Dark Void Review
Developer: Airtight Games
Date of North American Release: January 12th 2010
Date of European Release: January 15th 2010
Trophies: 35 10 2 1
I play games. Scratch that, I play games a lot. In fact, the amount of games I play is enough for me to know that when a developer promises to deliver a title which includes jetpacks, aliens, guns, and “Gravity defying vertical combat”, amongst a lengthy list of other features, something has to go magnificently wrong in the development of the game for it to fail. From the jetpack powered dog-fighting to the ground based combat, this game’s been sitting high on my watchlist for a long time.
Developed by Airtight Games, Dark Void looked to be a shoe-in for quality gaming. I mean, come on, with such a thrilling game concept, how can you not succeed?
Controlling a cargo pilot named William Augustus Grey who crashes in the Bermuda Triangle (for some God unknown reason), and is teleported to a parallel universe known as the “Void”, the player battles an alien race, known as the Watchers. According to the game, the Watchers had come from far away, making humans do their bidding and treat them as gods. Eventually though, people known as Adepts emerged and banished the Watchers to this realm. With the help of Nikola Tesla, players must retrofit Watcher technology to fight the enemies and find a way to escape the Void…
Gravity defying combat is what they promised to give me, err, I mean us. It would bring a thrilling new dynamic to video-gaming, they said… But what have we actually gotten? A mess, that’s what. When it all comes down to it, Dark Void plays like a fresh dog turd; warm at first, but cold and horrible after a few minutes (not to mention that it smells the whole way through).
By the end of the game, William, or Will, as he is referred to, can run, jump, hover (with the hover pack), shoot, shoot while hovering, take cover, perform blind fire, fly (with the jetpack), shoot while flying, hijack UFOs, and perform melee attacks. The list looks extensive, but there’s really nothing we haven’t seen or played before – apart from the sub-par flying. To reach flight mode, there are a few buttons required: first, you jump with the cross button, then hit it again while in the air to perform a kind of jetpack-powered double jump hover, then, while hovering, press triangle to shift into flight mode. That’s all fine and dandy, but the problems come during flight, specifically whilst dog fighting. UFOs are your main foe in the skies, but they’ve been programmed to always get behind you, so that means that you can only get a few quick shots in before they drop back and you have to perform a special maneuver (hold R3 whilst moving both sticks in one direction) to regain shooting position.
Of course, one could just opt to hijack the UFOs, ala Grand Theft Auto. Sure, go for it, but don’t be surprised when you end up spending longer attempting to hijack a UFO than you would have trying to shoot it. This must all be a conspiracy. Airtight Games have decided that to hijack one of their precious sky-babies, you must first fly near enough to trigger an on-screen button prompt. Press the button and Will will (see what I did there?) grab onto the moving trash, triggering a lengthy QTE of sorts. Hold down circle to wrench open the UFO’s control panel (while dodging the pilot’s fired bullets with the left analog stick, of course), then defeat the pilot when he is exposed. After all of that, you’re free to fly around in a piece of shiny tinfoil. Congratulations!
You'll be going from flying to ground based combat a lot, so you'd better get used to the sequence.
Release triangle, press cross, alter position in air, press circle, point and shoot with R1.
“So the flying is not too good?” you say. “No, it’s overly annoying and doesn’t bode for enjoyable gaming”, I reply.
“Maybe the ground based combat is better?”
There’s another problem with Dark Void’s gameplay: On the ground, it’s a generic, repetitive, bland third-person shooter. Stick to cover, fire off a couple of rounds at enemies, run forward, do some gunning, and finish them off with a melee. Swap those around a bit and there you go, maybe ten different combat scenarios. Furthermore, the melee animations are limited at best and shabbily done. The one where you shoot Generic Alien No. 296 through the back rarely ever lines up to look correct, for instance. Also, the enemy AI is extremely stupid and annoying – let’s just leave it at that.
Last but not least, the vertical combat. Cue collective gasp. In all honesty, it’s not very good. Unless you like being given motion sickness and defying the laws of physics by shimmying, jetting, and rotating your way up/down/across (you’ll lose track of direction) walls/roofs/ground (again, no idea), while shooting at enemies who are coming at you from the opposite direction, you’ll no doubt be given a headache from these bits.
In a way, the story of this game sums up the whole package, and also conforms to the dog turd comparison; it’s somewhat interesting to start off with, but you’re confused, bored, and annoyed by the end. In short: Good idea. Bad execution.
There was a point in the game where things started to seem a bit more like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and I’m sad to admit that I actually showed more interest in that short period than in the rest of the story. Why not build upon that aspect? I want to know more about the “Survivors” (humans who’re also trapped in the Void) and why the villagers from the start of the game worship the Watchers.
Nobody really knows what's going on story-wise,
so it's best to just beat the crap out of the bad guys and hope for the best.
So the story’s not very good, huh? How about after you’ve finished then? Well, there’s not much lasting appeal in this game. You have three difficulty levels, with Hardcore being the highest. Hardcore is very easy though; I’d liken it to the normal difficulty level in other shooters. There are Journals to be found throughout the game (these can help explain some of the finer details in the story), and upgrading your gear with the in-game currency, Tech Points, could be of interest. Really though, you’ll be moving on as soon as the 15-20 hour main storyline is over.
As with the rest of the game, there are a few technical issues with Dark Void. I noticed a fair bit of pop in while moving about the world - which is generally filled with bland environments. The lip-syncing is an issue (seeming to be out of time, for the most part), sound glitches pop-up quite a bit, and yes, as previously stated, the animations are limited and fiddly.
One of the dreaded melee animations...
I guess it's nice to have Nolan North on board for the voice of Will at least. Despite the games drawbacks, it’s good to hear a familiar tone in the form of the man behind Nathan Drake and Desmond Miles, of Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed fame respectively.
North sounds exactly as he does in Uncharted, and the fact that Dark Void’s main protagonist looks similar to Nathan Drake does little to distract you from the fact that you’d rather be playing those games than this.
Do these technical issues sink Dark Void? No, the technical problems that are present are disappointing, but hardly enough to wreck a game. Before they became clear, I had already decided that Dark Void was a lackluster experience at best, so this was just another disheartening notch on the game’s belt of failures – another fly on the lump of doggy droppings that is Dark Void.
Arguably the most redeeming feature of Dark Void is the fact that it has such easy trophies. Entirely offline, the list consists mostly of combat specific and episode completion trophies. The highest difficulty level is so mild that one can play through the game on that level and easily pick up around 50% of the trophies from completing episodes and reaching certain kill statistics. There are a couple of tricky ones, namely Grease Monkey (because it seems to have a glitch) and possibly Master of Arms, but they aren’t nearly as difficult as the trophies present in similar games.
Gameplay: 4/10 - Poor
I’m very disappointed. It takes great skill (or maybe an immense lack of) to ruin the gameplay of a title with such great potential. The only reason I’ve given this aspect a 4/10, and not lower, is because it was fun to play for the first couple of missions at most. Afterward, the repetitiveness and bad AI help lower this into a mindless snore fest.
Singleplayer: 5/10 - Tolerable
Ugh, don’t get me started. To be honest, the story was interesting initially and then I got bored and gave up trying to follow. The difficulty level is too easy, and once you’ve finished the story, you’re done with the game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though…
Technical: 5/10 - Tolerable
Average graphics. Minor sound glitches. Sub-par lip-syncing. Various pop-in issues. You get the idea. From a technical point of view, the fact that Nolan North is doing the main character’s voice acting is the only good thing.
I was probably alone in my excitement for this game, but after actually playing it I’ve been left wondering what could have been. How did this game go wrong!? Jetpacks, aliens, guns – to me, that spells success, but Airtight Games obviously see things differently. I guess I’d better go wash my hands.