Dark Void Review
Dark Void tries some new things with the genre but not everything works out as planned
Dark Void is third person action shooter with a few twists on the standard cover and combat mechanics you see in similar games. You play as Will Grey an aircraft pilot that is lost in the ‘void’ when flying through the Bermuda Triangle with a good friend. The void is a border world between Earth and the planet of a hostile alien race supplying equipment to the Axis powers prior to World War 2. These alien creatures want to get through to Earth and Will, voiced by Nolan North, will naturally try to stop this from happening.
Eva is the love interest but she holds her own in a fight
Most characters are forgettable but Nolan North performs amicably although he isn’t given brilliant material. He is accompanied by Eva with whom he has romantic history and this history opens up throughout the game. Dark Void feels like a mixture of Gears of War, Lost Planet and Tribes although generally not a competent match to each individually. The jetpack is hard to control, the shooting is not always brilliant and the presentation is lacking. Dark Void makes up for its flaws by being more than the sum of its parts but the game still doesn’t reach its potential. The Jetpack is one such example of good potential wasted.
The main calling card for Dark Void is certainly the Jetpack but it’s a shame that only toward the end did I feel in control of it. During the first 5 hours of the game I felt at the mercy of this rocket pack and maybe with some luck I could do some damage while it was whisking me around. The pack accelerates Will so aggressively at launch that you will likely die a few times colliding into things on take-off. Once in air flight control can be cumbersome with Will taking too much of the jetpack’s momentum making it hard to aim and manoeuvre. It’s best to use the breaks for aiming and turning but you’ll want to stay mobile to avoid being shot out of the sky by UFOs. Aerial movement is better with a controller but aiming is superior with the mouse so either way you will have some frustration. When not fighting alien aircraft in the air you might be using the jetpack for some simple hovering.
You can use the jetpack to float downwards and early on this is the only way to use the pack. It’s introduced by getting you to float across chasms or reach other areas. Floating from above enemies and shooting feels not unlike Tribes although you don’t stay in the air for as long and it certainly doesn’t have quite the same visceral speed. Even still with the combination of weapons and this descent into action it can become the highlight of some action segments. When using the Jetpack in open air you can take control of enemy UFOs which provide some extra defense before they are damaged beyond repair. The open areas where you use the jetpack and UFOs are a little restrictive which makes for some awkward air travel.
Dancing with lizard creatures is optional
Using Unreal Engine 3 the game looks fairly good but for some locations the jetpack feels a bit too fast for the world size. Whether it’s ascending on the inside of a tower to turn a switch on or flying between canyons the boundary is regularly too close for the speed of the jetpack. If you go out far enough Will simply turns around and heads backwards. One particular escort mission featured some relatively tight aerial battles in cave like areas and it started getting a bit too uncomfortable to really get out and attack enemy fighters. When not on the Jetpack you’ll probably be on a cliffside engaging in some fire fights with cover.
Dark Void is just as much a shooter as it is an aerial game and like many third person shooters you can use cover. Unlike most other shooters though you frequently use what is called vertical cover. Will might be hanging on the edge of a cliff or on the side of a freighter precariously positioned or even inside an alien craft. The vertical cover looks a little poor in terms of animations and doesn’t provide marked gameplay differences aside from zooming between cover spots. It is nice to frequently see enemies you just destroyed float passed you or even better cook a grenade and have it explode mid air just next to one of your robot foes. Vertical cover is a slight but interesting change to the gameplay but the weapons remain fairly standard for the genre.
Weapons seem fairly well balanced and the grenades themselves are fun to use. Most enemies you fight are robot type creatures who aren’t very intelligent. You’ll also deal with a few boss type creatures that require some Quick Time Events defeat although this is fairly minimal. Standard foes fortunately move behind cover appropriately even if you take to the air and try to flank them. On a few occasions the AI would stand frozen in place waiting for me to end their pain. A standard machine gun weapon and a few plasma weapons will make up the majority of your arsenal with usually well distributed ammo to keep you well stocked. Grenades along with being useful make for a satisfying light and sound show. Although the combat is generally fun there are some flaws that reduce the overall experience.
Incorrectly Dark Void tells you to press A and D, you will die if you do
Dark Void makes a lot of mistakes and it does so frequently enough for it to become a problem. Early in the game one of the very few puzzles asks you to shoot a panel and then rewire it. Later in the game this exact same panel does nothing when shot and just needs rewiring. Then there is the button mashing which tells you to press “A and D” when doing so will have you instantly killed. Instead you are meant to press A or D to avoid a huge beam of energy. You will also get scripted audio messages about enemy vessels even after you destroyed them. These combined with the obtrusive aerial controls make it hard to enjoy the game to its fullest.
Dark Void takes a lot of ideas from successful games and mashes them together in a way that makes it fairly fun. The capture sequence from Half-Life 2 is almost shamelessly stolen but it doesn’t hurt the game as much as you might think. What I like about Dark Void is that the flaws are clearly holding back a game that has potential. The setting, the jetpack and and even the cheesy vertical cover are examples of some twists being attempted on the genre. Combining shooting and aerial combat would have worked if the controls were better and the presentation was a little more fluid.
Sadly the game doesn't end flying into the sunset
Know that Dark Void is a game worth playing despite the flaws in controls and combat. It does enough to warrant a sequel because at least it is trying to do something interesting with the third person genre and there are moments it succeeds. If you are patient with clumsy aerial combat and don’t mind something that feels incredibly generic most of the time then its time to strap on the jetpack.