Review by Skinny Minnie and Toger
Minnie's Xbox Skinny
I get my kicks playing games, so when a certain Xbox review copy
hit my desk, I took a shot in the dark. I went where angels fear
to tread. I played Dark Angel.
Supposedly based upon the now-defunct TV show and featuring the
voiceovers of its stars Jessica Alba and Michael Weatherly, Dark
Angel features Max, a genetically altered, futuristic AWOL
soldier and her underground, cyberjournalist buddy Logan Cale.
Playable character Max pummels her way through over twenty levels
trying to bring down every member of the inexplicably evil military
entity called I-Corp, with Logan interrupting every ten minutes
to transmit annoying, wearisome, useless information to her. The
setting is postapocalyptic Seattle, and I-Corp is supposedly a
new branch of Manticore, the military group that created Max and
other soldiers like her.
I never watched the show, and the game doesn't explain how Max
escaped her military service or why every living, breathing being
within a thousand miles of her instantly recognizes her and wants
her dead, period. After a beautiful but uninformative opening
cutscene, you take control of Max in the third person, and by
her third step on the postapocalyptic pavement, she is being punched,
kicked, dragged and thrown by droves of enemy clones.
Max does begin with a lot of cool moves, and you will
unlock more of them as the game progresses. Her moves are very
smooth for a 3D, third-person gaming protagonist. If you're the
type who flips over hand-to-hand combat and fancy physical maneuvers
(with little else going on), Dark Angel may be for you.
Personally, the last game I played with punching and kicking in
it was Omikron
in 1999, and I'm still within backward shouting distance of
the "where the hell did the vertical plane go?" stage
of console gaming, so maybe it's just me. Nevertheless, cool though
Max's karate kicks may be, they wore thinner than a chopstick
after about five missions.
Conversations are limited to Logan's incessant, "Security
is heavy in this sector; be careful, Max" and Max's sarcastic,
end-of-fight-scene comments to dead baddies like, "You're
done already? I was just getting started!" or "You've
really gotta get to the gym more often." The voiceovers themselves
aren't bad, but there's no story here and no interaction with
baddies whatsoever aside from kicking, smacking, or hurling them
around 'til they're dead (unless they do the same to Max first).
There is precious little interaction with the environment, either.
Outside of a cool high jump to about four total second-story ladders
during the whole game, Max is unable even to perch upon a knee-high
box for a breather.
Adventure elements are limited to picking up purple, glowing
objects like health packs, tonfas and door pass cards that merely
lead to the next fight scene, which only appear after the last
baddie in an area is felled. I once found a radio instead, and
while fiddling with it in inventory to see if I could fake a call
to I-Corp's home office for a pizza, Max put it down on the ground
where it immediately melded with a wall it was leaning up against.
Unable to pick it up again, I moved on, and it seemed to have
no effect on the game's outcome.
The dreary, repetitive scenes themselves are decently rendered
if slummy and militant looking. Graffiti mars the punky alleyways
and streets, while darkened halls, buildings, bridges and ships
harbor similar crates, oil barrels and police cars.
Colors are drab and areas so similar that you might lose your
way if not for Dark Angel's extremely scripted and linear
nature. You're forced down very narrow paths, often with little
choice as to how you can successfully complete an area's objective.
Throwing switches to deactivate surveillance cameras or computers
is about as interesting as those objectives get, too, and they're
sandwiched between droves of enemies that tend to attack relentlessly
with the same limited moves (except for a few bosses, who themselves
are quite similar). Logan suggests stealth in various areas, and
Max does have a cool, Splinter Cell-esque sneak-up-behind-an-enemy-and-snap-his-neck
move, but oftentimes the camera angles are so bad (especially
near walls or in narrow confines) that you can't see other baddies
until they have spotted Max and set off alarms. Once the alarms
are wailing, a timer immediately counts down the limited seconds
until reinforcements arrive, at which point it is game over. The
camera also has the annoying habit of giving a tilted, overhead
view that only makes matters worse and lessens visibility even
more. You can only save at certain checkpoints, which often are
too sparsely placed to avoid major backtracking. I ultimately
still had two minor boss fights and four major boss fights to
go when I started scouring the web for cheat codes, just to get
this repetitive slog of a game over with. I came up dry, and were
it not for a teenaged console junkie's volunteering to switch
off failed levels with me, I probably never would have seen the
uninspiring ending scenes.
The music is good and sound effects are limited but okay. However,
not much could rescue the overall redundancy of the action and
the high frustration level (due to poor camera angles and having
to constantly repeat levels due to timeouts) of Dark Angel.
The only thing saving this game from cornpoop is Max's smooth
moves, and this game is a rotten egg even at that.
Toger's PS2 Play-by-Play
I have a confession to make. I didn't finish the game I'm about
to review. Shocking, isn't it? Read on, dear reader, and know
Ten years after terrorists have unleashed the Pulsean electromagnetic
shockwavethe US has become a Third World nation. Martial
law is the standard of the day and armed soldiers patrol the streets
to keep order.
Max is one of several genetically enhanced humans created and
trained by the Manticore Corporation to be the perfect soldier.
After witnessing one of her siblings killed, she and several others
escape from Manticore; each going their own separate ways to avoid
While operating as a cat burglar, she meets Logan Cale, an underground
cyberjournalist and hacker. Together, they bring about the destruction
The game's events take place after the downfall of Manticore.
The I Corporation, another company researching and developing
genetically engineered soldiers, has identified Max as a viable
genetic sample and has made her capture its number-one priority.
Let's talk about the voice work, shall we? Did the actors pull
an all-nighter before recording their voices for this game? Perhaps
they hadn't had their morning caffeine injection yet. Whatever
the reason, the voice work for Dark Angel was horrible.
Dialogue delivered by the "stars" was so emotionless
as to be sleep-inducing. The voiceovers for the various and sundry
enemies had more emotion than these two. And while I'm at it,
let me mention the lame one-liners that Max delivers just before
taking on a new set of enemies ... On second thought, forget
I mentioned it.
Dark Angel is played in the third person, with the camera
located just behind Max's shoulder. Well, most of the time that's
the view. Other times, I'm not quite sure what the view is supposed
to be, as the camera appeared to have been attached to the bottom
of the Goodyear blimp as it soared high over Yankee Stadium. During
what I call "balloon on a string" view, it was impossible
to see if any soldiers were lurking around corners or hidden in
the alleys created by all the crates littering the landscape.
(Why exactly are all those crates and boxes lying about?
Are the longshoremen and truckers on strike?)
For the most part DA is hand-to-hand combat with the occasional
opportunity to pick off the patrols with a stealth/stun gun. (I
have to say when using the stealth gun it was very entertaining
to see these guys dance in a web of blue light.) Max is able to
achieve an astonishing array of moves by pounding the heck out
of the square, X, triangle and circle buttons. Included among
her repertoire: head kicks, back flips, aerial side rolls, jabs,
spin kicks and the ever-popular "ball breaker" (yep,
that's what it's called and that's what it does). My favorite
move was sneaking up behind someone and using a chokehold to quietly
take out the I-Corp minion. What I couldn't understand was why
Max couldn't climb over the hundreds of crates and boxes just
sitting around. Curiously enough, even though she can make a four-foot
or higher jump to grab the end of a ladder, she can't jump higher
than the curb anywhere else.
Once you've played about five missions, and I'm being generous
here, you've pretty much seen the entire gamesneak, kick/punch/choke
some soldiers, pick up a keycard, open the gate. Rinse and repeat.
On occasion, you'll need to blow open a locked door with the conveniently
dropped packet of C4 explosive. In this game, you'll never be
at a loss of what to do or where to go as the developers lead
you by the nose ... er, hand throughout the entire game, even
going so far as to flash a picture of what you'll need when you
During some combat sequences, the game will highlight some of
Max's moves by showing them in slow motion a la Max Payne or
The Matrix. I'll admit it was cool to watch, at first,
but quickly got annoying later as it interrupted the flow of the
Speaking of annoying, let's talk about the "help" that
Logan gives during the missions. At the beginning of each mission,
you'll receive a transmission from Logan providing back-story
for the mission. During missions, he can and will contact Max
with information that he feels she needslike telling her
she's halfway there. I cannot begin to tell you how irritating
it was to be in the heat of combat and have to stop to receive
a worthless transmission from Logan! On the upside, if you ignore
the transmission icon long enough, it will go away.
Dark Angel also incorporates some stealth elements. I
say some, 'cause just between you and me the stealth elements
didn't always work. Maybe it's just me, but how can you sneak
off the top of a train, being patrolled by moving light sensors,
when the only move open to you from the top of the train is a
double somersault in the tuck position (naturally). And you can't
peer over the side of the train to check the position of the roving
lights? Where's the stealth in that? Getting off that train is
simply a matter of I-hope-the-light-isn't-aimed-at-the-bottom-of-the-ladder-when-I-do-my-dismount.
(Do I score a 10 for that dismount?)
There's a stealth meter incorporated in the game to give you
an indication of how close you are to being seenit ranges
from blue, meaning all clear, to red, which is just before they
cart you off in cuffs. The stealth aspect is, at best, iffy. You
never really know if an enemy will truly see you, and when it
does the meter progresses to red so quickly you have no chance
of saving yourself.
The AI for Dark Angel is ... interesting, to say the least.
For instance, I discovered if I stood in a doorwayjust enough
to trigger the door to open but not step across the thresholdI
could target and take out a bad guy with the stealth gun. (And
I mean stand in the doorway, not just peeking around the corner.)
His companions might notice him doing the electric slide and come
to investigate. Then again, they might not. You really never know
unless you play the level over and over and over again. As is
Visually, the game was decent, although the character sets for
the bad guys were so limited I was beginning to think they were
all clones. I especially liked the shadows cast when Max, or anyone
else for that matter, stood within view of a light source. The
shadow would darken or fade based on the distance of the light.
Dark Angel's music was suitably rocking and not at all
intrusive. To tell the truth, I didn't notice it for the most
Now you understand why I didn't finish the game. I probably got
very close to the end, but I just couldn't endure it any longer.
The wretched camera angles, the lackluster level design and the
repetitious gameplay were more than I could take for a full 25
missions. If it weren't for the music, halfway decent graphics
and Max's cool moves, this game would have garnered the FFC pile
o' cornpoop. As it is, it's nothing more than the rotten egg.
If you're a fan of the Dark Angel TV series, maybe you
should just wait and buy the first season DVD set. However, if
you're a bona-fide, die-hard fan and must have all things Dark
Angel, at least wait until the game hits the bargain bins;
which should be in about 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...
Release Date: December 2002
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