Sometimes Old Is Old, Sometimes Old Is New: Geflon Don Looks at Dark Sector and Space Invaders Extreme

Some video games are timeless.

Pac Man, for instance, is as fun today as it was 20 years ago because of its simple and clean premise. Handled with care, a well-worn genre game, polished up, can bare new, sweet gaming fruit. Lazy development, on the other hand, proves the old adage: garbage in, garbage out.

Gears of War, arguably the current king of the third-person shooter, did the videogame industry a disservice. After it went triple platinum in sales, developers followed the money train, blind in their attempt to advance the reborn genre. The result is Dark Sector, which offers little more than a reminder of why Gears was so great.

The story isn’t very compelling. In Dark Sector, the gamer is weary CIA operative, Hayden Tenno (voiced by Michael Rosenbaum), placed within a mysterious Eastern bloc nation that hides a secret dating back to the cold war. Tenno is quickly infected by a biological agent which alters his right arm and grants him the ability to throw a boomerang-like weapon called a glaive. Tasked with stopping the mutation, Tenno must unravel the mystery behind the disease.

The main gameplay gimmick is the use of the glaive. It’s thrown directly at foes before making a painfully slow-arch return to the protagonist. Beyond the glaive’s offensive capabilities, it’s also used to solve various puzzles.

Unfortunately, Dark Sector is actually more fun before the introduction of this device. Prior to the characters alteration, the gamer is free to use various weapons scattered throughout the level to dispense with adversaries. Post change, however, the game penalizes players who use found weapons by making them capable of sensing Tenno’s mutation and exploding in his hands. Gamers are forced to use the glaive as their primary tool. This is unfortunate, as enemies can feel nearly indestructible, as Dark Sector’s hit detection is poor. The situation is improved over time as you upgrade but when forced to use the glaive for many of the puzzle situations, most players will stick to using the relatively weak pistol – the only weapon you can use in conjunction with the glaive.

Dark Sector tosses you into the action without much fanfare or assistance either. The game fails to teach players the required mechanics, forcing gamers to resort to using the manual to learn basic moves. In term of graphics and on a positive note there are some beautiful lighting effects and lens flairs as brief visits to courtyards and city streets occasionally make the game come alive. Unfortunately, the majority of gameplay takes place in darkened alleys and underground facilities that look and feel similar to other, better games.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Space Invaders Extreme has no real plot to speak of and the basic game mechanics need no introduction. Aside from a few clever tweaks, this game plays exactly like the game you remember from 30 years ago – and still succeeds.

Space Invaders Extreme is still the mother of modern shooters, pitting the player against unceasing waves of alien invaders. The controls are simple: left, right and shoot but despite the simplicity, the game remains ridiculously challenging and compelling. The developers have included a few modern touches including boss fights and power-ups, with the most significant of these additions being a rhythm-beat that matches the tempo of the aliens annihilated, in effect allowing the player to alter the soundtrack. It’s an immersive additive in an already immersive game.

Space Invaders Extreme is vibrant and alive with colour. The new additions are a nice touch but all play as supportive elements to the main component: gameplay. It’s not burdened by an overwrought story, it’s easy for anyone to pick up and play and challenging enough that mastery requires real skill.

Space Invaders Extreme, old as it is, feels like a labour of love for the developers. Care and attention are deeply imbued within each pixel. They understood why this game was always special, modernizing it without mucking up a formula that clearly worked.

Dark Sector, despite borrowing heavily from a successful genre, is a frustrating experience. Workmanlike in feel, it falls flat with leaden story elements and botched gameplay. It brings nothing new to the table. I’ll be deeply surprised if it ever receives the Space Invaders treatment 30 years from now.

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