Review: Dark Sector – Digital Extremes, Inc. – PS3

Dark Sector. or darkSectOr, as it wants to be called. Back when it was released there was a bit of a hulabaloo about its violence content, going to far as to being Banz0red in Australia in 2008. This naturally meant i needed to rush out and pick up a copy, a year after it’s release in late 2009 so I did. My next  move was to carefully store it in the backlog. Apparently it got a release in Australia later on, in censored form. Hopefully that’s not what the patch it just installed was about, but I guess I’ll see.

Playing through it I certainly didn’t see anything that struck me as even the slightest of ban-worthy. I’m wondering if the game update/patch I downloaded was a censorship patch. It’s also quite possible – and in fact likely that the bar has very much changed in the past 7 years as well, though.

This screenshot is Strangely Brown.

This game got some pretty reasonable reviews back in the day, with a few that were less enthusiastic. Let’s see how it holds up today. It could be argued that it’s unfair to judge these games I’ve been looking at by today’s standards. While that’s a reasonable point in some ways the fact is that these games are still available to buy and play today – especially on Steam, XBL, PSN, etc – so they’re still very much available for purchase and play. Given that, I feel it’s worthwhile enough to look at them with modern eyes and not through rose-coloured lenses to see what still holds up today and what might have been a good idea back in the day but is past it’s use-by date. I’m making a conscious effort not to be harsh when it comes to graphics, (with the exception of pointing out when a game is a brown-grey smear) but as blunt as I like when it comes to gameplay.

The first thing I noticed was that it’s 3rd person with pretty bad motion bob – not a good start, though I did get used to it after awhile. Graphics are pretty bland and muddy. It kinda-sorta depicts a westerner’s mental image of a delapidated and decaying post-Soviet, post-bio-zombi-pocalypse-infected bit of Russia/ex-Soviet states, but it’s just unrelentingly dark, dim, grainy and shitty looking. I’ve seen enough photographs of Pripyat, ghost towns and similar abandoned areas (and been to a few) to know that the sun does shine there, and the use of light as well as darkness can create an atmosphere of eerie and abandoned stillness. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out only 5 months before and managed to capture this so much more effectively, and that’s a bloody Call of Duty game. (Though to be fair, this was before CoD was the MP-focused-bro-shooter-focused thing that it’s now become).

To be fair, the game looks good in some ways, especially as an early-era PS3 title – but the unrelenting palette of dull browns and blur-greys quickly fatigued my eyes, resulting in it all having the effect of washing together as a muddy dark smear in my memory, even minutes after stepping away from the console. Story-wise. Well, I’m guilty of giving crap to people who complain about the stories of videogames. This one though stands out in it’s …bland nothingness. You play as a Sam-Fisher-wannabe CIA-Black-Ops-type. You infiltrate a Russian castle-base. There’s a virus, evil Russian scientists, you get infected – giving you super powers, a mutant metal arm and a magic glaive which you accept as just fine, and then you slaughter your way through endless zombies (infected civilians) and the Russian troops that are trying to contain the virus (which includes you).

So, yes – you’re an American rampaging your way through the Russian troops trying to maintain a quarantine zone of a mutant virus outbreak. Making them the bad guys – because they’re Russian, after all – and you the good guy – because ‘murica, Fuck Yeah!

Also very popular, you can see the exciting dark blue-grey palette in action.

Actually, I decided before too long into the game that the character I was playing was actually the bad guy for the most part. Like in those Grandoise Theft Automobile games that all the kids are playing these days. But with an even more unlikeable protagonist than Trevor. I can’t believe it… horrible sixaxis aftertouch controls again. Right after I played Heavenly Sword. Still, it’s not as overused as it was in HS, and instead the game just falls into a pattern of blandness.

I found that playing it was pretty straightforward. The ranged combat is bland, and just serviceable – but not fun or tight. The melee combat is just bad. Awful, in fact. Movement is awkward as well, due to both the off-centre 3rd person view, the mapping of run to X rather than L3 (which means if you want to run and change direction – which you need to do at various times – you need to have two thumbs. Was putting run onto R3/RS a gameplay movement that came after 2008? I honestly don’t recall. If it wasn’t, then Digital Extremes have (had?) no excuse. I remember playing MoH back on PS1, but it was so long ago now I don’t recall anything about the controls other than using the dual sticks, which were new-ish at the time.

As I played through, I’m just found it to be so very meh. It lacks both the highs and the lows of Heavenly Sword. It started out like eating a disappointingly bland but inoffensive meal that you don’t really enjoy but isn’t bad enough to not bother finishing, especially since you paid for it – but while you’re eating it you’re thinking of somewhere better you might have gone instead where you’d have really enjoyed it. Still, before I’d finished Chapter 4 (of 10) I was wishing the game would just finish already and by the time I’d started Chapter 5 I was really starting to question myself on whether I was making good use of my holidays by playing tedious games “just to finish them” or if I am just wasting my time. While I’m leaning towards the latter, I do wonder where I should draw the line, as I know some games take a little while to “get going”. I think Dark Sector is pretty well beyond that point, though. Boss fights are a pain in the arse, since they change the mechanic of what you’re supposed to do several times (sometimes mid-fight) with no feedback to the player, and short of checking GameFAQs to figure out WTF you’re supposed to be doing, I can’t see how the designers got a pass on this.

Seriously. The whole fucking game looks like this.

At one point the game mixes things up with a … yes! A vehicle level. You pilot a crab-walker robot with guns that the game manages to make feel not like vicious auto-cannon that will tear things apart, but glorified pop-guns. Seriously, if you’ve played many shooters on any platform, you’ll know the feeling of a game that manages to make the guns “feel” right. Weighty and powerful. These are best described as piddly. Another disappointment to notch up.

Multiplayer looks good on paper. I do like asymmetrical “infection mode” type gameplay. Unfortunately I doubt anyone is still playing MP on this thing 6 and a half years later, and it would be using these gameplay controls that I find so very trying. So I didn’t even bother to look or check it out.

I managed to just finish Chapter 5, which is apparently halfway through the game …aaaand you know what? I’m done with it. This game, taken as a whole – is shit. Every aspect of it, from the graphics to the controls to the shooting mechanics to the aftertouch controls range from awful to subpar to average at the very best. The game isn’t “sticky” in any way, the characters and story are wooden, bland and actively unlikeble. The “endless waves of zombies” that the game throws at you every so often aren’t fun to cut down because the controls are so awful, and the too-common visual noise that the game throws at you (water, fire, vibration, etc) just makes the game even more off-putting.

The game does have a few good concepts – the glaive and various abilities attached to it are nice ideas – unfortunately they’re just ineptly executed, and buried under way too many poor game mechanics. I’ve seen reviews listing this thing as 5-6 hours long, but it seemed quite a lot longer than that to me. I didn’t even die a lot, I just found it long, boring, tedious and frankly un-fun experience – and not one I was willing to waste more time on. I’d rather be doing almost anything else, and so my run through this game is finished, if incomplete.

Verdict: There’s nothing at all to redeem this game in 2015. There are far better ways to spend your time. Avoid.