Sunday, July 5, 2009

X360 look: darkSector

It's fair to say that this console generation has become one of the most expensive to develop for. While it's unfortunate to see so much money spent on superfluous things like better quality endings and token multiplayer support for the most part it's money well spent. Compared to prior generations the good to bad ratio is quite possibly the lowest it has ever been. However this is just as well since even one bad game or even a good one that does poorly in sales can doom a company. While this means less bizarre and outright poor design decisions in games it has also led to several more clones that attempt to benefit at least somewhat from the success of a major title. 

With that in mind we have Gears of War. While some have noted that Gears itself took inspiration from last generation's moderately successful Kill.switch it's pretty clear that selling several million copies made it the game of choice for other publishers to make a buck or two off of similar titles. It's hard to say what works about Gears but my take is that while the gameplay could be construed as repetitive it's very easy to get into and provides satisfactory feedback for every action and mistakes produce near-immediate results. It's very much a game where the player has to think on their feet and it's more rewarding to the players who are constantly aware of their situation over the ones that memorize where enemies appear.

darkSector is one of those titles that Gears fans will instantly recognize. The game employs a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, the player will regain health when they're not getting shot, and each stage is split up into multiple "arenas" where various combinations of enemy forces will show up with the intention of seeing the good guy dead. Chances are if one can play Gears they will instantly be able to pick up this game as if it were a spin-off. Thankfully for the most part however that's about all Gears and darkSector have in common.

The game takes place in Russia and while there are frequent cutscenes I kind of skipped the most important ones that tell me just what the heck I'm doing over there. Anyway the first chapter is a prologue and plays out entirely in black and white. Neat idea at first but you'll be glad to see it gone by the time the game actually starts. The prologue actually serves as a tutorial for the basic actions. For example one of the first things you come across is a door locked shut. You have to free-aim with your gun(yep just like Gears) in order to shoot the lock off. As one can expect the other typical elements like sprinting, cover, rolling, and so on will give the player a rudimentary understanding of what they need to survive.

Things start to become different when the player is introduced to the Glaive. Yep that circular-blade-thingie is the main star of this game and your most important tool. Throwing it is simple enough and it returns to you after a traveling a medium distance. By properly aiming this tool you can easily dispatch most enemies or stun them where you can rush in and perform a finisher. Finishers are kind of a vague term for QTE melee attacks. The nice thing about these is that even when you're under heavy fire you're invincible while performing them. This is a good incentive to get players to use them.

Simply getting a cool toy to throw around isn't enough however and as you progress you obtain new powers. Early on you'll be able to swipe weapons and items lying on the ground with your glaive as well as perform a more powerful attack with a near 100% chance of decapitation(which in all cases means instant death). However as you move further you can access a number of really sweet special abilities like invisibility, an after-touch that lets you control the glaive in midflight to go around corners and such, a shield for reflecting enemy missiles, and so on. There's no power meter or anything that limits the usage of these abilities aside from a slight cooldown period. While not all of these abilities are required to survive they all can be very useful and make the game quite a bit more fun.

Oh and before I forget guns are still available. While most enemy weapons can only be held for a limited time(due to DNA heat signatures or something), the player can buy new weapons via the black market. These run the gamut of assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and so on and each of them can be powered-up by finding various attachments that add more ammo per clip, more damage, and so on. While the guns provide a good bit of variety and help create different playstyles they can also be quite expensive. With limited funds the player may only be able to access a few of them throughout a single playthrough. At least there are plenty of enemy guns within swiping distance if the player feels they need a specific weapon(especially since they can only carry two at a time and can only swap them out whenever they find an entrance to the market).

Progress is easy to figure out. The stages are all fairly linear and punctuated with a lot of puzzles and changes in scenery/enemy-types to keep things fairly fresh. There are also a handful of bosses through in order to succeed against them you'll have to "solve their puzzle" as well. Straight slug-fests won't put these guys down so in many cases the environment or even their own attacks have to be used against them. 

The puzzles are interesting in that many of them require the glaive to be elementally-charged. By flinging the glaive at sources of fire, electricity, or ice the glaive takes on the corresponding element. Aside from having a quick way to get rid of regular foes these can be used to put out fires, open doors, burn away substances, and so on. Most of the time puzzles are fairly sensible though the game seems apt to toss a curveball by making an obvious fire or electricity source but there's actually a nearby ladder the player has to climb. This can be rather annoying.

The gameplay in darkSector is really good. Sure it's not entirely fresh but the glaive and its powers make for a nice bit of variety and help keep the campaign from getting dull despite the fact that there's not very many enemy-types. Also I think the cover-system is better here than in Gears. While it's arranged in much the same way it feels a bit more fluid and the darkSector actually requires the player to make a second button-tap if they want to automatically get into cover when switching from one side to another. It's hard to explain but it feels natural after awhile and helps the combat remain dynamic. It also helps that the hero can take a bit more damage than Marcus & friends. It's especially nice that even after dying there's not a long period of load-times or wandering to where the player died the last time around. darkSector does a fine job of emulating Gear's feel and gameplay but it offers a few improvements of its own and the additional powers give it some uniqueness.

One thing that disappoints me about this game is that there isn't a mode which allows me to play through the entire game with all of the powers & whatever guns I've purchased in my last playthrough. Sure it'd probably be cheating but by the time the final power is given it's towards the end of the game. I can't imagine it really breaking anything since the major bosses still require certain attacks in order to defeat them. This would definitely have made a playthrough on the harder difficulty more interesting(since you have to beat the game before you can unlock it) but I guess even if it did happen the developers wouldn't have had the time to properly balance the game with having all of the powers at the start. Aside from that some additional singleplayer modes would have been welcome. Something like a survival mode or a time/score attack would have been nice. There's really no added benefit to killing your foes with style and/or speed in the campaign so I think it would have been a good idea. 

At less than $10 darkSector is definitely worth the price and in all honesty I think it's definitely worth the time. Even if you're not a fan of Gears I think you'd do well to give it a shot. It adds just enough and chances enough things around to help it stay fresh and without having to rely on a partner or other allies it's a lot easier to focus. This is one of those rare games that I recommend despite the fact that it plays it fairly safe. It doesn't try too hard or create some unique design decision that only appeals to a few people. It's simply the kind of game that tries to please everyone and I can't really fault it for that cause eh at least I like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment