Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
A messy plot prevents this mash-up of Krull, Ghost Recon, and Resident Evil from being a great game.
I don’t know how many people remember the movie Krull. Tony Lazlo certainly does, and maybe it’s a popular movie for geeks like he and I. I used to love Krull as a kid, but unlike some childhood favorites, Krull is just as enjoyable for me today as it was then. And why not? Among all the awesome elements in this film, I’d like to single out one: the Glaive. Shaped like a large starfish, forged of gold and encrusted with fabulous gems, this oddly beautiful artifact is one of the greatest fantasy weapons ever created. I was so enamored with it that as a child I would fashion crude imitations out of cardboard and pretend to be Prince Collwyn. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve got to think that the creators of Dark Sector were just like me as kids, only they grew up to be video game developers and seized on the idea, “Hey! What if we could make Krull into a video game?”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should expect the fantasy setting of Krull to be present in Dark Sector. In fact, the only thing from that movie, assuming it is their inspiration, is the Glaive. They’ve built an entire game around this weapon, and while the finished product isn’t perfect it’s a solid game all around and tremendous fun for a guy who used to pretend to wield the Glaive in his parents’ basement.
In Dark Sector you play as a CIA agent sent into a fictional Soviet Bloc country in the aftermath of a breakout of a mysterious infection. In its early stages victims resemble the Über-zombies of 28 Days Later: fast, bloody-thirsty, and vicious. In the latter stages of the infection victims become more monstrous and alien in appearance, slowly forming metallic exoskeletons and gaining the ability to fire long-range blasts of energy. The first chapter of the game is a fairly typical third-person shooter in which you are armed with a pistol and a semi-automatic rifle, but at its end you too get exposed to the pathogen by an advanced infection form, yet instead of suffering the typical fate something unique happens. Your right arm takes on a metallic appearance and the Glaive erupts from your right palm. Throughout the rest of the game you must battle through platoons of Soviet soldiers and hordes of the infected until you can discover the mystery of its source and eradicate the infection before it spreads to the rest of the world. Along the way you learn to master the Glaive and its ever-evolving powers.
Dark Sector was built with Unreal Technology, meaning the mechanics of gameplay are highly similar to that of Gears of War. Rolling, diving, sprinting, and use of cover are all controlled in the same manner as GoW. As I quickly figured this out it made the controls very intuitive, though admittedly for other gamers this will depend on your previous gaming experience. The graphics are solid throughout, and I really liked the aesthetic choice to give the first chapter of the game a grayscale palette, waiting to introduce color until the beginning of the second chapter as your character regains consciousness to discover the transformation of his arm and the emergence of the Glaive.
Let’s talk more about the Glaive. Dark Sector is designed so that whenever you wield the Glaive in you right hand you are armed with a pistol in your left, which makes for a fairly powerful combination of killing power. As I said the Glaive gains new powers throughout the game’s progression that include being able to control its trajectory after throwing it, charging the Glaive for an extra-powerful throw that does increased damage, and being able to absorb various elemental energies such as fire and electricity which you can then discharge on command with explosive results. Whether or not it was by design, as powerful as the Glaive is as a ranged weapon, it sucks just as much as a melee weapon. I often found myself switching to an automatic rifle or shotgun in close-quarters situations. Here the game designers rather smartly decided to limit your arsenal capacity. You are able to carry only one pistol and a single long gun, and while you have a locker allowing you to store weapons you can't take with you, you only have limited access to the locker at specific points in the game, forcing you to choose which gun will be best suited for the levels ahead. Also in a rather cool choice, the designers have made it possible to pick up and use the weapons of your fallen foes, but with a limitation. The army of the Soviet bloc country have figured out how to make sensors that when attached to their weapons will signal a kind of self-destruct sequence if maintained in close proximity to the infected for too long. This prevents the already dangerous, blood-thirsty plague-victims from becoming dangerous, blood-thirsty plague-victims sporting assault rifles. This means you will only be able to carry and wield the enemies’ weapons a short time, so put them to good use.
As I said earlier the major weakness of this game is the story. Cut-scenes try to shed light on what's going on, and what you're mission is, but things never quite gel together into a cohesive plot. There is evidence that the infection is not natural, but man-made. But who is responsible, the fictional Soviet country or perhaps our very own government, is not entirely explained. Neither is the purpose of the infection. What good would it be to turn the populace of an enemy country into powerful monsters and blood-thirsty zombies? If the goal of developing the virus was the infection and transformation of normal soldiers into living weapons, such as what happens to your character, why then do your superiors in the CIA try to kill you near the end of the game? And just why the fuck would the game's major villain – the man responsible for infecting your character in the first place – empower the only real obstacle between him and his goal, which apparently is infecting the entire world, then spend the rest of the game futilely entreating you to join him? And why the hell is such a big deal made of you finding and outfitting yourself in a special metallic suit in the latter stages of the game, when it has no discernible effect on your character? None of these questions are answered or adequately explained. I suppose they could be addressed in a sequel, but it's disappointing the developers didn't put more energy into making this game the best they could.