Dark Void Review

Although I can’t confidently sit here and say that Airtight Games’ Dark Void was sent out to die by Capcom, I can quite confidently sit here and say that slashing their expected sales for the title in half before the game ships is a realisation from the publisher that it wasn’t as great a title as they had once hoped. In a relatively barren January, Capcom was hoping that Dark Void’s lure of jetpack gameplay would be enough to win the hearts of gamers worldwide, when in fact, the game houses some great ideas but reeks of poor execution.

Shhh, I'm one of you. I'm undercover... don't tell anybody.

Dark Void follows the exploits of the generically named William Grey as he sets off on a clichéd sequence of events that see him taking a cargo plane through the Bermuda triangle and ending up fighting for his freedom and the fate of the world in a parallel dimension known as the Void. It is a convoluted plot in reality and one that is only saved from the depths of the obscurity by the Nolan North voiced lead character. North does a fantastic job in giving Will likeable qualities and as he seems to do in every game he’s done to date, gives the character a lot of charm and charisma. The fine performance from North is not only the highlight of the game’s audio aspect, but Bear McCreary’s original score not only equals North’s performance but goes one better. It had a hint of Halo to it at times, which is nothing but a good thing, and it seemed to match the style of the gameplay at every twist and turn. Whilst the sounds of Dark Void were an impressive side of the title, the visuals didn’t have the same desired effect as they consist of epic vistas and huge draw distances, but are let down by bland colours and uninspiring textures.

Unfortunately Dark Void is an extremely slow starter and you’ll spend the first hour just getting to what makes Dark Void a bearable experience; the jetpack. The third person shooter mechanics as they are on their own are sub-standard by today’s expectations. They feel stiff, the aiming seems clunky and Will on the ground is a frustrating experience. Slap a jetpack on him though and the game takes an unexpected turn towards greatness. The only problem is that the game only utilises this aspect on limited occasions, and when it does, you’ll often find yourself doing the same things.

Whilst the game may be a bit of a slow start, the first hour does however introduce a new style of vertical combat that is something that is simple, but effective (and quite surreal actually). This new style of combat switches the axis on its head and you’ll go from fighting on the X-axis to taking down the Void’s inhibiters, the Watchers, on the Y-axis, as you hang from ledges and what not. The only problem is that once you get your jetpack, it completely eradicates the need for these sections and they become another facet of the game that isn’t really utilised enough.

Vertical combat sequences = mild nausea from vertigo

The jetpack mechanics can take a little time to get used to as you’ll often find yourself face planting into walls and getting disorientated when you first get hold of it. When you do grab it by the scruff of its neck though, you’ll be jetpacking out of danger, seamlessly transitioning from air-combat to ground combat and switching from hovering to flying in a way that is not only stylish to watch, but intuitive to control. Mixing that mechanic with combat though is not as accessible as it could have been as you’ll find it hard to hover and take out the drones at the same time. In addition, whilst the flying combat isn’t affected by control issues, it is however marred by unforgiveable repetition that comes in the form of only a handful of enemy types to take out and some horrendously repetitive quick-time-events (QTEs). A little variety in objectives and the combat would have gone down a treat.

Speaking of those oh-so-many and oh-so-repetitive QTEs, there is but a fundamental design flaw in the ship-jacking sequence. Around 50% of the time, the ship you are jacking would either be shot down, instantly killing you, or would crash into a wall, which as you guessed it, instantly killed you. So not only were the QTEs the same for every ship, but there was also the chance you could inadvertently cause Will’s untimely death, thus making them an unnecessary risk. Thankfully Airtight Games did a great job in placing checkpoints throughout the game and if you do come unstuck by this, you’re rarely set back too far.

The lack of variety can be found not only in the combat and mission objectives, but in the arsenal as well, as you’ll find you only have a maximum of 6 weapons at your disposal. While there are standard weapons like a rifle, a plasma rifle and a sniper rifle, there is some interesting alien technology that you can pick up and use, but nothing we haven’t seen before. A few more wacky weapons might have given the combat a fresher feel... oh, that and a couple more enemy types.

Dark Void offers the player the chance to upgrade the weapons if they collect enough “tech points” which can either be picked up off of the dead Watchers, or can be found in stashes around the levels. The upgrades don’t do anything outrageous and instead improve damage, clip size and cooldown times, although you can get rockets for your jetpack which are a hell of a lot of fun. Unfortunately though, the tech points don’t have a habit of always coming to you and picking them up after numerous battles is an artificial way to pad out the length of this already short adventure.

Mastering the jetpack is easily the game's selling point.

Despite the lack of variety in the game’s mechanics, the achievement list shows an uncharacteristic amount of variety and imagination. The list may be fairly easy to rack up 1,000 gamerpoints – although there is an annoying collectible achievement that feels out of place – it’s actually a really fun one to work towards. You’ll be vastly rewarded for the usual mission progression, but the fun points come when you’re trying to fly super close to the water, or when you’re trying to crash into the Watcher’s UFOs with your own hijacked UFO. There are various other weapon achievements that encourage different styles of play, and we commend the thought and time that’s gone into this list. You might not be able to rack all the tech points required to level up all weapons in one playthrough so you may be looking at two, but frankly, achievements are the only thing encouraging a second playthrough.

As a new franchise, Capcom’s Dark Void does a lot of things right and has quite a few nice ideas, and for that we can praise it. However, its shortcomings bring those nice ideas crashing back down to earth. With no replay value and boasting an awkward and sub-standard ground combat mechanic, it’s hard to see how the short 8 hour campaign is going to justify its price tag. There are a few nice set-pieces and the jetpack gameplay is a whole host of fun, but unfortunately that’s not really enough these days. For every moment of brilliance, there is a moment of mind-numbing gun-combat or a repetitive “haven’t I just done this?” moment. Hardly ideal, but with a bit more variety and depth, Dark Void could actually become a half decent franchise, although in a period where first impressions are everything, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Will Grey any time soon.

A great performance by North (can this guy put a foot wrong?) and an impressive score from McCreary. If the supporting cast were as into their performance as North though, the game would have been shooting for the 90’s.

A nice mix of wide open worlds and thin, claustrophobic corridors. The draw distance is impressive but that’s about the only impressive thing. Everything else is rather samey and bland.

The jetpack learning curve is a little steep as you struggle to grasp the controls. After that though, it’s plain sailing. The third person shooter mechanics however are nothing to write home about... unless of course you often write home about your mind-numbing encounters.

Too much repetition for our liking and not enough variation. Relying on a tepid 8 hour campaign to persuade punters to part with their hard earned cash is hardly an ideal sales strategy.

Despite Dark Void being an achievement goldmine, Airtight Games showed a lot of originality and inventiveness with their achievements. If the gameplay boasted the same care and thought as the achievements, we could have been looking at a different final score overall.

Some great ideas that aren’t really implemented as well as we had hoped for. The jetpack is the only thing that is intriguing about the game, but the lack of variety and repetition of certain tasks, means you have to struggle through so much mediocrity to get to it. A slow starter, with a few shining moments, but hardly what I call value for money considering after one relatively short playthrough, Dark Void will be on its way to another home.

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