I first purchased Dark Void in April for just over 20 bucks. Astonishing, considering that the game was released in January of this year. I had played the demo before purchase and was unimpressed by the clunky flight controls and repetitive looking enemy combatants. All things considered, the price seemed right and I can't refuse the bargain bin at the best (worst?) of times. One of the first casualties of this year's packed release schedule, Dark Void sat in my game collection for a few weeks, unplayed. When I had read that I could trade it in to receive more than what I had paid in trade value, I rushed to my local retailer to pay off part of a Capcom game that I would definitely find myself playing (no points for guessing the title).
Turns out it was my loss. Last week I picked up Dark Void for 12 dollars, and finally found the time to feed the disc into my Playstation 3.
Firstly the bad news. This game has plenty of problems: bland environments, technically deficient graphics, a forgettable story, derivative shooting (on-foot) mechanics and awkward flight controls. The Unreal 3 engine can be used well, or just well enough to have a functioning game. Dark Void more often than not, falls into the latter category. There was one instance where I plunged from a high point to get the drop on an enemy and I swear the frame rate dropped to 3 (frames) per second. It was laughable. About half-way through the game, I'm still having trouble remembering the main character's name. I think it's Jim, or Bill or Nathan. This might have something to do with the fact that he is voiced (competently) by Nolan North. It is hard to think of a 3rd-person action game from the last 12 months where he has not been cast in a leading role, and now Drake, Desmond, and Darkvoidheroman (?, I'll consult the manual, it's Will... so close) are all starting to blur together. The on-foot action at the beginning of the game is entirely reminiscent of cover shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted. This isn't a bad thing, but even the concept of "vertical cover," adds very little to the formula. The melee attacks are particularly uninspired (and overpowered). When you finally leave terra firma and take to the skies, things take a turn for the worse, as it's hard to get yourself in the position to shoot enemy fighters. This is often because you're flying too fast and overshoot (speed and distance wise) your target. You can brake of course, but you can't incrementally decrease your speed. It's woe or go, and nothing in between. After all that, I'm guessing it sounds bad, almost irredeemable. You'd be wrong.
The game did more than enough to justify the sub 20 dollar asking price. Some of the set pieces are truly exceptional. Two stand out sections include: a firefight at the entrance of a temple with enemies occupying all levels of nearby structures and all visible airspace; and the defence of a settlement against two hefty troop transports. Using your jetpack (in both situations there are varying levels of functionality) to soar to vantage points or escape from choke points, the fun in Dark Void comes from experimentation with the various modes of flight. This game has also managed to do the escort mission right. For those who don't know, I hate escort missions, so much so that they can prematurely end my time with any game that employs them too frequently (like Resident Evil 5, that game is just one big freaking escort mission). Back on point, the AI of my companion was poor, he ran into enemy fire, rarely taking cover. What he didn't do was die regularly. Each time you reach a checkpoint, the health of the combatant in your care recovers completely. It was refreshing to say the least, and if any games in future don't employ a similar system then know that they have fallen below the benchmark. Dark Void may not be the most original game out there, but it does do enough right to warrant investigation, especially given the price point.
If the idea of an alternate history (which isn't really elaborated upon), massive alien spaceships and jetpacks appeal to you, I would sincerely suggest you acquire Dark Void. Not for the full retail price mind you! Keep an eye out and you will be sure to find it for under 30 dollars (which is just about acceptable).
What has everyone been playing this weekend?