Game developers throughout history have invented some startlingly evil methods of killing absolutely anything and everything with a pulse. They may seem nice, smiling pleasantly at you through a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, but they’re actually twisted sadists who are picturing the quickest and messiest ways to disembowel you. Could a sane mind have come up with the Blades of Athena? Do you think the Cerebral Bore is the product of a healthy, balanced individual?
The arsenal of cool videogame weaponry has just been expanded, courtesy of Digital Extremes’ Dark Sector. The game is a third-person action adventure, with an emphasis on getting from A to B while spilling as much blood as possible. You play CIA dogsbody Hayden Tenno, who begins the game by sneaking into a Soviet compound. The plot is revealed as you fight your way through the level, so there’s no half-arsed backstory or boring explanatory cut-scenes to sit through. This is very much the tone of the entire game - a series of tense battles, with only a few simple environmental puzzles thrown in as a brief break. The plot itself is not particularly original or interesting, focusing on a viral outbreak in a fictional soviet country. However, that’s not what Dark Sector is about. It’s about dispatching foes in a disturbing yet hilarious manner.
A workman is only as good as his tools, and the tool you have in Dark Sector is frickin’ fantastic. It’s a tri-bladed disc called a glaive, which operates as a limb-shredding boomerang (as opposed to the real-life weapon, which is a polearm with a bladed end). You hurl it at a foe, watch as it slices them into neat little package-sized chunks, then wait for it to return like a loyal puppy. The further you progress, the more upgrades you get for the weapon. There’s standard stuff such as a timing-based power throw, but the best one by far is the aftertouch upgrade. This allows you to control the glaive in slow-motion once you’ve thrown it. Imagine three baddies sprinting towards you, screaming abuse as they raise their machine guns. You hurl the glaive and guide it straight through the thorax of the first one, then swing it to the left and take off the arm of his buddy. Finally, you sweep around in a graceful arc and decapitate the remaining grunt. Job done.
Without the glaive, Dark Sector would just be a fairly average shooter. There’s not much wrong with it, but Digitial Extremes have obviously borrowed heavily from some other games. The cover system is similar to titles such as Gears of War, the over-the-shoulder camera is identical to Resident Evil 4’s, and the levels are the usual mix of semi-destroyed streets and dingy sewers. Even the slow-motion control of the glaive has been seen before in the likes of Heavenly Sword. However, the game is still undeniably fun to play. This is especially true if you’re as sadistic as the developers clearly are. Dark Sector unsurprisingly earned itself an 18 rating in the UK and was banned in Australia, mostly thanks to the gory manner in which limbs are torn from torsos, complete with the agonised screams and gurgles of your victims. You can even electrify or ignite your glaive, and watch with glee as your enemies burn or explode on contact. If you play this with your nan watching, she’s liable to wet herself and pass out cold.
There are a couple of complaints, the primary one involving the power of the glaive. This thing is a huge metal wheel of death, yet it generally takes a couple of hits to take down most enemies (unless you pull off a power-throw). On the first hit, the glaive seems to pass harmlessly through the target. All that happens is the enemy flashes for a moment and maybe staggers slightly. Surely if you take a spinning blade to the chest, you should be down for good? It spoils the macho power-trip and slows down the game considerably. Also, the enemies themselves aren’t too varied. You get lots of standard grunts, a few with shields, and some creepy ‘infected’, which are speedy zombies straight out of 28 Days Later. A wider selection would’ve been appreciated.
There are a few boss fights scattered throughout the game, and these are a welcome break from taking on legions of grunts. When I say legions, I mean it. The bulk of the game has you arrive at an area, only to be set upon by ten or twenty foes. As soon as you take a few down, a few more generally spring up in their place. It can be exhausting battling so many enemies at once, but luckily your health regenerates if you take cover for a short while (like in the Call Of Duty sequels). The same can’t be said for your fingers, however - RSI sufferers beware.
Dark Sector has been around for a while now, so you can probably pick it up for a tenner or less from most retailers. At that price it’s worth a look, purely because it contains one of the coolest videogame weapons of the past year. There’s not much replay value and it’s instantly forgettable, but your first time through should provide more than enough “holy s**t, did you see that?” moments to at least justify a rental.