It’s a shame a modern videogame based on Krull has never seen the light of day. The campy ’80s fantasy flick has myriad game-worthy elements such as horses that run with fire under their feet, a Cyclops with attitude, swallowing walls and rooms that sprout defensive mechanisms like blowfish. Best of all, Krull gave us the almighty glaive. The shiny, pointy throwing star slices and dices anything in its path, while its hero handler steers it with his mind. If ever there were a weapon ripe for game exploitation on next-gen consoles, the glaive is it.
Sensing the opportunity to hypnotize gamers with the glaive’s mystique, developer Digital Extremes has constructed a new intellectual property for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Dark Sector, using the deadly weapon’s cult status as its crutch. Unfortunately, steering the pointy star into helpless drones is the extent of merriment and originality Dark Sector affords.
To justify the glaive’s existence, a fictitious Eastern European country of Lasria serves as the chemistry lab for all sorts of diabolical biological weapon testing. Playing as CIA operative Hayden Tenno, players are thrust into a Lasrian prison-turned-lab to seek out and terminate a mad scientist of weaponry by the name of Mezner. But Mezner gets the jump on Tenno, infecting him with a biological weapon which gives Tenno the power to sprout the glaive from his arm.
During the first 20 minutes or so, the glaive is only useful for hitting targets in a straight line when ammunition for more-powerful machine guns and shotguns runs out. In time, the glaive powers up to offer a charged toss that inflicts four times the damage, as well as an aftertouch steering ability for taking out enemies who are trying to hide behind cover. There’s no greater satisfaction in Dark Sector than blindly steering the glaive into the head of an enemy you couldn’t see from your original vantage point.
The glaive is also used to solve puzzles by its ability to take on electricity, fire or ice elements. Tossing the glaive into these elements temporarily charges it so it can be tossed into locks, obstacles or objects blocking the next area. There’s never any doubt about how to solve each puzzle, as the level design always offers one straightforward solution only.
This lazy design is the prime culprit to Dark Sector’s undoing. As cool a boomeranging as the glaive is, the strictly linear levels, questionable AI and lack of things to do other than shoot or slice bad guys wears thin faster than Tenno can learn a new skill. It becomes clear a couple of hours in that the pattern will never break. The enemies will keep coming, they’ll grow stronger, and you’ll have to use the same killing techniques over and over again to fend them off and advance.
Simplistic combat is best illustrated by the melee attack. A simple two-button melee attack with the glaive is non-upgradeable into a combo. With a healthy dose of close-quarters combat in every level, doing the hack-and-slash two-step grows exponentially monotonous and tedious.
Whipping out a gun will help with long-range attacks the glaive can’t reach, but an overly sensitive aiming reticule leads to more missed shots than made. Conversely, enemy soldiers can seemingly hit the tips of your extremities whilst firmly planted behind cover. Running for new cover will almost result in additional hits taken.
What Dark Sector lacks in substance it makes up for in style. Digital Extreme’s proprietary Evolution Engine is on display and literally “shines” on every object in the game. Dynamic lighting ranks up there with Splinter Cell and Gears of War, and it’s only hindered by gaming design’s Achilles Heel: repetitive level design. If you’ve seen one dingy sewer and war-torn building, you’ve seen 20, and you’ll see 20 more.
So much effort went into replicating the glaive’s flight and awe-inspiring kills that every other aspect of Dark Sector took a noticeable hit in quality and polish, save for the visuals. Remove the glaive, and this game’s appeal drops below mediocrity into a rinse-and-repeat nightmare. With the glaive, Dark Sector is as close as a modern game has come to capturing Krull’s mystique and signature weapon’s style. Too bad our friend the Cyclops never shows up on a fire horse to break the “kill them all” pattern.
- Score: 7.4