Tech News on G4
'Dark Void' needs a little more filling
Feb 5, 2010
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
It doesn't matter what industry you can think of, there's simply no denying the fact that consumers are in general a fickle bunch, and tend to latch onto whatever's popular.
Cars, music, movies ... you can be certain that whatever becomes a hit will be copied again and again, to varying degrees of success, often for the sake of making a quick buck. Just think of boy bands in the 90's, SUVs at the turn of the century or more recently, 3D movies.
Video games are no exception. Halo was not the world's inaugural first person shooter, but it helped garner unprecedented popularity in the genre, and every other game in the early-to-mid 21st century it seemed was an FPS.
And now, third person cover-based shooters are all the rage. Resident Evil 4 helped popularize the over-the-shoulder viewpoint in 2005, and you can thank Gears for all the cover-based games that you see in so many current games.
It's a no-brainer, then, that any developer that is planning on making a third-person shooter had better be damned sure it has an interesting hook to set its game apart from whatever is the latest Gears of War ripoff that promises to blow gamers away.
With Dark Void, that hook can be found way, way up in the air.
Developed by Airtight Games (makers of one of the first big Xbox Live games, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge), Dark Void is really two games in one - a very by-the-books shooter, but also a solid flying game chalk full of awesome dogfighting sequences.
The game takes place in 1939, right before the start of World War, with Will Grey as the title's protagonist. Will is a once-ace military pilot who ends up flying cargo planes in the Bahamas after being discharged due to insubordination. He ends up flying through the Bermuda Triangle and getting sucked into an alternate universe known as the Void. It's there that he gets thrown headfirst into a battle between a race of aliens known as the Watchers, and a small group of humans - which also entered the Void through the Bermuda Triangle - known as Survivors.
The game starts off as so many sci-fi games do, in a jungle featuring many enemy grunts who are nothing more than cannon fodder as you learn the game's controls. Anyone who has played any of the Gears of War or Uncharted games will be right at home here, popping out of cover to take out baddies, and ducking behind objects to gain back regenerating health.
It's not long before the first bit of vertical combat takes place. Still without a jetpack - that doesn't come for a little while longer - Will ends up dropping from and climbing up a cliffside as aliens shoot at him from above and below. This gameplay is definitely of the love-it-or-hate-it variety. Some will get downright queasy as Will looks every which way, flipping up and dropping down, shooting at aliens from every direction.
We, though, enjoyed these sections. At the end of the day, it's still the same cover mechanics we've seen countless times before, but with a vertical twist to make things a little different.
The game really takes off (no pun intended) when Will gets suited up with a jetpack for the first time. Created by Survivors from discarded Watcher machinery, the first model only allows Will to hover for a short time in the air - kind of the jetpack version of a bike with training wheels. It's a lot of fun jumping high in the air and picking off enemies from above, all the while finding hidden items that allow players to upgrade their weapons.
It's a whole other ball of wax, though, once Will gets an honest-to-goodness flying jetpack. In a fantastic introduction stage, players will learn the ins and outs of how to control Will in the air and how to survive a dogfight. Controls in the air are quite smooth, and we love little touches that keep the game fun, such as having unlimited jetpack ammo. Even seeing Will squeeze the controls in his left or right hand (depending on whether he's braking or boosting) shows a nice attention to detail.
Flying isn't all fun and games though. It's practically suicide using the jetpack in enclosed spaces. Launching yourself into the air near a wall will cause you to bounce off of it and die almost instantly. In fact, the actual act of launching into the air is the only real downside to the flying, at least controls-wise.
Since you can't take much cover while flying through the air, the best way to avoid enemy fire is to pull off 'advanced' aerial manouvres. The reason 'advanced' is in quotations is because you're really doing the same two or three moves every time. Sure they usually do what they're supposed to and get you out of the line of fire, but it can get slightly repetitive.
In addition to having Will use his jetpack, players can also jump into Survivor spaceships or hijack alien ships (via a neat little minigame). Thankfully controls are always the same no matter what your mode of transportation as you fly through the air.
Dark Void is not a very long game, but the pacing is still quite good, with an excellent mix of both ground and air sections. There are even a few cool boss battles thrown in for good measure. Here the complaint could be made that even more bosses should have made their way into the game.
The biggest problem with Dark Void is AI. Enemies on any of the ground levels are downright moronic, poking their big fat robot heads up away from cover constantly. Many of them aren't very good shots, and if you're ever having trouble with any of the lesser grunts, victory in a fight is only a melee away.
As solid as the single player campaign is, there really isn't anything else to Dark Void. No co-op and no multiplayer means that gamers' only choice after completing the game is to go back and play it on a harder difficulty.
Dark Void is a solid game that could have benefitted from an even stronger focus on aerial combat. Levels revolving around ground battles or climbing are technically okay, but nothing more than just that - okay. Seeing Will fly through the gorgeous wide-open environments within the Void rarely get boring.
If you're a sucker for shooters of all types or if you enjoy some good old fashion aerial dogfights, give Dark Void a go. Just don't expect a lot extras.
About G4 in Canada
G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.