Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for March, 2009

Way past current review: Dark Sector

With the exception of big titles, I usually don’t get to a lot of games when they first come out.  There are a lot that I’ll play the demo of, then earmark for play through later.  Dark Sector is one of those, which I’m going to talk about today.

In discussing this game, I have to start by saying that a Glaive as a main weapon has been cool to me since Krull.  Yes, I saw it in theaters.  I saw it again recently too, and… wow.  I thought Lost Boys didn’t hold up well, but man…

…yet the glaive is still cool.

So here we’ve got a game about this guy with a glaive, a gun and… well, uh…

… well, I still don’t know what this damn game is about.  I finished it, sat through every cinematic, replayed a few of them even, and I still don’t know what the hell was going on.  The intro with the salvage of an old sub?  Cool.  That something was in that sub?  Cool.  Very Leviathan or Deep Star Six of them (I can’t remember which one had the sunken ship / sub with the virus-filled vodka bottle).  After that?  I couldn’t tell you what the game is about.  It doesn’t make any sense anyway.  Transmitters calling things from around the world that couldn’t have spread in the first place, some virus that there’s a cure for… but wait there isn’t… morphing armor that is the “evolution” of something…

Now normally I could care less about a really coherent story in a game, but the problem here is that in 3rd person action games like this one, I need something to drive me forward when the levels are repetitive and instructions are vague.  You go for levels and levels at a time in Dark Sector with absolutely no reason to cross them other than to load the next one.  Talk about a mid-section drag because of a lack of information… wow.  You just kinda go until you get to the end.

So since I can’t comment on the story in a coherent manner, let’s talk about gameplay.  There’s a few other problems that feel like iteration would have solved.  Namely:

  • The doling out of rubles to buy new weapons is feast / famine across the levels of the game and doesn’t have a nice smooth progression.  I’d love to have tried out a lot of the weapons you can potentially buy, but there’s no way to afford more than two of them at best.  I tend to check nooks and crannies (for completion’s sake) so I don’t think I missed too many opportunities for cash.
  • The glaive is fun, but underpowered unless you go into guided mode and get headshots with it.  I have a stupidly high-powered pistol I can use for headshots, and even the basic pistol can headshot easily… and both with better range.  Even in melee, where the glaive should be able to buzzsaw around and just tear things apartm it’s horribly underpowered.  It takes multiple swipes to take down even low-level enemies.  The shotgun does a much better job up close than the glaive ever can.  So you have a weapon that isn’t great close up, isn’t great at long range, and isn’t more powerful at mid-range.  Uh…
  • Some powers that they grant you are absolutely essential (the shield) to survival later in the game, while others are not useful for more than a few fixed places (invisibility) and then forgotten completely towards the end.
  • Finishers (one-hit kills once an enemy is weakened) sound like a good idea, but since 80% of your combat happens at range, they’re nearly invalidated.  Design also invalidates the use of finishers later in the game.  There’s an enemy that will pulsate for a while then explode if you don’t finish them off.  This sounds dangerous at first.  But you quickly realize the explosion hurts other enemies.  And, you can easily get out of the detonation range because the exploder can’t move… so let’s see, if it hurts other enemies AND likely won’t hurt me, so why would I ever want to stop it from exploding?!
  • Elemental power-up for the glave was underused as well.  It’s a neat idea, but fire, electricity and ice essentially do the same thing — you can 1-hit kill things for a limited time (burn, shock or freeze).  Two of the elements have an additional door / lock mechanic associated with them as well, but the delivery and use was identical — element hits item and removes blockage / opens door.  Since there was no real difference in the long run, why bother?
  • Instant-death boss attacks.  Avoidable for most of them, but WTF is up with the instant-death during stage transitions while fighting the final boss?  There’s no telegraphing that you’re about to be killed outright.  No beam, no hit, no nothing.  You just fall over dead.

All that said, this isn’t a bad game.  It certainly has its fun moments.  Enemies try to flank you viciously, and in a few scenarios that makes for some great nasty and intense battles… and likely a few restarts.  Bosses are decent, but get easier as you go on through the game.  Enemies aren’t really that varied, but there’s enough types to barely get you through without feeling like the game is way too repetitive.  Some of the weapon modifications make enough impact that it’s noticeable and therefore enjoyable to work with.

There’s hints of a really good game in here, but it really got lost on the editing floor and through lack of focus and drive in the narrative.

The big takeaway:  You don’t need a good story to drive a player through a game, but at least have one that the player can follow!

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