Video Game Backlog Attack: Dark Void
In my ongoing quest to reduce my video game backlog, I have established a few guidelines. One such guideline is that for every “Triple-A”, must-play title, I will play one of the many games that I purchased simply because they were incredibly cheap. Most games are released and reviewed with a $60 price tag, so I feel that those review scores start to lose some meaning when a title hits the same price point as a Baconator combo. Even better when it’s a game I was actually looking forward to at launch, like Dark Void.
Published by Capcom and developed by fledgling studio Airtight Games, Dark Void had expectations running high as information started to trickle out to the public. Why that was, I’m not exactly sure. The premise seemed pretty cool, of course: a jetpack-enhanced third person shooter set in an alternate 1938? With Nikola Tesla as a featured character in the storyline? Sign me up! It sounded tantalizingly close to the Rocketeer game I’ve always wanted but never got. But in reality, there were enough warning signs to keep those high hopes in check. It was Airtight’s first game, and lately Capcom has been hovering somewhere around EA Sports on the “Unexpected Innovation” meter.
When January 2010 arrived, and Dark Void was released unto a previously interested marketplace, things took a turn for the worse. Reviewers set upon the unsuspecting game like ravenous wolves- wolves whose thirst could only be sated by the blood of a fresh IP. Dark Void’s highest review score at the time was a “7 out of 10” from Game Informer-a score which might seem high if you’re unfamiliar with gaming magazines in general. For the uninitiated, an eight is typically used to denote disappointment, whereas six is basically a zero. Numbers one through five aren’t even doled out to games, only to hate crimes and terminal illnesses. And like I said, a seven was the most favorable review. Most were far more cruel.
While I was still keeping up on game reviews at the time, circumstances throughout most of 2010 prevented me from buying or playing new games. So I spent much of 2011 playing catch-up on titles that had interested me previously, and finding Dark Void for around $5 made it an absolute must-buy. I was finally gonna get that jetpack, and no reviewer out there was gonna stop me.
Dark Void begins somewhat unspectacularly, I will admit. It is, in fact alternate 1938. There’s no crazy Nazi shenanigans though, and protagonist William Grey is a pretty unassuming cargo pilot. Nolan North‘s soothing voice flows from the screen to remind you that you are playing any video game produced in the last seven years or so. And to that same effect, the game features a cover system and waist-high walls as far as the eye can see. One major difference sets it apart from the pack though, and that is William Grey’s jump button. Take notes, Marcus Fenix and Commander Shepard. There’s no need to awkwardly mantle your way through life.
It doesn’t take long before that jump button becomes even more exciting, and a prototype hover pack supplies a freedom of motion previously unheard of in the 3PS genre. It is around this time that the gunplay starts to get a little more interesting as well-and not just because you can hover around at will, rendering opponents’ cover useless. Shortly after getting the hover pack, Dark Void introduces a fairly innovative vertical cover system, allowing you to duck in and out of whatever ledge you’re hanging from, picking off enemies that are doing the same. This is a welcome change to the usual ledge-hanging sequences in games, when you are at your most defenseless.
The hover pack is a pretty short-lived gateway into the world of flight, and it’s not long at all until Dark Void provides you with a full-blown jetpack and a very steep cliff to jump off of. I’m not going to lie and say I got the hang of it right away, I don’t need to impress you. It took a little while. Full 3D movement is still relatively uncommon in games, and there’s no lock-on or auto-aim, so at first it’s kind of tough to keep track of targets. Luckily the jetpack has its own guns with unlimited ammo, so you can get in all the practice you need without running through your own supply. The pack has two modes, full flight and hover, and both are available to you for nearly the entire game. Sure, if you hit the jets in an enclosed space you will crash into the ceiling and promptly die, but I think it’s cool that the game lets you. I feel like most developers would insist on holding your hand in that regard.
Levels vary between the sky and the ground throughout the game, and a few make switching between the two a viable option. The more standard shooter levels are competent, but as you might expect, the full-on open air flight sequences are where this game really shines. You’ll find yourself tasked with sabotaging floating enemy bases (and then jetpacking out into open air just as they explode), taking down big land-roving vehicles reminiscent of the AT-ATs in Star Wars, and engaging in dogfights with UFOs. The UFOs, by the way, can be hijacked. Which I feel is a nice touch.
Dark Void, as far as I can tell, succeeds in every way it set out to. It looks nice, controls well, and throws some much-needed innovation into a cookie-cutter genre. The story is never dark and brooding, and the combat is exciting without being a gigantic gore-fest, which I imagine is a plus if you’ve got kids running around. It’s a little short, but I had fun for the entire game. And I can think of many more successful action titles that wore out their welcome for me long before completion. Getting 20 or more hours of play for $60 is a good deal for sure, but not every game needs that. Sometimes I’d rather just play a short game twice, especially if it’s as unique as this one. Remember back in the day when we used to play games twice?
So was this a title worth its initial $60 asking price? To be completely honest, probably not. But then again I feel like relatively few games are. If you were initially excited though, and turned off by vicious review scores, by all means go out and get this game. It is literally $4.00 on Amazon at the time of this writing, and I’m sure it will be occupying bargain bins for years to come. Sadly the story leads into a sequel which will likely never happen, but at this price any self-respecting jetpack enthusiasts owe it to themselves to give Dark Void a runthrough and see what could have been.