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ups: Great fighting engine; quirky quips; fabulous music and character acting.
downs: Lame environments with little interaction; less than challenging goals.

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James Cameron's Dark Angel Review (PS2, Xbox)
game: James Cameron's Dark Angel
two star
posted by: Monica Hafer
publisher: Sierra
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Feb 9th, 2003
last revision: 02:58 PM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

In the last year alone I have complained ad nauseam about the lack of love given to the fighting engines on action/adventure and fighting games. I even started getting sick of hearing myself say it (and that\'s saying a lot, as I love to hear myself talk). After almost despairing, I finally pop in a game where the fighting is wonderful. I have tons of different combos to chose from and more to unlock-all carried out in a smooth and intuitive style that\'s a joy to witness and kick ass with. There is only one problem. The game surrounding the fighting can be summed up in one word-lame.

James Cameron\'s Dark Angel has a great plot, taken straight from the television series and augmented for the game to keep it new. The heroine of our story is Max, a genetically enhanced soldier who was created to be a weapon of destruction, but escaped from that life as a child and now, as an adult, attempts to reconnect with other children from the project while simultaneously trying to take down the evil -I- Corp. The backdrop of this story is the streets of post-apocalyptic Seattle, and Max\'s friend, cyber-journalist and dissident Logan Cale, helps to navigate her through her numerous struggles to defeat the evil and monolithic -I- Corp. Both Jessica Alba and Michael Weatherby have returned to narrate their characters in the game to add authenticity.

Along with a solid storyline, Dark Angel also has one of the coolest fighting engines I\'ve seen in a while. It has tons of punch-kick combos along with some great grappling moves thrown in. And with the \"rage meter\" fully activated, more moves can be unlocked. The fighting is getting much closer to a Tekken feel, which I\'ve been impatiently waiting for in action/adventure games. Added to that are great wall attacks, aerial side rolls, and flips that make playing Max just like starring in a John Woo...er...James Cameron film. Max also has stealth moves where she can sneak, roll, and hang from the ceiling (where she can also get an enemy in a leg scissor lock to defeat them). During fights, Max can target lock on an enemy, which is very handy to use when one of the characters has a gun and you need to take them out first (if you don\'t use the target lock to specify a target, Max has a tendency to want to fight with those in front of her rather than pursuing a more necessary target). She walks, she runs, she jumps, she rolls, she kicks butt...all the while letting out quips that (shock of all shocks) are really cool and don\'t get so annoying you want to throw the controller. So with all of this, what\'s not to love about Dark Angel?

The game surrounding all this coolness is extremely weak. It gives you section objectives, provides you with a map, has the seemingly omniscient help of Logan to call on, then also tells you what items to use and where to use them with its icon system. Added to that, the game has very specified/limited routes and almost no interactivity with the environment. Sure, you can kick dumpsters (yippee!), but there are objects which you should theoretically be able to jump up on, but the game won\'t even let you do that! The section levels are very small and contained and have a limited amount of creativity needed to get through. The stealth function is all well and good, but when you kill an enemy he disappears, so there\'s no body to be discovered. On top of that, the environment is so simple that there isn\'t really a lot of cover. Finally, you\'re told where you need to use your stealth, so there\'s no personal volition as to whether or not the situation calls for it. For the most part, it is already decided whether or not you will be discovered immediately or if your goal is to sneak around to complete your objective. Extremely limited, non-interactive environments with no volition in gameplay is an insane premise at this stage in gaming. Had I never seen Tomb Raider, Metal Gear, or Hitman, it might be ok, but I know what is possible, and this falls so short of it (with the exception of the fighting engine) as to make me think I\'m playing something off a system that is several generations old. And that\'s one of the worst insults I can think of applying to a game.

The graphics are only average, which is puzzling considering that the environments were so small that they really didn\'t have a large scope of things to deal with. One would think, with such a limited environment, that some fabulous detail would be a given. Shows what I get for assuming, huh? The Xbox version is a bit clearer and more defined than the PS2, but that is more of a system issue than design, per se. The camera is solid and responsive, which is good for a fighting game, but the environment doesn\'t really give you much that would challenge the camera, so that isn\'t really a surprise. The 3rd person view is pulled back enough to allow six or seven people to fight on screen comfortably, but other than that, there isn\'t much to tell on the camera issues.

So as not to leave out some of the other pluses of the game, I\'ll mention a few things that are indeed positive (in case there is a sequel in the works). The inventory menu is easy to access (although it would be nice to have a hot-slot for weapons and health). The sound effects are great and the character acting is very well done. There are also some nice extras on the disc. It contains interviews with cast members, James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee, and snips of convention Q&A in Japan. It also features seventy-four pages of the new Dark Angel novel, Before the Dawn, as well as a photo gallery (mostly Jessica Alba pics).

In summary, perhaps what makes me most irate is that this game has so much potential. The storyline is great, the fighting is awesome, the music is beautiful and encompasses a full range of mood and genre, and the feeling that is created through the cut-ins, quips from Max, and the slow-mo battle segments makes the game a huge tease when the rest of what makes a game great is missing. I can\'t tell you the depths of my despair when I realized that the gameplay wasn\'t going to get any better, and that even though I had all these awesome skills as Max, the game really wasn\'t going to require that I use them. I think that the low star rating is inversely proportionate to the amount of wasted potential I perceive this game to have. It really could have been one of the best gaming experiences I\'ve had in a while. As it is, I leave it hoping that if we see this title again, its next installment will deliver on the promises that this game couldn\'t keep.