An Uphill Battle
Dark Void is a run-of-the-mill third-person shooter that tries to shake things up by bringing vertical combat into the mix. Unfortunately, the novelty of the flying mechanic and shifted perspective fades quickly and the gunplay is woefully mundane, making fights feel very repetitive. Moreover, despite the trappings of expansive level design, you’re constantly railroaded and herded throughout the story. Finally, the game is full of technical foibles that often make the experience difficult, and at times impossible, to enjoy. I liked a lot of the ideas in Dark Void and even had some fun, but it simply can’t hold up to most shooters out there.
The Watchers are an ancient alien race of technologically advanced beings. They once ruled the Earth as gods, but humanity rose up, shed the yoke of tyranny, and banished their masters to a transitional nether realm called The Void (sounds an awful lot like Stargate). The Watchers have remained imprisoned there for millennia, but now they are beginning to make forays back to Earth.
With this as a backdrop, players will take on the role of William “Will” Augustus Grey; picture a watered-down version of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series (Capcom and Airtight even went so far as to get Nolan North – the voice of Drake – to do the voice over work). Will is an American cargo pilot months before the outbreak of World War II in Europe. As the fascists rise to power across the Atlantic, Will’s job is getting significantly more dangerous. Within moments of firing up the game, one of these transport jobs goes horribly awry and Will finds himself going down in the Bermuda Triangle. Miraculously, his prop plane lodges itself in a tree and Will and his client, an old flame named Ava, survive without a scratch. However, surviving is just the beginning, as Will and Ava find themselves fighting off slug-driven futuristic robots, serving as advanced scouting parties for The Watchers.
Unfazed by the laser/plasma guns and flying disks, Will soon hooks up with Nikola Tesla – “a long way from Colorado Springs” – who has been living with the island’s natives, adapting The Watchers’ technology – Tesla serves as the game’s Q. After slogging through the introduction, you’ll finally head into The Void. There you’ll join the ranks of a lost human commune, known as Survivors, resisting The Watcher threat with salvage and ingenuity. If the story seems messy, trite, and clichéd, that’s because it is; the narrative really doesn’t have a single original idea. Instead, it’s a kind of a video game Frankenstein that “borrows” generously from various existing gaming and film IPs.
The most original facet of the title is the use of the jetpack. Dark Void divides gameplay into three main combat types. The first is standard, on-foot battles reminiscent of every third-person shooter you’ve ever played. The second is aerial combat. Using your rocketpack, you’ll take on enemy craft and flying foes in pitched dogfights. The third mechanic is the most unique portion of gameplay: vertical combat. Rather than running from cover to cover, you’ll actually boost your way up cliff faces, ships, and structures. This tweaked perspective feels really cool for the first couple hours, but eventually the uniqueness fades and you realize that a shifted perspective is little more than a gimmick that adds nothing truly significant to the shooter genre.
Within just two hours, you’ll pretty much have seen everything the game has to offer. Time and time again you’ll be confronted with repetitive battles. Other than the occasional boss fight, you’ll essentially square off against waves of mundane enemy types in pitched arena battles. Yes, even though the game employs sweeping, epic-looking environments, you’re constantly hemmed in by invisible walls and rubble. For a game that makes use of three dimensions of space (i.e. the ability to fly), it feels painfully constraining. To top it off, these barriers are very inconsistent, making it difficult to know where you’re supposed to or even able to go to next. Also, the upgradable weaponry in Dark Void is wholly unsatisfying. Even when maxed out, the resilient enemies take loads of shots to bring down. Apparently, well-placed headshots are no more effective than standard body shots. This takes a lot of the satisfaction out of the shooter element.
Worst of all, the game is full of technical issues. At various times throughout the game, I had to deal with massive shuttering – Will frequently moves like Mr. Roboto! Unfortunately, these segments didn’t last for just a few seconds, they would persist until I cleared out the entire room of enemies. Additionally, upon entering The Void, I was faced with a near game-breaking glitch.
In order to advance through Episode II Chapter I, you need to guide a survivor named Atem to a rendezvous point. However, Atem won’t advance until you kill all the enemies. Maddeningly, one of the enemies is stuck in the floor underneath the level, so Atem just stands on top of the spot and unloads clips ad infinitum. Reloading the game didn’t solve the issue, either. Fortunately, I did find a workaround. The game lets you replay chapters, so getting outside of the campaign and firing up the individual chapter allowed me to advance and make a new save. Still, the lack of polish makes the game difficult to enjoy.
In terms of production, the musical score is solid, though not as inspired as I would have liked. This is really surprising; especially considering Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica fame composed the music. Voice work is competently done, though the dialogue is nothing special. Grapically, the game looks good. Dark Void uses the Unreal Engine 3, so characters and environments are nicely detailed. All in all, Dark Void is everything you’d expect from a next-gen shooter production-wise, but nothing more.
Though the vertical combat is unique at first, it quickly gets stale. Consequently, Dark Void fails to bring anything substantive to the shooter genre. The linear level design, constant glitches, and unsatisfying, repetitive battles make this a game you should simply pass on.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Environments and characters look good. 3.7 Control
The cover, flying, and shooter mechanics are commendable, but the weapons have no real impact and vertical combat eventually feels like a slog. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Bear McCreary is a renowned composer, but the score here is not particularly grand. The voice work is competent but uninspired. 2.2 Play Value
The story is bad, the shooter elements are lackluster, enemies are repetitive, level design is confining, and vertical combat is a gimmick. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.