James Cameron, he's a big name, and he's a big un-charted resource for the new frontier, yes, his hit TV show - Dark Angel - has been made into a console game. The console of choice for this review was, the PS2. I've heard a lot of bad press about Dark Angel here and there but I'm always willing to give anything a good few goes, something in some games out there often appeals to me and in this one I have to admit it's the fact that they used the original character voices and vocal styles of the characters from the TV show.
First Person Shooters are a dime-a-dozen so to speak and thankfully Dark Angel isn't one of those, not as though I have anything against them. I love my FPS game genre as much as the next action fan, but no, DA is a 3rd person action/combat/stealth game along the lines of Syphon Filter meets Street Fighter. Or more recently, Max Payne meets Dead to Rights.
The problem is though, right away, DA isn't anything mind breaking or that new, it's kind of 'ok' which is a shame because the game had potential to be something so much more. That aside, what you do have is an entertaining enough romp through the life of 'Max' the heroine of Cameron's vision and if you don't know about the world of Dark Angel then watch the TV show (The cheque should be in the post, right, Mr Cameron?)
Max's one of a new breed of super-soldiers, trained from a young age, grown in a vat and crossed with the genetic DNA of things like cats etc. It's all very Cameron right from the start. But there's a lot of background for the developers to draw from and this is always a good thing, but as proven by games such as EA's Two Towers, you can have the best looking/sounding action game out there, but if the gameplay is shallow and the whole thing uninspiring, then not even the powers of the gods will save it from the public's terrible wrath.
Frodo come on in, your time is up. So is Max's time up as well? But not Max as in Sam and Max, but Max as in the Dark Angel, she of the super-speed and elite fighting abilities, more seen in games such as Dead or Alive 2 or Soul Calibur but without the bouncing boobies (Ok you at the back, stop tittering)
Max's armed with a range of punches, kicks, throws and tricks to lay the smack on any of the level's foes that attempt to stop her. You progress from level to level following the story, which is pretty much on rails. It kind of reminds me of a more 'Streets of Rage or Fighting Force' style game than anything, with the ability to sneak around and take out guards silently added for the fun of it. There are a few nice features in her stealth mode that rise the game above the mediocrity that could so easily doom it. She has the Rage system too, which allows her to unleash more brutal combat moves, another nice touch but a lot of games now-a-days have that kind of thing in them, I'm all for it.
She can whistle when she's got her back to the wall, which can attract guards to investigate allowing her to immediately kick off the wall and attack them, usually putting pay to a single guard in a quick movement. But the problem is, the combat system isn't as fluid as it should be, it's a king compared to some other so-called fight/action/stealth games and is reasonably fluid - but it lacks after you've played some of the other ones, which is a shame - but it's not going to lose mega points for it.
Where Dark Angel loses points with me is in the story, it's terribly clichéd and has problems right from the start. There's very little in the way of freedom, you're railroaded and the levels themselves are pretty boxed in. When you should be using stealth - you're left thinking sod this, and wading in fists flailing and feet flying, often taking on far too many enemies. But you're Max and you can kick some serious arse thankfully.
Often Logan pops up and explains something to you, ala the Codec style of Metal Gear, which can get right on your nerves when you're trying to sneak around and this berk's yammering in your ear. Which annoys me no end, because usually when you tap the select button to open a comm. Channel to him, he's got about as much useful advice as an Eskimo selling fire insurance.
"Max, the bad guys are after you, you'll need to use stealth."
I know they're after me...it said so in the briefing, and you told me before we started this charade. They were after me, why don't you tattoo it on my ass?
'THE BAD GUYS ARE AFTER ME!'
There, happy now?
Ok...rant over...I'm calm...
So we have an uninspired level design matched with some pretty nice visuals and the game is fluid enough in the animations. The sound is nothing special, but evokes that feeling of brutal bone mashing and combat quite nicely. There are some puzzles, but they're usually, get the Keycard and open the door ones, oh and get the lighter to ignite the barrels. Which equates to the formula.
Get object (A) and use on object (B) = Doom
Why isn't it a Pink Key, or a Polka dot Keycard? Ah well, I guess I can live with that if the game's not trying to tout itself as the new Splinter Cell or Syphon Filter. It really is an exercise in beating the hell out of lots of things, there's no blood and there's no gore (because you don't need those things to make a successful game honestly) and it's good enough for those people who like to mess around with combo attacks, extra super wicky powers and improbably matrix-style martial-arts bullet time. Yes it too has that in it, what game doesn't now?
The main characters are pretty good likenesses, and the graphics overall are nice. Bar the little problem with basic level design and a lack of imagination in that area.
She can pick up and use weapons that are scattered around the levels and there's a plethora of handy pickups. Health and the like, so we're back once again to a more arcade-style game. Great if you like less depth in your Ocean, but not for me. I like something with a bit more bite in it.
The AI is nothing special, but it's adequate, sometimes we found that it's too forgiving of stealth mistakes, and at other times you only have to sneeze on the joypad and Max gets discovered - I kid you not.
My final thoughts are these, Dark Angel is a good game, it's not a mindblower and it's going to appeal to fans of Cameron's show. But the die-hard fanatics of the PS2 are going to give it a wide berth and wait for Splinter Cell to show up or something else. I can already hear the cries of anger from the DA Fanboys out there and I am prepared to face the wrath of a thousand hells for daring to speak my mind over a game, but there you have it. It's not exactly my cup of tea and I'm a fan of this kind of genre, still it has enough in it to be entertaining, if somewhat, shallow.