Dark Void is a good concept when you look at it from a distance. Combine a third person shooter – genre Gears of War – with flashy weapons, an arsenal of enemies, epic music, and throw in a jet pack. Yes, you heard it, a jey pack. I must admit, I can only vaguely remember the movie The Rocketeer which I saw in my younger years, but already back then it sounded like a brilliant idea to fly around like that. Dark Void can be an ideal setting to make that dream come true. There are some some projects like that, but not like in the movie. Does the same apply to Capcom?
The story behind Dark Void is simple, but does contain quite some potential. Deep inside the earth there’s a world where for eternity a battle is going on between the “survivors” and a race of robotic aliens known as the “watchers”. who according to the legends brought life to our planet. By accident our hero, William Grey, ends up in the Bermuda Triangle where he, after a series of unfortunate events, goes into the earth towards “the void” to afterwards realise that although there may be a way in but no way out. Luckily Nikola Tesla equipped him with a jet pack and machine gun so that he can stand his man against the aliens.
Despite the original approach, the story doesn’t really come to life. The characters have been worked out very superficial which hinders the player to get really immersed. Will feels like a washed out version of Han Solo, but one with which nobody can identify. Also the enemy is intrigueing but we hardly find out anything about their origin, society or hierarchy. Next to that there’s also too few things happening in the story. The three aspects of which the game consists go straight from A to B and leave out any fantasy or plot twists, except for the most obvious ones. One mission can be fun or interesting, while the next completely misses the ball.
The first couple of missions with the jet pack are just cool, nobody will deny that. Good lighting, a refreshing summer breeze and flame on! The controls aren’t difficult and there’s also the possibility to do some special moves like a side roll or a one-eighty. With a push of a button you switch from flying to hovering which allows you to aim a lot more precise without letting the enemy come closer too fast. The biggest difficulty in flying is in localising that enemy. In flight sims you often get an arrow that shows where you need to go to find the closest one but here this feature is missing and you often find yourself going in circles as somewhere out of the picture there’s a UFO hunting for you. A tip I want to give you is inverting the Y-axis as less experienced pilots will have it a lot easier that way.
The jet pack doesn’t only comes in handy in large air missions but also in most ground levels. Where in traditional shooters you often have to hide behind a wall and wait until the enemy raises his head, you can go for a more aggressive approach in Dark Void. It is a lot more satisfying to fly over hostiles and attack them from the back! Completely new for me – and I hope we get to see this again in other games – is the so-called “vertical cover”. The game world isn’t flat but goes up (a mountain for instance) and you need to hide behind rocks and other means of cover before shooting the enemy and go further down. It makes for a welcome variation to the lesser worked out shooting.
Also graphically the game isn’t reaching any new heights. Although it uses the Unreal-engine everything looks dated. Not bad, but just something we could appreciate two years ago. Nothing really feels detailed, going from models to textures or things laying around in the game world. The only part where Dark Void really manages to shine is the flying where the devs played really well with color and light (HDR effects). On the PC, contrary to its console brothers, the game also has Physix particle effects if you have a supported graphics card, but this only very limited. Unsurprisingly, these have only been added as an extra to make up for the delay from October last year to January 2010.
The music was written by Bear McCreary, known amongst sci-fi fans as the man behind the rythmic taiko drum music from the new Battlestar Galactica series. His music continues in the same line and gives the game the extra punch it really needs. I regularly found myself humming along the theme which is a sign it does work.
Dark Void had everything it could want: a cool idea, an original story, a proven 3D engine and a great composer… and for some reason we’re left with an average game where the player needs to force himself to continue playing in order to reach the end. And it’s not that it lasts so long as after six hours I was watching the ending credits already. Add to that at max only a couple of hours of replayability and a dozen seconds to take off the shrinkwrap. Sorry, but Dark Void missed its target.