This game isn't exactly a classic, but I find it hard to be frustrated with it because it seems to do everything fairly right. DARK SECTOR had been in development for four years prior to its release in early 2008. But long development periods don't always result in masterpieces, and DARK SECTOR is a perfect example of that. When it finally arrived, shoulders shrugged, and then it disappeared off the radar again. And I suspect anyone who plays it now will probably have a similar experience.
In DARK SECTOR, you play as Hayden, a disgruntled CIA Agent on a secret mission to Eastern Europe to assassinate some crazed politician/scientist/(?) Turns out there's a virus running rampant in this country that turns people into zombies with metal skin. Unfortunately during Hayden's attempt to evac, his right arm gets infected with the virus, becoming metallic and (miraculously) sprouting a perfectly shaped metal Glaive. And now he's a half-mutant with a wicked weapon in his hand, and he has to get to his destination to do something before something...something...happens.
Okay...one thing that never quite reached the level of adequacy (as least for me) was the story. Seriously...if there's one where it felt like they designed the game before they wrote the story, it would be DARK SECTOR. It's constantly difficult to follow and never makes much sense. We're supposed to assume the virus is dangerous...but where does it come from? How does it function? Why do some infected look like metal skinned cyborgs while others look like tumorous zombies? In fact, it benefits the main character, so how does that make it...bad? These questions are never brought up and never answered. Characters also reference vague events in dialogue that are never expounded upon. For example the protagonist is supposedly a CIA agent with some dark past that's haunting him, but we never get any specific details about what that past is. At one point in the game, Hayden bumps into a (supposedly) old flame named Nadia who's working for the bad guys. But the critical details about their affair and who they were, what their relationship was, etc. is just glossed over. The villain in the game is constantly referenced by the protagonists, but he appears so infrequently and has practically no real personality (aside from being a psychopath/megalomaniac). Random events occur that have seemingly no relevance to the plot. And the game doesn't even have a real epilogue...it just kind of ends. It might help to play the game through a second time through, but I felt in general the storytelling was kind of sloppy. Come on...even HALF LIFE was better at storytelling and that was made 10 years before this one.
If the game was an RPG that relied heavily on story, then that flaw would be unforgivable. Fortunately, its merits as an action game make up for that. DARK SECTOR is a 3rd person shooter in the style of GEARS OF WAR and RESIDENT EVIL 4...but it distinguishes itself from those two with the implementation of the Glaive weapon. The Glaive is a giant 3-pronged boomerang that performs a variety of functions, including the obvious dismemberment of enemies and the snatching of items. You can even infuse it with elemental powers (fire, ice, lightning) that are necessary to solve puzzles. It also serves as a pretty grisly melee weapon too. There are some pretty nice finishing moves you can perform on enemies with it once you weaken them enough. Of course your main ability is to throw it like a boomerang to attack enemies. Believe me...decapitating enemies with the Glaive never gets old.
The Glaive is also constantly earning new abilities as well ensuring it never stays a boring tool. You'll have to use its special skills to solve a fair number of puzzles to progress in the game, which isn't really a problem since none of them are very challenging. Still their inclusion is nice as it does feel satisfying to open those special locked doors.
Although the Glaive is a great addition to the formula, the game is still a third person shooter at heart. And unfortunately the core shooter action in this game does start out kind of tepid...the weapons you are given don't have much "oomph" to them, and consequently the shooting in the initial stages is kind of boring. BUT as you progress, the weapons you earn get more powerful, louder and fun to use. Shotguns, revolvers, AK's, etc. all sound and look as fearsome as you'd expect. Unfortunately you won't get wide access to them until later on.
At the beginning, the infection limits you from stealing weapons from enemy soldiers. So you have to use money you find scattered around the levels to buy your personal assortment of powerful guns to use. Finding upgrade packs scattered around the levels, you can customize those weapons with special perks like increased accuracy, poison shots, etc. I really like this aspect of the game since it adds a nice RPG style sense of progression to the shooting. If only it wasn't so obviously borrowed from RE4.
Whatever the case, at the end of the game you'll be swarmed by tons of enemies and be constantly switching weapons to conserve your ammo and for the right situation. Seriously, the combat does get pretty intense by the end. You'll be immersed in tons of blood soaked shootouts. By pressing "A" your character can dodge and cover, which is essential to master if you want to survive some of these late game firefights.
And it certainly all looks and sounds damn good. They really put a lot of work into the graphics and art design. The enemies you fight and the locations you visit are all darker than GEARS OF WAR and some areas swarming with zombie mutants can be just downright creepy. The sparse lighting used throughout most of the game really immerses you in said atmosphere at times. The game starts out as some kind of generic military ops thriller, moves into scifi territory when you get the Glaive, and then moves even further into horror near the end of the game. The thundering Hollywood blockbuster-style soundtrack is also really effective too. The sound effects are all very good with the exception of the weak pistol weapons fire sound effects near the beginning of the game (fortunately you don't hold on to that weapon for long). Even the voice acting's decent.
In fact, everything works for the most part. Aside from the bad narrative, there is really a good game here. The only problem is the fact that, by the time this game was released, so much of it had already been done already in the video game world through titles like GEARS OF WAR and RE4. The only thing it has really going for it to distinguish it from any other GEARS OF WAR clone is the Glaive weapon...but how can you market an entire game off of one gimmick?
Would I recommend DARK SECTOR? Only if you're a completist or if you need a quick action game fix and have enough time to kill. DARK SECTOR is no hidden gem...it's just a cheap, wholly adequate alternative to the real classics out there.