Dark Sector Hands-On -- The Infection Spreads
We shot and slashed our way through the first few levels of Digital Extremes' upcoming action game.
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Since Digital Extremes and publisher D3 last showed off their upcoming third-person action game Dark Sector back at the E3 Media & Business Summit and the Leipzig Games Convention, some aspects of the game's design have changed significantly. Even though Dark Sector is slated for release in the first quarter of next year, the designers have continued to stress-test the core gameplay mechanics and have replaced several basic capabilities with modified or entirely different ones to make the game play more smoothly. We had a chance to try out some of their recent modifications by playing the game's first two levels, as they currently stand.
If you haven't kept up with Dark Sector so far, the game draws heavily from Gears of War and Resident Evil 4 in gameplay terms, though its whole fictional-Soviet-state-overrun-by-hideous-genetic-plague thing is fairly unique. Main character Hayden Tenno can alternate between various firearms and his glaive, a bladed throwing weapon that pops right out of his arm (again, thanks to that pesky virus). The primary changes to the gameplay so far relate to your use of the glaive. In past versions of the game, you had to manually equip the glaive before you could throw it and then manually stow it to go back to your gun. That was problematic because Dark Sector uses an over-the-shoulder zoomed aiming mode similar to Gears, so you had to drop out of the aim view just to toggle from glaive to gun and back. Now, Tenno holds his gun in his left hand and always keeps the glaive ready on the right, which lets you use both interchangeably while aiming. (It makes him look more stylish, too.)
The game also previously had a multitarget lock-on system, similar to something like Panzer Dragoon, where you could paint several enemies with the glaive target and then unleash it to kill all of them in one swoop. That feature has been removed for unspecified reasons and replaced with an "aftertouch" feature, similar to the one in Heavenly Sword. When you throw the glaive, you can have the camera chase closely after it as it flies in slow motion and subtly guide its course toward a particular enemy. This can be done on the PlayStation 3 with tilting controls, but luckily, you can use the analog sticks to do it as well (on both platforms, natch).
Dark Sector starts out with "a riff on The Wizard of Oz," in the words of project lead Steve Sinclair. In simpler terms, this means the first level of the game is in black and white. It's a method of indicating the before-and-after effect of the virus on Hayden's physiology, and we were surprised to find that it's actually kind of cool to play an action game without any color to it (aside from the occasional red). The story goes that a former secret-agent-gone-rogue named Mezner has defected to the nation of Lasria and taken control of the horrible virus that Hayden will encounter a little too close-up at the end of the first level. Prior to that, he's just a secret agent trading bullets with a bunch of bad guys.
The gameplay opens up after you get infected, allowing you to start hurling the glaive. At first, you'll only do minimal damage with the weapon, but at regular intervals throughout the story, you'll begin to receive improved powers. The contextual justification for this is that Hayden's infection is spreading over time, so you'll see the grotesquerie of his right arm intensifying as the game progresses. One of the first abilities you'll get is the power throw, which works exactly like it sounds. A regular throw will simply cut dudes, but the power throw can easily take off an arm, leg, or head with precise aim.
At the outset, you'll mostly be fighting armed mercenaries, as we mentioned, but as you progress, you'll start to encounter rather more mutated and unpleasant enemies, such as an enormous creature that we encountered in a courtyard laying waste to some of those very same mercs before it came after us. You'll get a chance to take out those mutants more creatively given the glaive's ability to temporarily take on such elements as fire and electricity. For instance, we saw one section where Hayden could hurl an electrified glaive into a pool of water to zap several approaching zombielike mutants.
Dark Sector's design team seems committed to refining the gameplay, given its willingness to swap in new mechanics so late in the development cycle. With release just a handful of months away, we'll be able to bring you a final verdict on their efforts soon.