Digital Extremes - the developers behind Dark Sector - have form when it comes to 'borrowing' ideas from established titles.
Take Pariah and WarPath - their homages to Halo and Unreal Tournament - which were both released on the original Xbox, directly copying gameplay and plot threads. While decent enough, they clearly lacked innovation - polished experiences numbed by familiarity. So why are we so excited about Dark Sector - a xerox of Resident Evil 4? Because it's the most significant PS3 game of 2008 so far.
Dark Sector's victory isn't its pacing or characterisation or gameplay - decent as they are - but what it represents: cast-iron proof that PS3 is hitting its stride. It's one of the best-looking games. Full stop. And matched only by, say, Uncharted and Ratchet.
More impressively, it's easily the most-technically accomplished third-party (i.e. non-Sony produced) game this side of CoD4, quashing the notion that PS3 'ports' can't match their Xbox 360 counterparts since Sony's machine is 'too hard' to program for. Take a glance over the pages - it looks even better in motion.
Don't get us wrong. Dark Sector has so many similarities to Resident Evil 4 that it could be seen as an expansion pack for Capcom's classic. Firstly, the plot - it focuses around a city infected by a disease. The infection, like Resi's Las Plagas, turns regular folk into murderous zombies. There's a shadowy figure attempting to create an army with these creatures.
Then there's the female double agent - she's like Ada Wong, minus the sex appeal. And there's even a blatant rip-off of the merchant - a mysterious bloke who hangs around an underground Black Market (more on this later). It's that shameless. But while Dark Sector relies too much on Resi 4 for inspiration, it's still a solid PS3 debut for Digital Extremes, and shows immense promise for their future projects - and PS3 as a whole.
Dark Sector is one of the best looking games on PS3. Fact. The story follows the recently-infected Hayden Tenno, a US special ops bloke who's been sent into the country of Lasria to cap a dictator who's planning a revolution with the deadly disease.
The way Hayden vaults over barriers realistically (press e) is impressive - and even the way he strides purposefully with his weapon drawn looks superb. The sun-drenched vistas that stretch across the game's city of Larissa look great too, far more appealing than the jaggy brownness of, for instance, Blacksite: Area 51 (reviewed page 76).
All of this beauty comes from the Evolution engine. Created by Digital Extremes, it feels like you're playing a slick pre-rendered movie at times. It's just a shame that most of Dark Sector is drowned in, well, darkness; while this creates a moody atmospheric feel, it hides some excellent level design. The action's weighty and visceral - hacking away at your enemy with your razor-sharp glaive (e) before performing a Finisher move slices his arm clean off. Eugh.
We can't help noticing Hayden is a slow walker, mind. Running (hold q) is slightly better, though steering Hayden around enclosed areas is like riding a motorbike - he leans to one side when sprinting.
The best aspect of Dark Sector is the aforementioned glaive. It's a boomerang/sword hybrid that you can fling at enemies (i) while firing your pistol with the other hand (u). This makes for some pretty interesting battles.
Down to your last three bullets and enemies moving in? No worries - a quick prod of i and the glaive swooshes out, chopping one bloke's arm off. Two perfectly aimed headshots take out the other two and finally - as the blade returns back to Hayden - it cuts the last one in half. Ouch.