The last time we took a look at Dark Sector, we got to play through the beginning levels of this third-person action shooter from Digital Extremes and D3. These first few stages set up secret operative Hayden Tenno's mission to uncover the truth behind a horrific chemical outbreak in a former Soviet state, a disaster that has mutated some unfortunate members of the populace and left the area uninhabitable. Early on, Tenno is infected as well--and he actually gains some pretty gnarly powers as a result, powers that will come in handy as he fights through waves of mutants, as well as soldiers belonging to a paramilitary force bent on stopping him.
Anyway, you can read about all that in our last story. We've now played through several sequences set later in the game and gotten hands-on with some of Tenno's more advanced and interesting powers. It's a good thing he's got them, since we also ran up against a number of his much more powerful and angrier adversaries. As it turns out, the game's big bad guy, a rogue operative named Mezner, is attempting to gather a number of transmitters together that are collectively capable of summoning a group of especially nasty giant mutants called the "old ones." These guys have apparently been percolating in underground mutation tanks since the Cold War, and Mezner has some kind of unexplained telepathic control over them--so the reasons why you need to stop him from assembling the old ones should be obvious.
Before you do that, though, you'll shoot and glaive your way through a whole mess of soldiers and lesser mutants. The good news is, these two groups hate each other as much as they hate you. As you move further into the game, it will become a viable strategy to let the roving bands of mutants and patrolling soldiers get into their own fights while you hang back and pick off the leftovers in a relatively leisurely fashion. We played through a lengthy segment of the fourth mission that took place in a hastily vacated section of town--where loudspeakers were still blaring evacuation notices--and later moved on to a moonlit graveyard that had mutated humans and dogs digging their way out of the recently dug earth to get in our way. In both locations, the two groups of enemies seemed to be battling each other almost as much as they were coming after us.
One quick cutscene in the demo introduced us to two of Dark Sector's more menacing customers: the jackal and the colossus. The former is a rickety quadrupedal tank used by the soldiers against you, and the latter is one of the old ones, a massive apelike monstrosity who barrels out of nowhere and tears one of the jackals limb from limb. Later on, we had a chance to commandeer another jackal and take it for a spin. Since it's on legs, the jackal can move and strafe more or less like Hayden--though much slower, of course. It has a standard machine gun and a slow-firing rocket launcher, as well as a flare-based countermeasure that you'll have to fire into the air to lure incoming rockets away from you, when you're facing soldiers equipped with rocket launchers.
That cutscene wasn't our only encounter with the colossus, either; we later had to fight the hulking, apelike beast as a boss fight inside a giant ruined cathedral. The colossus is covered with a bulletproof natural armor, so we had to imbue our glaive with fire burning nearby and then set the boss aflame from a distance to burn off that armor and get a few shots in. Not surprisingly, the armor would regenerate after a few seconds, requiring us to repeat the process. Unfortunately, the boss was climbing the walls and hurling gigantic blocks of stone at us, and then later dropped to ground level to charge at us periodically. But after enough dodging and shooting, we brought it down. A Digital Extremes rep told us that just as the colossus looked and acted like an ape, other old ones in the game will have other animal associations, such as one with reptilian qualities.
After defeating the colossus, we gained a new ability similar to the boss's own powers: a temporary shield. This shield can be activated at the touch of a button but only lasts for a handful of seconds, and then takes a few moments to recharge. (A glowing spot on your mutated arm will signal that you can use it again .) The best property of this shield is that it can reflect projectiles back at enemies, as we discovered when we had to bounce a rocket fired from a defensive turret back to destroy a door and open a path just after we defeated the boss. Tenno will gain minor powers throughout the course of the story due to his spreading infection, but it sounds like you'll also gain more significant abilities like this shield as you take on the game's bosses, like the colossus.
During our demo, we got a closer look at Dark Sector's weapons-upgrade system, which seems heavily inspired by that of Resident Evil 4. You'll be able to visit a "black market" vendor at certain places in each level, a shady character who calls you "Yankee Doodle" in a thick Russian accent. In exchange for your scavenged rubles, this guy will sell you various kinds of weapons (shotguns, assault rifles, and so on) that have been freed of their DNA sensors and thus made useable by anyone. You'll also be able to install weapon upgrades at the vendor, though you won't buy them with money. Instead, you'll find attaché cases hidden throughout the game, each of which has an associated upgrade. Once you're at the vendor, you can apply the upgrades you've discovered to their respective weapons (though each weapon has a limited number of upgrade slots). Some of the upgrades we saw included increased firing rate, a larger clip, a double shot (which lets you fire two rounds at once), and a puncture ability that lets you shoot through one enemy and hit the guy behind him as well.
Digital Extremes is in the very last stages of polishing Dark Sector, with builds almost ready for submission on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game's frame rate has improved a bit since we saw the game last November, and it seems the developer will have no trouble delivering the final version in late March as scheduled. Look for a full rating then.