based shooting action, and palpable atmosphere. The boss battles are, for the most part, tricky and creative (one boss is invisible, but you face it in water about a foot deep, so you can track its movement if you're clever and observant).

Best of all, its port to the PC gives you far better graphics, smoother gameplay (especially on computers geared up for modern, 2012 titles), and completely customizable mouse-and-keyboard control. On that last point: it's so damn much better than gamepad thumb mashing, it's almost criminal Dark Sector wasn't a PC-only release.

I'm glad I rediscovered Dark Sector. It would make my day if one - just one - hardcore gamer saw the light and spent a tenner on a copy and enjoyed it as much as I have. It's not art. It's not a dream come true. What it is is a fantastic way to spend a weekend, blasting heads off bad guys with a maniacally spinning, flying scythe.

Let's call this one a bargain bin bonanza!

Oh, and I guess I need to give it a score to be cool like the other gaming sites. I'm bestowing upon Dark Sector, specifically the PC version for $10 from Steam...

Three severed limbs out of four!

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