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James Cameron's Dark Angel

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:   Radical Entertainment
Publisher:   Sierra/Vivendi Universal
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Action
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Unit
Date Posted:  

3-7-03

It seems we just canít get away from licensed games these days. With an ever increasing glut of name-toting virtual nonsense populating the shelves of your local retailer and Hollywood types like Vin Diesel starting their own videogame companies, it seems weíre finally approaching the point of no return. Luckily for the somewhat less brain-dead among us, a few intrepid game developers have managed to rise above the licensing curse and prove that the purchase of a license doesnít necessarily equal a lousy gaming experience. Unfortunately, the people behind James Cameronís Dark Angel havenít figured that one out yet. Now, donít get me wrong, Dark Angel isnít a bad game (and certainly not so horrible as the pundits seem to suggest); the problem is, it just isnít a good one either. There are just too many flaws in the game to earn it an unqualified defense.

James Cameronís Dark Angel is based on the recently cancelled TV show of like name starring the over hyped Jessica Alba as "Max", a genetically enhanced soldier. As the story goes, Max has broken free from I-Corp, the organization behind her extra-human powers, and is trying to regain her life while avoiding the clutches of the evil corporation (sounds like a metaphor for daily life in post-millennial America if you ask me).

Max fits the pattern of your basic comic book style "super-soldier", which means she can perform "special" attack moves and (according to the literature, if not practical experience) jump higher than your average person. Of course, Iím writing this with tongue firmly planted in cheek Ė this is a character that canít even jump onto, or over, the many knee-high boxes that pepper the game. She also has a series of supposed "stealth" moves (wait till you see these, much less are expected to utilize them to get you through entire levels) to help you avoid the workers, cops, and I-Corp soldiers trying to recapture you. My favorite part of the game was where you get to fight your way through the I-Corp building, and get taken on by a series of increasingly scrawny and nerdy lab-rat/computer geek types. In fact, the squirmiest one turns out to be the most persistent, consistently running to the fore of the action, and blocking your way to the actually threatening soldiers with some amusing old fashioned fisticuff moves! I donít think I laughed this hard at a video game since I had to review The Scorpion King!

Continuing with the recent trend towards "authenticity" in licensed gaming, major players from the cast of the TV show provide voices for characters in the game. So that really is the voice of Jessica Alba making all those moronic pseudo-feminist wisecracks as Max, and that really is Michael Weatherly giving patently useless advice (better ignored than attended to, 9 times out of 10) as Logan. Going by the literature, Logan is there to provide you with information that may be helpful to your mission, and to explain how to use objects once theyíve come into your possession. Of course, the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. In fact, paying too much attention to his "advice" can result in some needless game resets. If he calls for "using stealth", youíre probably better served by taking the straightforward approach, and charging in like a bull in a china shop. With few exceptions, "kick ass and take names" is the order of the day, since you are forced to beat the crap out of every single opponent in a level in order to get the doohickey you need (be it lighter, key card, C4 explosive, or what have you) to proceed to the next stage anyway. Thereís near zero strategy involved, and not only is the "stealth" maneuvering nonsensical (scrunching up against a wall or crouching in plain sight doesnít exactly qualify as expert thievery technique in my book), but you then get to jump out of your "stealth" mode to break victimís necks (or shoot them dead with an electrical "stealth gun"), only to find that guys standing mere feet away from this whole scenario donít notice a thing wrong. This sort of thing reaches new heights of absurdity when their pals are standing directly in front of them, quivering like an inmate in the electric chair, and they walk right up to them, spin around and walk away like nothing happened! Nonetheless, Dark Angel really tries to push the stealth angle, increasingly forcing you to make use of these nonsensical maneuvers to make your way through later levels.

Graphically speaking, the game isnít exactly the prettiest thing being offered for the Xbox. Character models could have been done better or refined further, given the standard of quality Xbox games have been held to, to date. The bottom line is, Dark Angel missed its mark in gaming history by about 2 years Ė as a new release for the Sega Dreamcast, it would have been at least standard, if not jaw dropping. As an Xbox gameÖeh. No real complaints, but certainly no kudos here.

Save points in Dark Angel appear to have been selected randomly by a retarded monkey - they never seem to fall at any logical point in gameplay. While the general rule of thumb is that saves are given at completion of a given level, some levels are extremely small (one minor event in a one room setting comprises one level) while others (such as your various excursions into I-Corp HQ) are contrastingly enormous, consisting of several difficult stages. Case in point: Max is given a save after beating up three guys in her apartment. However, despite your making your way deep into at least 2 separate levels of I-Corp, consisting of several difficult "use stealth" stage/maneuvers apiece, you donít get to save until the very end of each (in the second, you actually work your way to, and past, a bossÖthen get to do another stage or two before saving!). Outrageous horsecrap produced under the auspices of the clown who brought us such beloved gems of American trash culture as Terminator II and Titanic.

Highs:

  • Despite the fact that the visuals are decidedly substandard for an Xbox game, character models are not overly unattractive. In fact, the lead character proves considerably more appealing than the television personality she is modeled on. While the virtual Max may wear some of the same cheesy outfits and have the sensual full lips of Ms. Alba, the folks at Sierra have thankfully passed on absolute authenticity with regards to her weird looking pop-eyes, chubby cheeks and somewhat odd overall figure. This has led many to complain that the lead character "looks nothing like" her real-life counterpart. Yeah, sure. As if this were a bad thing.
  • Of course, slavering fans of the real deal can slobber over her in the cheesy extras. Only the most ardent devotees need apply.

Lows:

  • Jackson Pollock-like placement of saves. Maybe they could get themselves some overly creative P.R. representation, and market the game as post-modern art.
  • Utter lack of common sense. Try ducking behind a crate or squeezing up against a wall the next time the pigs raid your party, and see how good Dark Angel-style "stealth" maneuvers do you in the real world.
  • A decidedly low-rent beat Ďem up posing as the next Metal Gear Solid

Final Verdict: 

You have to wonder if the development team behind Dark Angel rushed the game out as soon as word got around that the TV series was going to be cancelled (well, OK, no wondering about it, but thatís besides the point). Logic follows that anybody who sunk their hard earned dollars into this sinking ship would want to make back anything they could before John Q. Public moved on to the next crap trend the media foisted on Ďem and forgot the damn show even existed. And thatís really all there is to say, isnít there. The manual has you thinking youíve bought into some great gaming experience, but we all know how much to trust advertisement.

Despite everything, Dark Angel, much like the equally brain-dead Baldurís Gate, manages to be ripping good fun almost in spite of itself. By all standards of logic, craftsmanship, and gameplay, both games are nothing more than subpar crap; and yet, somehow, there is an "x" factor in there that makes it almost work. Then again, maybe I was just drunk playing them, who knows. In any case, I cannot with any good conscience recommend Dark Angel to any but the most diehard of action platformer or bad TV fans. Iím just trying to reiterate what I said at the beginning: it ain't as bad as everyone seems to be making out. And maybe thatís good enough your $20.

Overall Score: 5.5

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