PAX 2007: Dark Sector hands-on

D3Publisher’s flagship demo at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo was the third-person shooter Dark Sector. They walked us through this next-generation title, showing off heaping helpings of glorious limb slicing and head decapitation.

Players take the role of Hayden Tenno, a agent sent on an assassination mission only to find himself attacked and infected with a strange ability which eventually causes a bladed disc to grow out of his hand. Don’t you hate when that happens? This disc, the Glaive, can be thrown at baddies, and aiming it specifically at enemies’ limbs (or anything else) will send them flying off on contact. The weapon can also take on elemental properties like fire or electricity, adding another combat element and even more variety on top of the typical guns and explosives of other shooters.

Dark Sector is as sharp-looking as the blades of Hayden’s Glaive. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it looks like (another third-person shooter, perhaps?), but it definitely looks polished.  Watching Hayden move from shadowed cover to wide-open daylight in a gritty, war-worn European town is visually impressive, and there’s no heads-up display to muck up the pretty sights. Almost everything other than the strangely flat looking ground textures seemed to pop off the screen, with the lighting effects from fire, explosions, and sunlight looking particularly snazzy.

Hit the jump for more on Dark Sector

I did most of my admiring of the game’s visuals as D3 rep Stephen played, as I found that there was no time for sight-seeing when I had the controller in my hands. The haz-mat suited enemies did not let up, and I quickly found myself overwhelmed. Within less than a minute from the demo’s start, I was attacked from three sides, and there was no easy way out. The Glaive, while being a pretty nifty weapon, was not the easiest thing to aim while under heavy fire. That being said, it was incredibly gratifying to successfully connect and see an enemy slump over from having his leg chopped off. 

The over-the-shoulder view and camera control reminded me of a quicker and lighter version of Gears of War’s control scheme, though that’s definitely not a bad thing. Players will find themselves ducking and covering, much like Epic’s title, but the difference here is that the next opening can be used to slice a body in half at the waist, rather than just firing off another set of bullets. Hayden can also pull off flashy finishing moves on unsuspecting victims with proper timing. Shooting bullets is so last year!

The camera in Dark Sector is quite a bit more wide-sweeping and loose, which made it a bit harder to aim. This scheme seemed to make a bit more sense with the Glaive equipped, but it made things a tad bit more cumbersome with guns in hand. I’m assuming that a sensitivity setting would fix this. I was still able to throw the Glaive into the fire of a nearby explosion (it comes back, boomerang style) to equip it with fire abilities, and then throw it at an enemy to set him alight. And yes, it felt great.

Dark Sector takes an over-the-shoulder third-person view and slick visuals, and adds in the weapon we always dreamed about. If they get the wonky aiming ironed out before the Jaunary 22, 2008 release (on both PS3 and Xbox 360), Dark Sector could find itself listed alongside those other third-person shooters we love so much. 

Dale North