Somewhere between “Why is the sky blue?” and “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Pop?’ lies Dark Sector, the answer to the question, “What do you get when you combine Gears of War with that crazy weapon from the movie Krull?” The fact that no one not diagnosed with serious mental illness had ever actually asked that question doesn’t appear to have stopped this game from getting made, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the gaming industry. An overwhelmingly derivative shooter, Dark Sector deeply deserves any flack it draws for its feeling of Gears-ja vu (or is it Deja Gears?), but what about shamelessly jacking its signature weapon from Krull? Perhaps a better question in all of this would be, “Is it still plagiarism if nobody remembers the source material, or even remotely cared about it in the first place?”
Dark Sector, set in the near future, tells the strange tale of a CIA wetwork operative sent to a former Soviet-bloc country to clean up after a biological attack that turns people into monsters. Not long after arriving our hero is infected, conveniently granting him the power to, among other things, call forth a giant ninja star thingy from his arm, which should look familiar to the six people and one dog who have actually seen Krull. Naturally he must use his new found badassitude to shoot, slice, and generally brutalize anyone who gets between him and the man behind the outbreak, all before he turns fully into a monster or the pathogen is shipped off to the highest bidder.
Dark Sector plays pretty much like a less skillfully crafted Gears of War with some fancy super powers gracelessly smashed on top. Granted, all similar games coming down the pipe for the next decade are going to shoulder the burden of being measured against Gears, but Dark Sector really earns the comparison. The gritty look, third person perspective, and suspiciously similar cover system, complete with a double dose of inherited shortcomings, is too much to be coincidence and too pervasive to be just an homage. Had Dark Sector pulled it off half as well as Gears much of this would be easily forgivable, but instead it just feels a little awkward and second rate.
The crutch that Dark Sector leans heavily on to keep it from falling into the oily pools of mediocrity is the glaive—the aforementioned crazy giant ninja star doohickey—and the superhuman powers the hero gains as the game goes on. It almost works, and there are times when the gimmicks are pretty cool to tool around with. The glaive is a handy accessory for the soldier on the go, and usage variations like power throws and limited ability to guide its flight path are nice touches, as is the ability to wield it along with a pistol in your free hand. Later on you borrow some powers from defeated enemies, like a bullet reflecting shield and cloaking field, that at least temporarily break Dark Sector out of the by-the-numbers shooter doldrums.
Unfortunately the key word there is temporarily, because everything else about the game is so mundane that it’s hard to get too excited beyond the first few applications of awesome sauce served with every neato new power. That you’re pretty much forced to use the same powers over and over again to overcome our brittle hero’s annoying tendency to drop into critical health at the drop of a hat, which incidentally is accompanied by an incredibly irritating pounding heart sound effect, quickly robs them of any charm they might have otherwise had. Most enemies are pathological about their use of cover, hunkering down for periods that hibernating bears think is a little excessive, and aren’t that interesting otherwise. Boss battles are unnecessarily drawn out affairs that simply require you to do the same two or three steps over and over until they die, which wouldn’t even be remotely hard if most of them didn’t also have the ability to kill you in one hit if you happen to nod off for a second from extreme boredom. And don’t think the multiplayer modes, of which there are only two, provide any relief. They don’t. Rather they’re so tacked on and forgettable as to hardly be worth mentioning.
What does possibly make Dark Sector worth considering as a viable option for your entertainment is that as gimmicky as its calling card is, it is actually pretty fun to toss around for a while. For a shooter fan it’s not completely inconceivable that some entertainment might be derived from renting it for a couple days. That the novelty of the powers quickly wears thin in the overwhelming miasma of all things been-there-done-that which permeates the game is less burdensome if you didn’t have to shell out $60 to learn that first hand. Who knows, it might actually grow on you. You might get three days of amusement out of it instead of only two. Wouldn’t that be something? Not too shabby for game built around a prop from a twenty five year old movie that nobody’s ever heard of. Not bad at all.