Dark Void's development team includes some of the same talented folks who birthed the Crimson Skies series
- Exciting aerial combat sequences, tight controls both in the air and on the ground, vertical cover novelty
- Dull and dim-witted enemies offer little challenge, monotonous ground encounters, annoying escort missions
While its innovative premise and exciting aerial combat highlight this ambitious shooter, Dark Void's lacklustre AI, short campaign and lack of polish are detrimental to the game's overall experience.
Price$ 109.95 (AUD)
If you've ever wished you could get one of those lumbering no-necked thugs from Gears of War to leap more than a few inches off the ground, you'll appreciate Dark Void's concept of "vertical cover": the ability to blast skyward and grapple onto something high overhead to gain a tactical advantage is initially thrilling. Unfortunately, that exhilarating gimmick quickly becomes tiresome and the disjointed, uneven experience will leave you reaching for the barf bag.
Dark Void's development team includes some of the same talented folks who birthed the Crimson Skies series, so their pedigree for high-flying games can't be argued. That expertise really pays off with an introductory sequence that really flies (pun intended): after a quick primer mission, you hop into the pilot seat as Will Grey, a square-jawed jockey who wrecks his plane on an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle and fumbles his way into a grim parallel universe of hissing Watchers and desperate resistance fighters. What starts as a mission to repair your busted ride becomes a quest to save humanity from alien invaders. Unfortunately, the game quickly degenerates into a repetitive and unsatisfying experience that fails to fully capitalise on the initial sense of inertia. Hurtling between huge rock columns in the alien equivalent of Monument Valley while blasting agile flying saucers to bits is fun at first but the novelty quickly wears thin, especially when you realise that every aerial arena is virtually identical to the one you just conquered
You spend most of your time in Dark Void hustling from checkpoint to checkpoint, with frequent pauses to engage small crowds of robotic bad guys in combat. The gameplay falls into a rinse-lather-repeat cycle of striding up to a waist-high bit of debris, tapping a button to slide into cover, and shooting anything that pokes out a head or leaps into plain sight. The controls are responsive, and you'll occasionally face heavily armoured tough guys who actually put up a decent fight but for the most part, you'll tangle with braindead enemies who lack any personality or survival instincts. Every now and then one will lob a grenade in your general direction, and some commit suicide in deadly bubbles of expanding energy, but most only put up a challenge when they show up in sufficient numbers. Eventually I got tired of pretending that tactics mattered and tore around bashing skulls with melee attacks in a desperate attempt to get some adrenaline flowing.
This is where I wish I could say that the touted "vertical cover" comes to the rescue. Though this aspect of Dark Void is relatively innovative, its immediate novelty never proves to be anything more than a simplistic gimmick. The first few times I clutched the underside of a cliff or dangled off a metal platform, I found the vertiginous change of perspective exhilarating. But that dizzying effect wore off in a hurry, and before long I felt like I was just fighting the same ordinary ground-based battles except this time, I was on the top floor instead of in the lobby.
Dark Void works best on the rare occasions when it sets you free in expansive levels free of narrow transitions and contrived blockages, where you can choose to pound the ground in terrestrial combat, raise hell from a hovering high point, or streak around like a human missile. But for the most part, Dark Void saddles you with aggravating objectives and other nuisances that completely kill the buzz. One mission that required me to take down three four-legged Archon tanks before they can destroy the resistance's Ark put me within a hair's breadth of switching the difficulty to "casual" just so I wouldn't have to play it any more, and I'd rather face water torture than endure another of the game's "Defend the Suicidal Dimwit" missions.
When I was done with the game, I found myself feeling thankful that the solo campaign was just six hours long -- you know it's a bad sign when you see a short campaign as a *positive*. If the foes were cunning enough to make every encounter unique, or the game made better use of the verticality inherent in the premise, Dark Void would have fared a whole lot better, but ultimately, it's a disappointing title that never manages to leave the tarmac.
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