Have you wondered lately what's been going on with Digital Extremes' Dark Sector? We have, considering the game was unveiled back in April 2004 with an evocative trailer and was touted as the first game being designed entirely for next-generation hardware. Since that time, next-gen has evolved fully into this-gen, with a number of impressive titles like Gears of War, Resistance, and Twilight Princess appearing on all three of the shiny new consoles. And yet there's been no word on what's happening with Dark Sector--until now. Digital Extremes and publisher D3 recently gave us a brief real-time demo of Dark Sector in action to bring us up to speed, and we were surprised to find that it's not the game we were expecting based on our first look way back when.
For starters, forget everything you saw in that trailer. Gone are the futuristic corridors, powered armor, and Metal Gear-in-space trappings you saw well over two years ago. They've given way to a slightly more mundane setting that Digital Extremes says will serve to underscore the unusual and exceptional nature of the game's new main character, Hayden Tenno. Tenno is a CIA "cleaner," the guy they call to come in and fix situations gone awry, the guy who "makes plausible deniability happen," according to the developer. At the game's outset, Tenno will head to the fictional former Soviet state of Lasria, where some sort of horrific biological weapons research has been taking place in secret. His mission is, of course, to mop up the situation, but that mission will be complicated when he encounters two factions at war with one another: a group of powerful mutated humans known as the infected, and a well-armed paramilitary force trying to stop them.
Besides, Tenno's got his own problems. Primarily, he's been exposed to the toxic goop himself, and it's mutated his arm into a gnarled, armored instrument of destruction that can spontaneously grow a three-bladed flying weapon called the glaive. This weapon forms the cornerstone of Dark Sector's third-person action gameplay, which looked similar to games like Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, given that you can shoot imprecisely from the hip (with no targeting reticle) or zoom in to a tighter, over-the-shoulder aiming mode when you want to get serious. Of course, you'll have access to an array of conventional weaponry as well, such as assault rifles and the like, and you'll be able to perform one-hit melee kills if you manage to get up-close and personal with your foes.
The glaive is the real star of the show here. When you go to your aiming mode, you'll get a little ball of light that acts as a crosshair, and then you can hurl the glaive at your target and have it come flying back to you. This makes it effective as a conventional ranged weapon, and even if it gets stuck or destroyed somehow, you can grow another one in an instant. But the glaive has an interesting secondary power that we weren't expecting, one that takes its cue from Zelda rather than traditional shooters, according to Digital Extremes. The glaive can absorb different kinds of energy, so if you fling it into a fire, for example, it will return to you wreathed in flames. Fire it into a light fixture, and it will not only disable the light but come back to you electrified. You can use these bonus properties to fight enemies--an electric glaive will automatically electrocute an enemy, for instance--but naturally this ability has myriad puzzle-solving applications as well. The only example we saw of this was using a flaming glaive to detonate an explosive crate and clear a path, but the developers promise you'll use the glaive in other interesting ways as the game progresses.
We didn't get to see a lot of Dark Sector in action, though Digital Extremes took us through a short demo in which Hayden navigated the streets of a dilapidated, deserted town presumably located in Lasria. After dispatching several grunts from afar with the glaive, he entered an old house and fought up-close with a few machete-wielding soldiers who used a gas that reduced his power and created a really freaky, unique distortion effect that made the enemy appear to be two or three enemies (you'd have to see this in action). Finally, Hayden entered an attic area, at which point the game switched to a cutscene in which he encountered his first infected--a sinewy, fully mutated beast that seemed to have superhuman strength and agility. We figure these guys will be a royal pain to deal with later on.
Dark Sector certainly made a splash back in early 2004 when Digital Extremes unveiled it as the first game in development exclusively for next-gen hardware. Plenty of great-looking games have shipped since then, but Dark Sector looks as though it's still holding its own, running on the company's internally developed Sector engine. We were particularly impressed by the lighting effects--at one point Tenno walked by some boarded-up windows and we saw the light. There's also some nice detail in the characters. For instance, when the player melee-killed one of those machete soldiers by snapping his neck, the attack actually knocked the guy's mask upwards, and we were able to see his fully modeled face behind it.
Dark Sector is looking like a solid first next-gen effort from Digital Extremes, from the little we got to see of it. We'll be interested to see if the game can deliver on all of its potential when it ships in late 2007. Stay tuned for more on the game before then.