7th Feb 2007 | 18:51
We've been watching this one for a while. Firstly, because it's developed by Digital Extremes - the Canadian coding outfit behind fantastic (but largely ignored) Xbox FPS, Pariah, as well as classic PC multiplayer outing, Unreal Tournament 2003 - and, secondly, because the first teaser trailer for Dark Sector also happened to be one of the first ever trailers for any next gen console game, giving us a taste of what was to come years before 360's release.
Set in deep space, the trailer followed an interstellar assassin as he tip-toed his way through a massive spaceship, offing unsuspecting enemies from the shadows, before planting a bomb in some kind of engine room. The set-up was unusual - Hitman in space - plus it looked Grade A tasty too, with liquid-smooth animation and claustrophobic locations married to some impressively vicious murdering.
But here's the thing: Digital Extremes are still the super-talented team behind the game, but in the close-on two years it's since spent in cryogenic suspension, Dark Sector has undergone something of a transformation. No longer is it set in space; now it's set in a fictional Eastern bloc country in the near future. No longer is the central character creeping around in a skintight spacesuit, slicing 'n' dicing from the shadows; now he's a hardcore gunfighter, dishing it out lead-style with a couple of shotguns strapped to his back and some sort of three-bladed shuriken.
Yep, it seems the first trailer was literally a technology demo, and the reality is a little less out-of-this-world. But only in terms of the premise. Because once you see the game living and breathing, you realise that the promise Dark Sector first showed in that teaser trailer way back when is still very much alive and kicking.
In new flavour Dark Sector, you play as Hayden Tenno, a mysterious solider/agent/not-yet-clear, who finds himself right on the frontline of a broken ex-Soviet country slowly going down the toilet - and filled with MEN AND GUNS. Truth is, in now traditional fashion, Digital Extremes are keeping their story cards close to their chest. So close that literally no one outside their Ontario HQ knows anything about what Tenno's doing or why, other than the story being likely to last up to 15 hours, suggesting a robust single-player.
Gameplay, fortunately, is a little less secretive. Entirely third-person, at first glance the look and feel of 'Sector isn't dissimilar to a rezzed-up version of old PlayStation stealth game, Syphon Filter. But, dig a little deeper and it becomes obvious that this is definitely a game that could only be made for next generation.
Environments have a crumbling, greyed look, perfectly reflecting the feel of a country on its last
legs. Vistas are huge and ambitious, stretching off into the distance; up close you'll notice paper and rubbish strewn across floors, and sandbags dividing up the play area like a World War Two scene, offering cover for you as you work your way through the game's levels.
And cover's going to be important. Like Gears of War, Digital Extremes are placing a high value on intelligent use of cover in Dark Sector. Enemy AI is astonishingly ambitious; humans hunt in packs of two, one flanking you while the other tries to draw you out into the open. Later on in the game, non-human foes (their appearance, abilities and details are all wrapped up in the game's super-secret plot) actually create traps for you and try to lure you into them. So the cover here isn't just designed to make the game sound good on paper; you're going to need to use it unless you fancy ending up in a body bag.
When enemies and cover start to come into the equation, you'll find so too does your glaive - the three-bladed death machine attached to your arm that, as well as operating as the world's deadliest frisbee, also has conductive properties - it can kill, but it can also act as, say, a magnet, a useful ability that gets to become a whole lot more useful later on when it comes to dealing with the game's puzzles - a core gameplay element counter-balancing the action perfectly. Intriguing.