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Critical Reception: D3/Digital Extremes' Dark Sector

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the Digital Extremes-developer, D3 Publisher-backed Dark Sector, an long-in-development third-person sci-fi action title that critics describe as "fun, but not perfect."
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Dark Sector, an original third-person action title that critics describe as "fun, but not perfect." Known previously for its successful line of budget-priced console software in Japan, D3 Publisher's recent push in the North American market focuses in large part on the creation of original IP. Last year's Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords proved to be a cross-platform hit for D3, and this week's release of Dark Sector represents the publisher's latest major release for the current generation of consoles. Dark Sector currently earns an average review score of 71 out of 100, as reported by Metacritic.com. Matt Cabral at AtomicGamer scores Dark Sector at 88 out of 100. "Despite all the pre-release buzz, I paid little attention to Digital Extremes' long-gestating Dark Sector prior to its arrival," Cabral admits. However: "It immediately grabbed me with its super-stylized opening mission, as it set up the story, introduced protagonist Hayden Tenno and subtly hinted at the balls-out ride to come." Cabral describes Dark Sector's glaive weapon as an interesting gameplay hook. "With progression you'll gain the ability to imbue the glaive with fire, electricity and frost for much more creative kills," he describes. "You'll also learn the 'aftertouch', allowing you to steer the glaive upon throwing it. This works much like the projectile-controlling mechanic in Heavenly Sword, where the camera closely follows behind the weapon as you drive it towards its target." "Dark Sector also supports a nice assortment of rifles, machine guns and shotguns," Cabral continues. "The game actually incorporates a timer on these weapons, causing them to self-destruct after limited use. This is explained through the story as a device to keep the infected from using them, but it's really just a way to keep the focus on the slicing and dicing." Cabral finds that this limitation on weapons can initially feel like a burden, but that it can easily be overcome with certain equipment combinations. "This bothered me at first," he says, "but I soon discovered it was much more rewarding to use the glaive in concert with a pistol than to use two-handed weapons." Cabral is impressed with Dark Sector overall, but warns that its aesthetic and gameplay similarities to previous titles like Gears of War and BioShock may be a turnoff for some. "Despite falling a bit short, Dark Sector really impressed me, often reminding me of the great games that came before it," he writes in conclusion. "I'm afraid Dark Sector's homage to these greats will get it pegged as a lesser copy-cat when actually, by borrowing from the best and building on them with the awesome glaive, it's carved itself a deserving spot as one of this year's best third-person action games." IGN's Greg Miller gives Dark Sector a rating of 7.7 out of 10. "If you've never seen Dark Sector in action, the easiest game to compare it to and give you a frame of reference -- in terms of gameplay -- is Gears of War," he observes. "However, what sets this game apart from Gears is the glaive," Miller continues. "It can take out multiple opponents, it can open doors, and it pretty much makes the game." Miller explains that the glaive, along with the various weapons and powers found in the game, makes for a satisfying experience. "All of this -- the powers, the glaive and the guns -- combines to make you feel empowered in Dark Sector," he argues. "In Dark Sector, the difficulty ramps up as you get your powers and learn the ropes. Right out of the gate, you feel like you're this kick ass operative." Overall, however, the game may feel hollow for some. "Although I enjoyed my time as Hayden Tenno and loved my trusty glaive and shotgun," Miller notes, "I watched the credits roll without a sense of accomplishing anything monumental, and that's for a few reasons." "To begin with, the story in Dark Sector isn't focused on or explained well," Miller writes. "On the gameplay side, the idea of progression in Dark Sector is that you learn a new move, master it and another one pops up. It's kind of like a carrot dangled in front of you to keep you plowing through the game. It works and the powers are great, but there are a few points -- especially in the last few chapters -- when the repetitive look of the levels gets to you and it feels as if the game is out of moves and just throwing enemies at you to make the experience last longer." Miller also notes complaints with "clunky" melee combat and inconsistent auto-targeting. "Dark Sector's fun," he concludes. "However, when the really similar levels and waves of opponents get too repetitive towards the end of the game, Dark Sector's weak storyline might not be enough to carry the more fickle fan to the finish line. It's fun, but it's not perfect." At Official Xbox Magazine Online, Ryan McCaffrey writes a Dark Sector review rated at 5.5 out of 10, making early mention of its many similarities to Gears of War. "The art direction isn’t the only thing cribbed from Epic’s killer app," he explains. "The third-person camera rests over Hayden’s shoulder and drops to ankle height when he runs. The game’s primary weapon (the glaive) packs a familiar melee finishing move." "Yet nowhere is Dark Sector's 'homage' to Gears more apparent than in its decent but hardly memorable multiplayer mode, where two teams square off in rounds of last-man-standing deathmatch," McCaffrey continues. "Seems uncomfortably familiar to us." "Then again, does it really matter who or how heavily Dark Sector plagiarizes if it's fun?" McCaffrey asks. "That question remains a hypothetical one because the flaws in Dark Sector's campaign are far more memorable than its triumphs." McCaffrey lists a number of issues with Dark Sector's single-player campaign. "First and most offensively, Dark Sector's boss fights are as annoying as they are un-fun," he writes. "Each one is a frustrating round of 'Guess the Gimmick!'" "Even ammo feels like a chore to gather," McCaffrey adds. "You first have to aim at your feet to get Hayden to kick the crates instead of swing his glaive at chest level, and then you have to hold X to pick up the cache (you can grab it with the glaive, but even that’s a two-step process)." McCaffrey explains that many small gameplay issues and problematic design choices eventually add up to a frustrating experience. "On the plus side, the game does a great job of offering new toys to play with. As the story progresses, Hayden regularly earns new powers, such as a user-guided glaive throw and temporary invisibility," he admits. "But ultimately, the evil side of Dark Sector wins out and restrains it from succeeding at anything more than simply squatting in the long shadow of its Epic competition." Critics note that Dark Sector succeeds in many areas, but often comes up short in comparison to similar titles like Gears of War. A plurality of reviews describe Dark Sector as a flawed but enjoyable experience, though many warn that less forgiving gamers may find more frustration than fun.

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