I remember the intense sense of vertigo I felt the first time I saw Dark Void's vertical cover system. The developer from Air Tight Games was battling his way up the side of a mountain, picking off the robotic Watchers as they peered over the edge of their cover. A quick shot to the head sent them falling hurtling down the mountain. He tracked one of them falling down the mountain to show off what the engine could do and I instantly felt the familiar pit in my stomach as my acrophobia kicked in. Flash forward a few years later and that pit has returned as Will
Gray, the protagonist of Dark Void, catapults himself down the side of a cliff while avoiding fire. It's a simple move as he grabs the cliff with one hand and throws his feet over the edge like a well armed gymnast but somehow seeing the distance to the ground manages to trigger the acrophobia I've had since I was a kid.
In Dark Void you play the previously mentioned Will Gray, a cargo pilot who's just trying to get by during the early stages of World War II. He's your standard Han Solo kind of hero who seems tough on the outside but always ends up making the right decisions when the chips are down. On what should be a routine cargo mission he flies through the Bermuda Triangle and is transported to the Void. In the Void he finds other human beings (including Nickola Tesla) who have likewise become stranded in the Void and are fighting off the Watchers, an alien race bent on enslaving humanity.
It turns out the Watchers had controlled the Earth in the past but were banished to the Void by a group of humans that had rebelled against them. Now the Watchers are trying to escape their prison and retake control of the planet.
What I like about the Watchers is that Air Tight Games has created a nice mythos and backstory for them. As a race, the Watchers start out as small larvae and grow into larger, much deadlier opponents over their lifetime. In order to augment themselves they have built various armored powersuits that they use to enslave humanity. They start at the lowly pawn level (i.e. the storm trooper/cannon fodder level) and if they survive long enough they grow and can pilot larger and larger suits. When they reach the elder stage they learn the ability to change shapes which allows them to enter the human world or even infiltrate the survivor camp which adds a bit to the plot.
The writing in the game is also solid and not derivative. Without giving too much away the writers have crafted a unique alternate history World War II that feels fresh and new. The only thing that really took me for a loop was that they decided to include Nikola Tesla for some reason. The press document included with the review copy of the game indicates he's there to provide a mentor role to Will and to leverage some of the "geek mystique" associated with Tesla but he sticks out in a world otherwise populated with fictional characters. This might be just me but I might have created a fictional character to fill this role instead.
Another interesting decision is not to refer to the Axis powers by name but rather to call them the fascists through out. I'm not sure if this was done for localization reasons or not but it also stuck out a bit.
The game is broken out into three episodes with four chapters in each episodes. Each episode takes about two to three hours to complete so you're looking at around six to either hours to get through the entire thing. I finished in around seven hours on the normal difficulty which felt a little bit too easy. In those seven hours Will only met his digital maker five or six times so adjust your expectations accordingly. The final boss fight was solid but I was hoping for a bit more of a challenge. The game doesn't feature any co-op or multiplayer which kills the replay value of the game a bit.
Dark Void has a couple of really nice set pieces and the game shows it's strength in these places. I don't want to ruin any of them but the one at the end of the first chapter was very well done. The AI in the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The Watchers do use cover well and work well in teams but seem to be a bit brain dead on other tactics. The biggest one of these was taking shots at me even though I was on the other side of a wall. Not only does this instantly alert you to their position but it seems to indicate that they can see through walls.
From a gameplay perspective you're looking at Gears of War style cover combat for the first section of the game. It's standard fare until you get the jetpack which is where the game starts to take off. Initially you're bound to short hops but as you progress through the game you go from short hops to hovering to full fledged flight.
The vertical cover in Dark Void is the big marketing point for Capcom and rightfully so as it's integrated perfectly into the game
. All you need to do is look up or down and press the X button and Will will hop up (or down) to the corresponding ledge. From there you can peer over the edge, blind fire, and even target shots. It doesn't take any getting used to unless you have a fear of heights and then it can take a lot of getting used to.
Much like Gears of War the cover system sometimes feels a bit forced. Instead of a constant series of chest high walls to hide behind you now have a series of ledges to use as cover it's not nearly as over the top as the Gears system but there are some cases when the design feels forced instead of being woven organically into the game.
The weapons in Dark Void are standard fare. You have your standard machine gun, Watcher energy rifle, energy shotgun, sniper rifle, and grenade launcher as well as an energy weapon that reminded me of the proton pack from the Ghostbusters. You've also got grenades which are great for flushing enemies out of cover. There's nothing overly unique in the weapons department but I'm honestly not sure what changes I would have made.
What helps is that you can upgrade the weapons in the game. When enemies die they leave behind tokens which you can use to purchase upgrades for your weapons and jetpack. You'll have a hard time upgrading all the weapons on a single play through and you'll want to do a little searching as there are hidden cache's of the tokens lying around the game for you to find. I did find the mechanic to be a little troublesome as the tokens disappear after a bit which means that you won't get rewarded for killing enemies at range or when you are pinned down which is frustrating when you're "that close" to the next big upgrade. If you re-play the game your weapon upgrades do carry over though.
Graphically the game is what you would expect for a current generation game using the Unreal Engine (i.e. good looking but tons of texture popping). The game has a not quite real life look to it that works out pretty well.
. The void is filled with a lot of haze and mist which helps with the framerate in some of the larger flying levels in the game and the game certainly looks a lot better than the last open world Unreal 3 game I played
. I did love the character design of the Watchers and the general art design is very well done.
The audio side is solid. You have Nathan North reprising his Nathan Drake role from the Uncharted series. Sure that's a bit cheap but the two characters are cut from the same cloth. The rest of the voice acting is well done. The musical score is likewise solid although not memorable.
Controlling Will is a breeze as the game feels like a typical third person shooter when Will is on terra firma and a lot like an arcade flight sim when he's flying. Transitioning between the two can sometimes be tricky as you have to jump twice to hover and then engage the thrusters for full forward flight. The trick comes in making sure you have enough vertical space to get off the ground and enough space in front of you to handle the initial jump forward (there's not a lot of give in the walls). The hover mechanism does add another element to the game though as you can use it to quickly flank enemies or fire down from above when they are hidden behind cover.
Dark Void isn't a perfect game but I had a lot of fun playing through it. The core flight/ground gameplay mechanics are nearly perfect and it's a lot of fun to be able to
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A solid game with some great new concepts. The game is a bit on the short side but it's a great start for a new IP.