On paper, Dark Void sounds like an absolutely fantastic mix of different gameplay styles and ideas that should be a unique and fun experience. It boldly melds Gears of War’s cover-and-shoot gunplay with The Rocketeer inspired mid-air combat in a package that allows you to immediately go from one to the other with the push of a button.
Unfortunately, games that look great on paper don’t always translate well into real, fun and entertaining products. When this occurs, it’s typically due to bad execution, and Dark Void is 2010’s first poster child for poor execution by a developer.
During the game’s eight to ten hour single-player campaign, you’ll play as William Grey, a cargo pilot who suddenly finds himself stranded in the Bermuda Triangle when his plane mysteriously crashes. Things soon get out of hand as Will becomes embroiled in a war between a group of humans, called the Survivors, and an alien race, known as the Watchers. Will eventually gets teleported to a parallel universe, known as The Void, where his only hope for escape lies in stopping the aliens’ evil plans to enslave all mankind.
When Dark Void first begins, it presents the player with an Uncharted 2 style of cover-and-shoot gameplay mechanics. While this will immediately feel familiar to anyone who’s played these type of games, it quickly becomes apparent that Dark Void simply doesn’t execute the style as well as many of its predecessors. Not ducking behind the desired cover is frustrating, and even when you are behind cover, enough of your character sticks out to be shot. It also doesn’t help that the controls aren’t as tight as many other games in the genre.
One new element that the game does introduce is a vertical cover system. As a player is climbing up or down platforms, it allows the platform itself to be used as cover while the player shoots enemies above or below them. It’s a brilliant idea that brings a whole new dimension to the aging cover-and-shoot mechanic. Unfortunately the experience can be very disorienting, and it can take a little while to get used to.
About a third of the way into the game, you’ll eventually get to leave the ground behind as you strap on a jet pack and take to the very unfriendly skies. It’s at this point that you’ll have to learn a completely new set of controls, which luckily are much tighter than the poor ground combat controls. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself isn’t any more entertaining.
The main reason the air combat is disappointing is because there’s not much to it. The only weapon at your disposal is your rocket pack guns, though your pack can be upgraded later to include a single-direction missile launcher. One interesting twist is that you can take control of a Survivor aircraft, called the Devastator, and you can also hi-jack a Watcher UFO (Grand Theft Auto style). Doing so doesn’t really yield you any benefits, as their weapons and controls aren’t any better than the standard jetpack.
Dark Void does shine when it combines the ground combat with the aerial combat for a go anywhere, do anything style of gameplay. The transition between the two is very well done and is accomplished with a simple push of a button. There’s nothing more exhilarating than flying toward an enemy who’s trying to snipe you, then landing just in time to grab him, turn him around, and shoot him through the chest, all before jumping behind cover to prevent another Watcher from taking you out.
This is not that difficult to do though; due to the fact the enemy AI is just atrocious. All they really know how to do is duck behind cover and shoot at you, and they can’t even do that well. Enemies never work in teams to attack you; their aim ranges from perfect to worse than a storm trooper’s, and they constantly find themselves standing out in the open even though cover is nearby.
What’s even worse is that the game doesn’t really look that good. The same bland textures get used over and over throughout the levels, and that’s only when they decide to finally load. The environments do look at little better when you are flying around, but the draw distance is laughable at best. The game supposedly uses the Unreal 3 engine, but it looks like someone ported over an old Playstation 2 graphics engine instead.
Even with all the problems I’ve listed, the one thing the game really has going for it at the start is an interesting story premise that holds a lot of potential. That quickly gets squandered away as the plot unfolds through a collection of disjointed cut scenes that don’t really explain what’s going on, and it never allows the player to become connected to any of the main characters. Simply put, by the end you won’t care about the story at all, and it never becomes a driving factor that pushes you to complete the game.
There is honestly nothing much that will compel anyone to finish Dark Void, not even the awesome soundtrack, which was written by Bear McCreary, famed composer of the new Battlestar Galactica TV show. The man knows how to write dramatic music that really draws the listener in, but in this case it’s hard to be drawn in when the rest of the game is a let down.
When Dark Void is finally complete, and the last confusing cut scene has played, there is absolutely no reason to go back and experience this game again. What started on paper as a unique blend of different gameplay styles, setting, and story, has turned out to be the first big disappointment of 2010, thanks to poor execution by the developer, Airtight Games. With so many better titles out there to spend your money on, this one is best left sitting on the shelf until it makes its way to the bargain bin. Even then I don’t know that I can recommend it to anyone.
While the visuals might look decent from the air, the overly reused textures start to degrade in quality when the combat becomes grounded.
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Even with the addition of a unique vertical cover system, the no thrills cover-and-shoot and aerial gameplay remains bland and forgettable.
Bear McCreary has composed a stirring and moving soundtrack, but the rest of the audio adds nothing to the experience.
An eight to ten hour single player campaign is all that exists, and even that is barely enough to hold your attention.
Dark Void suffers from poor execution that prevents its interesting blend of unique gameplay styles from ever forming anything cohesive enough to be considered an enjoyable experience. It’s truly the first big flop of 2010.