Dark Void Preview: Learning To Fall With StyleS

Jet packs? Check. Funny-looking helmet? Check. Nikola Tesla? I'd prefer Alan Arkin, but check.

At yesterday's Tesla Motors event, Capcom provided several forms of Dark Void expression – like developer interviews, a booklet, and a tournament where people raced to see who could get the farthest in a level in 15 minutes. The developer interviews and the tournament were decent ways to experience Dark Void. But the booklet, with choice lines like "The ultimate strap-on" and "Imitation is the sincerest form of ass-kicking," made the game seem like a generic hardcore shooter instead of the sweet jet pack sci-fi experience it is.

What Is It?
Dark Void is a science fiction adventure game where players take the role of William Agustus Grey, a delivery-boy-turned-jet-pack-man after he's sucked into an alternate dimension called The Void via the Bermuda Triangle. Gameplay emphasizes sky combat with Will jetting around open spaces and shooting at alien aircraft, but there's also a ground combat component that you can mix and match with your jet pack skills.

What We Saw
I got to play two separate levels on both Xbox 360 and PS3. The first was titled Chapter II: Breaking Camp and the second was a prisoner-rescue mission that seemed to be a little later in the game.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is out January 12.

What Needs Improvement?
Inconsistent Area Design: The ground areas in levels are bland while the sky areas are breathtaking. Some of this is visual: there's just so much to look at when you're up in the air like clouds, funky alien sky colors, rock formations, the abyss below, etc. Meanwhile, indoor areas mostly belong to aliens with no sense of interior decorating. But something else seems to be missing from ground areas in the way of gameplay. For example, while on the ground in Breaking Camp, the layout of boxes to take cover behind and ramps to run up seems generic and boring, while the towering rocket and door-flecked cliff face you're supposed to fly around later in the level present gameplay challenge and a lot of stuff to explore.

Ground AI Could Use Some Work: Alien robots would stay glued to cover even when you walked right up to them from behind, shooting them in the head. Your partner AI would stop shooting, come out of cover, turn his back to the alien robots and then reload his gun. Also, I unloaded about two clips into an alien from the air while he politely stared at me, waiting for me to touchdown before actually fighting back.

Separate Melee Button, Please: The B button (or Circle) is both the melee button and the pick-up-dropped-weapon button. This becomes a problem when you try to melee attack two aliens that are close together: the first one drops their weapon when punched and then, if you press B to keep on punching, Will stops and changes weapons instead of continuing his melee attacks. This got me killed a couple of times.

What Should Stay The Same?
Can Has UFO! I normally don't like gameplay segments that are one long quick time event, but UFO-jacking segments actually are fun. When flying around in jet pack mode, the B button or (or Circle) with appear near an alien spacecraft that's close enough to be jacked. Pressing the button automatically steers you to the craft and either you pop right into it (if it's a low-level flier), or you go into a QTE event where you're trying to yank a panel off a UFO while dodging its lasers and hanging on desperately during barrel rolls. Once you succeed in prying off the panel and killing the alien pilot, the UFO is all yours.

Falling With Style: The jet pack/hover mode takes some getting used to, but once you get it, it's a blast. I died more than a few times by hitting Y (or Triangle) instead of A (X) and then careening head-first into a wall in jet pack mode instead of activating the hover mode like I meant to. However, as soon as I figured out the buttons (including the crucial 180-degree flip and the barrel roll), I started opting out of ground combat for air-to-ground combat instead. For example, I'd rocket toward a cluster of aliens on the ground, firing. Then, I'd switch off the pack and freefall. The enemies would correct their aim for my trajectory and just when they'd start shooting, I'd go into hover mode – which decreases enemy accuracy. From there, I could usually pick off enemies I'd missed in the first round – but if they did manage to correct their aim to cover me in hover mode, I'd just go back to falling or rocket up higher to start the whole falling-with-style cycle again.

Change Difficulty On The Fly: Dark Void is a game where you might find yourself specializing in one type of combat over another (like air versus ground), so I'm glad the game lets you change difficulty settings mid-level. For me, it took the sting out of having to give up my jacked UFO to go down into some boring prison where I couldn't not fly head-first into a wall by accident.

Final Thoughts
There's still plenty of time for polish, so I'm sure the AI kinks will be massaged out and maybe there'll be a layer of gloss slapped onto the ground levels. Either way, nothing diminishes the awesome of the jet pack. Not event the Nolan North voiceover*

*Sorry, Mr. North, but I'm just so tired of hearing you play the Everyman.