Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? A plane? The Rocketeer? No! It's our Frankenreview for Capcom's Dark Void.
Developer Airtight Games plunges players headlong into the mysterious Bermuda Triangle in Dark Void. Cargo pilot William Augustus Grey crashes on a remote island, soon finding himself teleported to a parallel world where evil aliens called The Watchers treat humans as slaves, forcing them to help prepare for an invasion of our reality. Those aliens are about to learn that there is no black and white...only shades of William Augustus Grey, kicking their ass.
Yes, I made that bit up myself. One day I hope to write movie trailers.
This isn't about me, however. This is about Dark Void, and what the assembled video game critics thought about it. Strap on your jetpack!
When Capcom publishes a game, there are very few people who don't know about it, but it has to be said that Dark Void's marketing and hype has been somewhat minimal. Sure, quite a few people know about it, but barely anybody seems to care, despite the rather promising concept. Dark Void gives players a jet pack and tells them to live out their Boba Fett fantasies. With an aesthetic and gimmick that drips in Rocketeer influences, Dark Void's mixture of standard third-person shooting and jet-based dogfighting certainly has potential to be a success. However, having finally gotten the game into my hands, the reason for Dark Void's lack of hype has been made all too clear...It's really not all that good.
...the clearest inspiration that emerges is Uncharted - which is no great surprise given that Dark Void is really a third-person cover-action game wearing a new dress. Main character Will is very much the pseudo-Drake, all hangdog aphorisms and last-gasp ledge grabs. Voiced by the ubiquitous Nolan North, he spends the first level looking for ruins in a jungle with his ex-girlfriend, professes to be no action hero even whilst taking down four enemies with one bullet, and sports a Lampard-esque range of practical-casual couture. The imitation is so blatant that it's a bit embarrassing.
That fight takes place both on land and in the air. You'll start out the game on the ground, and when your feet are firmly planted there, it's a very familiar-feeling third-person shooter. You'll take cover behind objects and pop out to gun down the Watchers whenever they attack. Will starts out with a basic assault rifle, but you'll also have plenty of opportunities to use enemy weapons. The rest of these guns fill out the arsenal, and include equivalents to the standard sniper rifle and rocket launcher. There are six weapons in all, and each can be upgraded twice using tech points that you earn for collecting orbs that appear after kills. The weapons have a passable feel to them, but once you're fighting airborne Watchers that won't sit still, the amount of time you spend leading your targets will probably make you wish for some guns with faster projectiles. Also, most of the weapons are only especially useful in specific cases. I spent the bulk of my time using the Watcher version of the assault rifle. Still, blasting the Watcher robot suits apart and getting a look at what's inside is pretty satisfying, especially when you're landing head shots.
If you stick with the game after its slow opening and past an infuriatingly tedious escort level, you'll be pressed to find much more than the sheer novelty of playing around with the jet pack exciting. Aeriel combat extends beyond a pair of cannons affixed to your pack as you can overtake enemy UFOs in short quick-time events, but they too become repetitive after the first encounter. Not to mention, there's a complete lack of boss battles, save for the final level. In fact, Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary with his fitting soundtrack of tribal rhythms set to digital effects is, perhaps, the only thing that holds the whole experience together. Even then, the non-interactive environments and menial graphical detail do little to suck you in.
Graphically, Dark Void is an impressive game. Using the Unreal Engine 3, the game renders wide-open environments with an exotic beauty that feels just right for the game and the world it is presenting. Giant mountains and crags jut up like towers and looked aged and worm. Ancient ruins are right next to wonderous technology, making you feel like you are in a world lost in time. The character models also evoke the adventure serial feel, like illustrations on the front of a pulp comic, and their animations are fluid. Will in particular stands out as you soar around, his body moving appropriately under the momentum of flight. Yet with a graphical and visual style that really stands out, it makes you wonder how Airtight Games let the game out the door as the buggy mess it is now.
Dark Void has some incredible design elements. It does an incredible job of blending air, hover and ground firefights into a single, easy-to-control, fun-to-play package. And it delivers a fun new mechanic. That's a lot, but I'm not sure it's really enough to deliver the sort of experience gamers are looking for when they drop the cash for a big PC, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 title.