Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360. PS3 reviewed.
This is a tale of boy meets game, featuring your humble reviewer and a striking but derivative third-person shooter. It's a tale that goes through all the phases of many a relationship: the initial spark, infatuation, disappointment, bitterness and recrimination and finally a feeling of acceptance. I might not feel the same way about Dark Sector that I did when things begun, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends.
Let's be clear - I always knew the game wasn't much of an original. Some people put Dark Sector down as just a brazen clone of Gears of War, but it's actually more than that; it's happy to rip off Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Solid too. The look, the basic gunplay, the cover system and the sprint move (complete with shakey-cam) have been lifted wholesale from Epic's gritty sci-fi classic. Characters, some enemies and aspects of the presentation are hugely reminiscent of the Solid Snake saga. Meanwhile, a black market-based weapons and upgrade system, not to mention a number of hostile mutant foes, have clearly been 'inspired' by Capcom's awesome Resident Evil franchise reboot. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Dark Sector is one of the all-time champs of brown-nose games.
To be fair, it does add a few new ideas to the mix, the biggest being that your clichéd loose-cannon agent protagonist - possibly moonlighting from a My Chemical Romance tribute band, to judge by his clothes and choppy black fringe - is hit early on by the game's mysterious infection. On the downside, this means a thick black chitinous skin that spreads from his arm over his body as the game progresses. On the upside, his strength and resistance to damage is increased and - when threatened - he spontaneously produces a handy triple-bladed discus weapon, known as the Glaive. Not the sort of man to let this kind of thing prevent him from completing his standard-issue game assassination mission, he opts instead to make use of his new tools, travelling through the game's fictional, infected soviet republic and wrecking every trooper and hideous mutant that stands in his way.
It might be a throwback to 80s fantasy movie, Krull, but the Glaive is indisputably the coolest thing about Dark Sector. At the start it works as a simple but hideously effective missile weapon, lopping off limbs or cracking skulls if thrown effectively, then returning to your waiting hand. Then, just when you're getting used to that, you develop the ability to control the Glaive with aftertouch. Throw it, then click down on the same trigger and you can control it in slow motion from a zoomed-in, behind the Glaive view - much like the crossbow bolts in Heavenly Sword. This is hugely entertaining, particularly once you learn how to curve the Glaive over or around walls where the bad guys are wussily taking cover, or take a chunk off one running goon then bury the blades in the chap behind him.