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Review: Dark Void

When it was first revealed back in October of 2007, Dark Void struck me as a generic shooter with a mildly interesting gimmick or two. Today, after barreling through the game's six hour campaign, I'll admit that I was mostly wrong about it being generic, but I remain unsatisfied by the product as a whole. It's hampered by numerous and glaring glitches, pacing flaws, and poorly fleshed out mechanics that somehow snaked their way into the retail release version.

Dark Void's story is a complex sci-fi tale that attempts to explain real world assassinations of political figures, disappearances of the famous, and even the evolution of the human race through the use of one old sci-fi standby: aliens. The game is set in the 1930s, and as such sports a very cool artistic style. Despite the potentially interesting style, the main character and almost every supporting character fall into long-established, bland archetypes. This sets the tone for the rest of the game, which is plagued by tired gameplay mechanics and "plot twists."

Dark Void takes its time in introducing players to its various gameplay components. The game's biggest draw, the jetpack, isn't given to players until an hour or so into the game, and the lack of that jetpack totally breaks some other mechanics that it does introduce during this time, most notably the vertical cover system. Without the jetpack to prevent untimely falls, cheap deaths are common occurrences for Will, Dark Void's leading man.

Once all of the game's mechanics have finally been introduced, combat becomes much more interesting and fun due to its open nature. The very best levels in the game are the ones that give players a huge battlefield to fight through, since all three of the "control modes" that Will can switch between can be accessed and used effectively in unique ways here. The three control modes that I'm referring to include the ground combat mode, which plays predictably close to other third-person shooters like Gears of War; the hover mode, in which Will can slowly and accurately fly to heights of a hundred feet or so and use the height advantage and his basic ground weapons to dispatch enemies; and the flight mode, in which the true power of the jetpack is unlocked and Will is rocketed around at speeds well over 1,000 mph.

The beauty of Dark Void's three control modes becomes apparent when transitioning between them. When given enough space, it's incredibly easy to leave behind a group of ground-based enemies and blast half a mile into the sky in only seconds, then switch into hover mode to begin a slow decent to earth to allow for a bird's eye view of the area. Unfortunately, it isn't often that the game offers up these sort of large, open areas, so many times players will find themselves forced to simply use one of the three control methods, each of which is pretty boring on its own. The aerial battles that require Will to remain in flight mode to complete are especially boring and repetitive, especially once players realize that every single one of these battles is more or less identical. The game allows players the ability to hijack enemy UFOs, but the button-mashing sequence that is required to tolerate to successfully pull off this maneuver is so long and boring that once you've done it once you'll never want to do it ever again.

The vertical cover system (which allows players to use their jetpacks to scale the sides of mountains and use the conveniently located tiny walls on said mountains as cover) is a novelty that quickly grows boring. I often found myself taking a risk and switching into flight mode to ignore these areas completely, streaking past the enemies and obstacles that would've otherwise posed some sort of challenge. Dark Void compensates for this obvious flaw in its design by stripping the player of their flight abilities towards the end of the game, only returning them for a short ending sequence. This makes the vertical cover system into more of a nuisance than a feature (as it has been touted) which is yet another disappointing element of the game.

I've really ragged on Dark Void a lot in this review, but I'll admit that I still had fun with the game. The game had so much potential, and all of the elements for a real triple-A title are there, but the game is severely flawed in so many ways that it's irreparable. I love the musical score and the game has some fantastic voice-over work by the strangely omni-present Nolan North, among others, but there are just too many flaws in the game for the excellent sound to make up for. I should note that I experienced a couple of fairly major glitches during my time with the game, both of which required a total console reboot in order to fix. In one situation all audio relating to gunfire or other weapon noise simply quit working, and in another an important story event at the very end of a 30-minute-long level refused to activate, forcing me to play through the level in its entirety again.

Dark Void has a lot of problems, even to the point that I wouldn't recommend it as a full-price purchase for anyone. The game captures a magnificent feeling of flight, and everything involving the jetpack and the three control modes is expertly designed and a blast to play with. The actual game wrapped around this great control setup, however, is just a bit too bland and a bit too broken to really create an experience that many people will muster the patience to fool around in for very long.

Players:1 player

Platform(s):PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC

Developer:Airtight Games