I’m a Rocketman, baby
Again and again, I discover great gems that didn’t get a whole lot of hype upon release and for whatever reason seemed to just quickly fade into obscurity regardless of quality. Dark Void is such a game. The debut title of new developer Airtight Games, Dark Void promised to be a unique third person action game with a jetpack, alien robots and a sci-fi plot. Unfortunately, the game seems to have been completely and utterly ignored by gamers at large. So now over a year after its initial release, is Dark Void worth a look or were the gaming public right to ignore it? Read on.
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, a cargo delivery pilot named Will Grey prepares to leave on a transatlantic flight from the Bahamas to Britain when he discovers an old flame named Ava will be joining him on the flight as a passenger. All seems fine until Will’s cargo plane flies over the Bermuda Triangle.
Soon a storm breaks out, a strange UFO is seen and the interments go haywire and the plane is ripped apart, killing Will’s co-pilot and leaving Will and Ava to crash land on a seemingly deserted, tropical island.
Will and Ada discover the native inhabitants of this island are slave to a race of biological robots called the Watchers, who look a lot cooler than they really are. Will decides to play hero and kill/destroy the Watchers and save the people. The villagers are displeased as they had seen the Watchers as gods to serve, not weird alien robot oppressors. Oh well.
Exiled from the village, Will and Ava come across fucking Nikola Tesla, who gives Will his newly invented hover jetpack and tells him and Ada to defeat the remaining Watchers. The rest of Dark Void involves Will finding a way into the Void, the realm of which the Watchers come from and stop them before they can invade Earth and cause far more devastation than even the current war in Europe.
The plot in Dark Void is interesting and enjoyable, but it ultimately doesn’t amount to anyway and just sort of fizzles towards the end, which is a real shame. While I’m not going to spoil the ending, in many ways the later half of Dark Void’s plot seems like it was rushed and not nearly as fleshed out as it should have been. Sort of the modern day equilent to all the NES games out there that say something like “Thanks for playing! The End!” and that’s it.
Dark Void is a good looking game all around. Almost all the games dozens of character models look great even up close and animate fluidly and realistically. Most locations, especially the crash landing site and setting for the first quarter of the game look simply stunning and the general design of the Watchers are awesome, being sort of reverse Borg in that they are more technological than biological.
Other effects such as weapon fire, explosions and the general design of the Watcher ships makes Dark Void a real winner in the visual department. Minor gripes about lip sync issues and the rare framerate drop are systematic of a game rushed towards the end of development, which is really the only negative things I can about the visuals.
While the visuals are fantastic, the audio is also surprisingly good. Composed by a guy named Bear (seriously) McCreary, [composer of Babylon Five] Dark Void’s music is orchestral, and very film-like in its approach. It isn’t on the level of some of the best out there like Heavy Rain, but Dark Void’s music does manage to pull on the heart strings ever now and then.
The voice acting is also fairly well done. Will’s voice is typical American hero voice #5,00000, but Ava has a destinctive British accent, which even though marks her as typical British heroine voice #5,00000 as well…I can’t help but like it. British female voices are sexy and they always will be. Just refer make to my review of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.
Here for your listening pleasure is the main theme for Dark Void, summed up in its closing credits.
Dark Void is a linear romp through exotic tropical locales, ancient ruins, alien ships and the desolate void itself. There’s gunplay, simple platforming, a cover system and headshots, but what really seperates Dark Void from other third person shooters is the jetpack Will eventually gets and can fly around with, turning the game from a third person shooter into a third person arcade flight sim, all the while maintaining decent controls.
On many levels where your jetpack is fully operational, you can even fly close to Watcher gunships, rip open the hatch, kill the pilot and preform grand theft UFO. Flying around in Watcher gunships is really cool as they are fast and carry a lot of firepower relative to their size. This seemingly nothing idea is yet another example of a nice touch that helps elevate Dark Void from being just another third person shooter.
While the jetpack is what sets Dark Void apart, the game is still primarily a third person shooter. Dark Void offers six varied guns ranging from the typical assault rifle and watcher sniper rifle to an anti-gravity rip-and-tear gun similar to Half Life 2’s Gravity Gun. Each of these guns can be upgraded with skill points gained from killing Watchers and hidden throughout levels. Guns can only be upgraded between levels, but upgrading is reason even to search each level for any hidden goodies.
Although Dark Void employs a standard third person shooter cover system first popularized with games such as Gears of War, Dark Void again manages to set itself apart from the pack by also incorporating vertical gunplay wherein Will will find himself shooting both directly up and directly down. This concept, missing in nearly every other third person shooter I can think of, is undeniably one of the coolest aspects of the whole game, jetpack or not.
That said, even though the gunplay is enjoyable and you’ll be doing a whole lot of it throughout the game, there is a bit of a flaw in the core mechanics of Will’s almighty melee attack.
Preformed by pressing O [or B on 360], the melee attack enters a special mini cinematic where you’ll see Will brutally punch the closest enemy with results Captain Falcon would be proud of.
See, even though Will is just a normal human man, he somehow manages to have superhuman strength and can often punch Watchers so hard their heads explode. While this is undeniably awesome to watch, it also means the melee attack in Dark Void is way, way overpowered. At many points you can simply use your jetpack to fly around and land near fortified Watcher positions, melee everyone to death, and then just move on without expending a single round of ammo or using the excellent cover system at all.
I suppose it could be argued that the melee attack doesn’t have to used at all and just as it can be used to ignore the gunplay, the gunplay can be used to ignore the melee attack. Regardless on how you choose to play Dark Void, just keep in mind the true power of Will’s fists. While Dark Void doesn’t really have bosses in the traditional sense, it does take some design cues from other popular third person games this generation, notably Star Wars The Force Unleashed. After you have significantly damaged some of the larger watchers, you will see a button prompt that begins a series of quick time events, where just like The Force Unleashed, you get to watch your character preform some fancy moves as they destroy big enemies with style and grace. Before you condemn Dark Void for being yet another quick time event laden game, keep in mind these QTEs are few and far between, and they’re all rather easy, requiring about six or seven button presses at most.
Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus
D-pad: Scroll through available weapons
Right Stick: Adjust camera
L1: Throw grenade
L2: Secondary fire
□: Change clip
Δ: Press to change from standing, hovering and full on jetpack
O: Melee Attack
Back: View Map
L3/R3: Crouch, Change directions mid-flight
Dark Void has an initial control learning curve necessary to get used to the flight controls, which only show up about a third into the game. See, Will has three main movement options – standing and running on the ground, hovering with his jetpack, and outright flying with it. The difference between hovering and flying is that when flying, Will will travel much faster, but running into almost anything is near fatal on all but the easiest difficulty. The game allows players to approach situations however they please which is good, but flying in close quarters requires some skill and will more often than not be even more dangerous than the Watchers.
A larger flaw is with the many glitches you will encounter as you play. I’m not usually one to harp on reoccurring glitches, but Dark Void pushes my tolerance in some less than fun ways. I’ve experienced getting stuck inside objects and even parts of the levels not loading properly, forcing a complete reboot of my PS3. This might only be an isolated issue, but it is mighty annoying given as there is no reset button on these modern consoles.
Availability & Price
Dark Void was released for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 which virtually no difference between the two versions. It can be found fairly commonly at used game shops on both platforms for only $10 or less, or less than $20 brand new.
Hyped in the similarly underrated Bionic Commando [next gen], just like that game, Dark Void too saw minimal success on retail shelves, likely due to its proximity to the release of Mass Effect 2 and Bayonetta. Dark Void was further hampered by the fact that Dark Void was so universally slammed by major review publications.
Nevertheless, there are a series of interesting developer blogs for Dark Void watchable on youtube. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer.
After finishing Dark Void, Bear McCreary added a joke track at the end of Dark Void’s credits where he played the main theme song in 8-bit NES Megaman style. Capcom liked the idea so much that produced an April Fool’s joke, showing off a fictitious NES version that they had planned on releasing for the Nintendo Playchoice 10 Arcade Cabinet.
Soon though the idea seemed too good not to follow through with, and an 8-bit style 2D sidescrolling Dark Void “prequel” was released on the DSi shop. The trailer really fills you in on the rest from there.
Ah Capcom, when will you guys stop being such cockteases and actually give us new NES games for real?
- Can be found on the cheap
- Great concepts all around – virtual cover, jetpack gameplay
- Players are free to choose how to tackle nearly any situation – by air, behind cover, or with the power of Will’s fists
- Good controls that make the flight elements fun and enjoyable
- Great looking graphics
- Emotionally charged music
- Some decent voice acting
- Many glitches ranging from minor to severe
- Story is disjointed
- Some rather awful voice acting
- The game feels at least an hour too short gameplay wise
- The ending is abrupt and lame, at least an hour too short storyline wise.
- There probably will never be a sequel
Despite the obvious problems Dark Void has, the concept is outstanding and the jetpack allows players to form their own solutions to battles. You can use the cover system and play it as a Gears of War style third person shooter, you can fly in and attack land targets as if you were playing a flight sim or any combination of the two at any time. For only $10, I urge anyone who thinks that the game sounds interesting pick it up. Dark Void gets enough right to allow all but the most jaded gamers to be able to overlook most of the flaws and see the unique experience the game offers.
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Genre: Third Person Shooter, Arcade style flight sim
Release Date: January 19, 2010
Developer: Airtight Games
Also from the developer: Dark Void seems to have been Airtight Game’s first major title
Also try: Gears of War, but only to see how lacking that game is to the verity that Dark Void has
Game Length: ~6 hours
ESRB: T, though I don’t get why. This isn’t exactly a graphic game.