Dark Void ended up being what we all thought it wouldn’t be: a forgettable action game. Even though the premise is interesting and it comes from a solid heritage the game boils down to being nothing more than standard action that never once feels compelling or that entertaining. Compared to the games that have come out in the past few months and what’s ahead I have a feeling some people may completely forget about Dark Void since the game doesn’t really do anything to make it stick out.
The voice acting from veterans such as Nolan North, Paul Eiding is nice. To my surprise the game has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The last boss battle is cool. Zipping around on a jetpack does have its moments.
Cliché story that as a whole feels a bit spotty at times, especially the ending that tries too hard to set up a sequel. Most of the missions are rather boring as they follow a standard pattern that is almost never broken up. Art direction is bland and the so-so visuals don’t help. Weapon variety is a bit small and as a whole the weapons look and feel a bit weak. You can beat the game in around 6-9 hours and it offers no replay value outside of Trophy/Achievement whoring.
When a new IP launches this generation there may not be a lot of hype for it but there’s always a certain amount of buzz and hope. In this day and age having an original game come out that not only looks interesting but is something that can be considered unique is almost an endangered species of sorts. So when a game like Dark Void comes up there’s bound to be some buzz about it since it’s a Capcom game and we all know how much of a roll Capcom has been on this gen. But even though Dark Void does some interesting things its premise and originality ultimately isn’t enough to save it from being another derivative and unengaging 3rd person action game.
On the surface of things Dark Void seems to have a lot going for it. It comes from a solid developer (Airtight Games who developed the classic Crimson Skies), has an interesting concept, and most importantly the prime gameplay mechanic revolves around a jetpack. We all know how awesome jetpacks can be so zipping around blasting robots in a retro futuristic setting should be one of the best experiences this year right? While flying around in a jetpack is fun it isn’t quite as awesome as it could be and that pretty much sums up Dark Void. It’s ok but just isn’t as much fun as it could be, even with expectations and hype meters set to average.
What ultimately is the main problem of Dark Void is that it has all these incredible ideals and concepts that just never really feel fleshed out or they just resort to being nothing more than what we’re used to. Even the pulp style story, which is broken into episodes, is a bit of a letdown as it boils down to nothing more than a standard retelling of the Chariot of the Gods (aliens helped early human civilization) tale combined with a twist that is ripped out of an episode of Star Trek. The story itself isn’t too horrendous as it does a nice job of building the relationship between Will, he’s the dude zipping around in the jetpack, and his romantic interest Ava.
Besides the relationship between Will and Ava the story is pretty standard with the evil aliens putting down the humans as they attempt to break free of the prison they’re trapped in so they can destroy Earth. The story is pretty cliché ridden, it even has a moment where someone tells the hero he needs to find his true potential, but the writing and voice acting isn’t awful which definitely helps things a bit.
But while the cliché story is acceptable to some degree the clichéd and somewhat uninspiring gameplay isn’t. Not every game can be a complete revolution or evolution of a particular mechanic or genre but everything in Dark Void can be summed up as “meh.” Seriously, while that may be an easy way to peg things it’s the honest truth. The core mechanics of shooting, flying in the jetpack and flying in a vehicle don’t control horrendously and never feel broken, they’re just lacking a certain pop and satisfaction to them that one would expect from shooting a robot in the head with a massive gun or blasting a UFO out of the sky. It also doesn’t help that the majority of the missions can be a complete bore at times with the on-foot sections resorting to nothing more than “go here, press this button, shoot the aliens” from the start of the game until the very end. On the other hand the jetpack missions don’t offer a whole lot of variety or enjoyment either since shooting down an enemy crafts can be a bit troublesome since the character doesn’t have that immediate sense of speed and quickness that one would expect a wearer of a jetpack to have.
I do have to admit that turning upside down or at an angle and seeing the world flip while I was in my jetpack or at the helm of a UFO but that novelty wears off somewhat quickly. This is partly because the airborne battles aren’t that much fun at times. Airtight did a nice job of making you feel like you’re in a massive battle since there are dozens of ship flying about but when it comes to trying to target a enemy ship and take it out there isn’t much fun to be had since the speed of the ship/jetpack once again isn’t that fast and the weapons don’t have that strong of an impact from an audio and visual perspective. But maybe I’m just too spoiled by the buttery goodness that is Warhawk.
Oh and if you hate escort missions then you’re in bad luck as the majority of Episode 2 consists of you protecting people, ships or particular items. Hell, right from the start Episode 2 puts you in a slightly frustrating escort mission as you have to protect a guy from dozens of enemies that are always homing in on either him or you. From there things get slightly more tolerable but once you’ve been tasked with protecting the same transport ship twice in back to back missions you may be pulling your hair out or just wishing the level would end so you can move on.
Even with the somewhat standard and at times extremely boring missions there’s always the hope of unique boss battles. Previously we’ve gotten a tease that Dark Void would feature some huge bosses to battle that would really add an epic scope in the game. Well there are some pretty huge enemies in the game but there are only three of them, one of which is the final boss which is the only battle that ever approaches an epic scale. Up to that point you’re fighting the same floating Watcher Knights which are formidable but by no means will cause you trouble, or the four-legged Watcher mech which is defeated via a QTE sequence that will hardly have you on the edge of your seat.
Besides the jetpack the other big unique selling point for the game is its vertical cover system. Basically this allows the player along with all the enemies in the game to hang onto a ledge, either facing down or up, and pick off enemies while they use the use the rock/platform they’re hanging onto as cover. At first the concept is cool since seeing your character dramatically drop down onto another ledge and continuing blasting robots is rather entertaining. I also must say that seeing the enemies scurry, almost like a primate/bug combination from one platform to the next is something you don’t see in games often and at times was a bit creepy looking.
But eventually after your fifth vertical cover moment the mechanic loses it appeal as it starts to feel pretty basic. Every now and then you’re reminded that yes you are actually on the vertical plane when you see an enemy fall off a ledge and fall towards you but other than that it honestly feels a bit generic. Aside from sections on a destroyed Naval ship and another in a Watcher facility with moving platforms there are never any moments in the game where the vertical cover system really shines or presents the player with a unique challenge or scenario. Hell, even if Airtight Games did game design standby of having debris or other hazards fall towards the player as they ascend an area I would be impressed since there’s never any sense of urgency or danger while in vertical cover aside from smashing the Square button repeatedly to grip onto a ledge if you happen to take too many shots from an enemy.
It’s also a bit odd, and perhaps disheartening that for a portion of the game the vertical cover mechanic completely disappears only to be replaced by the jetpack mechanics. It’s understandable to have game specific segments but there’s never a clear marriage of the vertical cover and jetpack mechanics in the game which is a bit disappointing since it could’ve offered some truly exhilarating and unique gameplay opportunities. The vertical cover system is by far one of the biggest letdowns in the game since for all the pre-release hype it’s gotten it’s still the same cover mechanics we’ve seen in other games just with a few different animations tossed in.
Even the retro chic sci-fi art direction for the game is a bit of a letdown as it doesn’t have a lot of personality behind it. The Watchers have a nice look, even though the standard drone looks like the evil cousin of a Battle Droid from Star Wars, but there’s ultimately not a lot of variety to their ranks or basic architecture. It’s all the same blue/grey steel look comprising of strategically placed crates or wide shafts that happen to have appropriately placed platforms all of which is barren of any uniqueness and interesting focal points. Ultimately nothing in the game really feels like it has an identity or is something you haven’t seen some variation of, either in another game or another sci-fi project.
There are some hints at something more with some of the Watcher designs such as the floating Knight which has a massive tail but besides that the game almost runs the gamut of generic sci-fi designs. Perhaps it may not entirely be the fault of the art design though as the visuals, which are once again a bi-product of Unreal Engine 3, are literally just ok. The actual execution of the visuals are fine as they do an admirable job of pulling off the various locales which range from dense jungles with ancient temples, various Watcher facilities, and massive canyons with rocks that almost shimmer in the sunlight.
It’s not as if the visuals are ugly as there aren’t any aliasing issues or horrific textures. It’s just that the visuals don’t seem to be as sharp as they could be and at times seem to be missing an amount of depth. In fact the visuals are a bit of a mixed bag with the character models such as Will, Ava and the alien form of the Watchers looking rather sharp with a nice amount of details such as nice leather textures and cool moving tendrils. The environments and ships in the game sadly didn’t seem to get the same amount of attention since at times the lack of detail that’s on them almost looks like they’re being presented to us as a raw model. I do have to say that seeing the moving parts of the UFOs were cool with its moving circles but that’s pretty much the highlight of the games visual and design wonders.
Dark Void’s somewhat mixed bag visuals never really brings the game down, except for a few nasty V-sync problems, but the visuals and art design never elevate the game to the level we all thought it would be at. Ultimately the art direction for the game fails to come close to the originality of what we see in games such as Mass Effect along with failing to capture a retro Flash Gordon type vibe. Instead Dark Void is literally in a void of uninspiring art and visuals which is a damn shame considering the concept and the talent involved with the game.
When playing Dark Void I couldn’t help but think how much more the game could’ve been. It has a lot of things going for it such as cool concept and interesting mechanics but both of those things and a host of other creative and gameplay elements brings the game down for being nothing more than just another sub-standard 3rd person action game. When a sci-fi action game that involves the protagonist zipping around on a jetpack fails to get my blood pumping then you know something must be wrong. Instead of getting crazier and more action packed with each level and episode Dark Void simply meanders through a sky of mediocrity.
Looking back at my experience playing Dark Void I think the best way to put it is that the game is like a Roland Emmerich film such as Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow. It may be slightly entertaining but it does nothing new and it never really excels in any category aside from being a good time waster on an afternoon. You can probably finish Dark Void on one afternoon if you’re motivated enough after you endure the mind numbing drivel that is the 2nd episode and once you complete the game there's really no replay factor since there are no additional modes. Dark Void isn’t a horrendous game by any means as its put together nicely and you can tell that Airtight Games were trying but along the way something must’ve happened since Dark Void is far from being the next big Capcom game and sadly it isn’t the new IP savior some were hoping it would be.