Take to the alien skies with Dark Void

Dark Void is a videogame with a great deal of promise. When I first heard this game described, I couldn’t have been more excited. A pulp adventure set in the Bermuda Triangle with alien technology, Tesla inventions, and jet packs! An Indiana Jones-like hero fighting the good fight against Battlestar Galactica-style foes out to conquer the world! Wow, that’s right up my alley. Or so I thought.

When the first reviews started coming in, things started to seem a bit different. I got a bit worried. The scores on most of the reputable sites didn’t look too good, and most of the reviewers I trust didn’t seem to have enjoyed themselves. So I nervously awaited getting my hands on a copy, fearful that I was going to be disappointed.

Up, Up and Away

When I began playing, things didn’t exactly go well. For the most part, Dark Void is a third-person, over-the-shoulder style shooter. That is, it is for about two thirds of the game. The other portion of the game involves aerial combat in either ships or, more importantly, with a jetpack. And, the game throws you into the jetpack right away, as the very first thing you do. Without explanation, you are piloting a jetpack, shooting down opponents without really knowing why. While I was grooving on the flashbacks to The Rocketeer, I was disconcerted, as anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that flying in games is usually a bad thing for me. I often have a difficult time with flying controls, and frequently don’t enjoy it. This was looking to be no exception, and that had me worried that the bad reviews I had seen were coming to fruition in my gaming experience.

That initial interlude is just that, an interlude, and shortly I was beginning the game proper. This had the more traditional cutscenes setting up character, place, etc. And, I wasn’t flying. It wasn’t long before I was walking through jungle pathways with gun in hand. This was feeling more comfortable. I have recently been playing games like Dragon Age: Origins, Borderlands, and Mass Effect 2, and at first I felt like I was being railroaded down the only available path. I had gotten used to those other games’ openness. But, once I got over that, the gameplay reminded me of all the fun I had playing Halo 3, with its much more linear storytelling style. And that’s certainly not a bad comparison.

There were also few things that I felt were odd with the storytelling early on. First of all, your regular-Joe character picks up an alien weapon and instantly is comfortable using it. Then, the weapon upgrade screen informs you that Tesla is in the game before you actually meet him, spoiling the reveal a bit once you do. Also, as with many games these days, there are objects to collect, in this case journal entries left by others previously caught in the Bermuda Triangle. I had recently played Batman: Arkham Asylum, where I loved collecting all the Riddler clues. Dark Void, however, doesn’t give you access to maps of where these journals are (until your second playthrough), so staying vigilant for those often kept me from being fully immersed in the actual story. From these small points, and others, my early experience was not exactly winning me over, and I could clearly see why reviewers were not won over by this title.

Changing Minds

All that began to change as I got further into the game. Once past the tutorial portion that walks you through basic controls for shooting, cover, etc., you are introduced to the piece de resistance of this game: its vertical cover system. Instead of just walking through the jungle, or ancient ruins, or even alien ships as you progress through the game, you also get the opportunity to move up and down in those environments. Often, this takes the form of climbing up or down a cliffside from rock outcroppings or constructed ledges.

Frequently enemies are coming at you from the other direction, attempting to catch you or impede your progress. This dynamic, basically standing the basic cover mechanic on its head, is much more than the sum of its parts, and represents the aspect of the game that ultimately got me hooked. I really enjoyed moving up and down, from ledge to ledge, taking cover and vying for angles to get the best shot at my foes. I even found that moving up to just below where an enemy was located allowed me to make spectacular melee attacks and often throw them from the vertical space in a very satisfactory and cinematic style.

Through the vertical cover system, which is frequently employed in Dark Void, I was able to move past the negative press generated on the game’s release and really have a great deal of fun.

The game is not perfect, however. There are boss fights, some of which are on the ground and others of which are aerial. These are fine, but a bit lackluster. Dark Void does employ well-crafted cutscenes, but occasionally these are implemented in a way that makes you watch the big final moment of a fight, instead of actually completing it yourself. There is also a hover mode on your jetpack that allows you to take to the sky to rain down death upon enemies hiding in cover without having to fully take flight. I found while playing through, however, that I rarely needed to do that. It’s a cool feature, but it often went unused.

Final Analysis

Overall, Dark Void takes pieces from number of other excellent games that have come before it, adds a vertical cover system that is really quite impressive, and ends up as a decidedly B-level game. Instances of poor storytelling and ineffectively implemented mechanics keep this title from really shining. The initial promise of a transcendent pulp jetpack game is not fully realized here. That said, I do not believe that this game is nearly as bad as many initial reviews claimed. I had quite an enjoyable time playing it once I got over my expectations and experienced the game for what it is.

In a season of amazing, stand-out gaming releases, this game will probably not be one that you run right out and pay full price for. And, my experience with it leads me to conclude you probably shouldn’t. However, once you are through the glut of great games currently coming out, and you are looking for a good, fun game that you missed amid all the hoopla, you could do far worse than spending some time in the Bermuda Triangle fighting aliens and saving the world. And, the promise still looms large for what the developers might accomplish in a follow-up. That could be truly epic, indeed.

Product Details

  • Dark Void
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Note: This game is based on a review copy of the Xbox 360 game
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