Game trailer: Dark Void
Next to flying cars and video phones, possibly the most-sought-after "futuristic" technology of decades past was the jet pack. There's a reason the various jet pack prototypes glimpsed in grainy test footage have never become workable military or commercial products: it's apparently really hard to fly around with a rocket strapped to your back.
We've seen Dark Void at various points in its development over the past two years, and we always liked the basic concepts and design ideas. The WWII-era setting, the pop-culture nods to Saturday morning movie serials and "The Rocketeer," and the idea of a "vertical shooter," with cliff faces to scale, all seemed to point toward a clever, original game.
We've had plenty of time with the retail build of Dark Void and here are our final impressions:
Even with its unique jet pack gameplay mechanic and somewhat thought-provoking storyline, there's something very familiar in Dark Void. It's probably because the first part of the game feels exactly like Uncharted 2 with its jungle backdrop and cover-based combat. And yes, believe it or not, Nolan North (voice of Drake, Assassin's Creed, etc.) actually plays the main character in Dark Void as well.
Repetitive voice-acting aside, there are only a few moments of exciting gameplay here. Your jet pack abilities are slowly introduced; starting off as a jump booster and gradually up to full free-form flying. That said, once you have the ability to go anywhere, the controls really start to become cumbersome. Aiming while flying is tough and we never felt totally satisfied with our ability to target enemies. Even more upsetting, the PS3 version we were given for review had some moments of serious framerate dropouts, bringing the game dangerously close to unplayable.
We liked the storyline with Nikola Tesla and time-warping through the Bermuda Triangle made us smirk. But with enemies that take too long to go down, a tedious weapon-upgrade system, and a story that never fully realizes its potential, Dark Void fails to deliver an overall compelling experience. And with so many other notable titles being released in the early part of 2010, you should have no concerns about skipping over this one.
It's heartbreaking to see largely hyped projects turn into major disappointments, but it just can't be helped with Capcom's early 2010 headlining game, Dark Void. Or could it? It's clear that Capcom was aiming for something large-scale and epic in the spirit of its surprise hit Lost Planet, with lots of action and just enough storyline to make it all fun. Unfortunately, the whole game feels like it came from the year of Lost Planet--circa early 2007--complete with awkward character models, sharp but sometimes choppy graphics, and voice acting that feels tacked on.
Set in an alternate world WWII-period setting, the game feels a lot like the movie "The Rocketeer" and moves, at the beginning, like it's trying to be Uncharted. Sadly for Dark Void, however, Uncharted's in a whole different echelon in terms of storytelling, acting, and graphic quality. The lone big attraction, other than some intriguing retro-futuristic Gernsbackian vehicle design, is the ability to control your hero's rocket-pack through massive canyons and up impossible cliffs--but the game's control scheme hobbles that sense of freedom to something that feels more last-gen than next-gen.
Rent it to try it out, but otherwise, it seems like Dark Void's destined to slip into obscurity very quickly.
In practice, Dark Void ends up feeling inventive, but unfinished, with a look and feel that lacks the extreme polish we've become accustomed to in recent games, from Modern Warfare 2 to Assassin's Creed II (the game was purportedly delayed until early 2010 so as to not get overlooked in the holiday 2009 rush).
Jet packs aside, the overt similarities to the excellent Uncharted 2 also work against Dark Void. Both games have lush jungle environments and a wisecracking Indiana-Jones-like protagonist who trades quips with his along-for-the-ride ex. Even the game mechanics of cover-based shooting and swapping weapons feels similar. But there's just no way the graphics or handling can match the clearly bigger-budgeted Sony blockbuster.
It's a shame because there's a lot of interesting storytelling and inventive ideas, but it takes far too long to get to them. Instead of fighting our way through a few levels of subpar third-person shooting first, we would have much rather jumped right into the game's flying (which definitely takes some time to get used to). Instead, the game makes you wade through too much of an Uncharted carbon copy before getting to the good stuff.
Here's a suggestion for Dark Void 2: 99 percent jet pack action, 1 percent standard third-person shooter.