Airtight Games offers ground-, air- and cover-based combat, and then hands the responsibility of inventing the story to a hyperactive teenager.
In terms of sustained performance, there a isn’t a third-party publisher in the industrywith a track record like Capcom. Every stage in its long and distinguished history has been defined by innovative ideas and creative bravery, and with Dead Rising, Lost Planet and Street Fighter IV already unleashed upon the world, this console generation seems guaranteed to continue that tradition.
Even in its third-party releases, Capcom prioritizes such admirable evergreen values as gameplay, precision and challenge, but in the narrative-obsessed landscape of today, its unreconstructed approach to story is in dire need of an overhaul. The sense of place in both Resident Evil 5 and Lost Planet is superb, but buying into the plight of Wayne the space pirate takes hefty suspension of disbelief. Dark Void is precisely the same – nice atmospherics, innovative gameplay, and a plot so daft it seems to have been airlifted in from an ironic, EatLead-style spoof.
You are Will, the only cargo pilot on the face of the Earth who flies through the Bermuda Triangle without a second thought. Fortunately for us, the area is actually a gateway to a paranormal dimension called the Void, where the Triangle’s other human victims are fighting ‘the Watchers’, a tyrannical alien force bent on destroying mankind. Ina quite incredible plot contrivance, real-world inventor Nikola Testa is also stuck in limbo, busily inventing advanced weaponry to halt the alien threat. If a monkey banging on a typewriter would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare, we imagine the plot to Dark Void would be the first thing off the press.
Of course, this is merely a flimsy justification to include jetpacks in the gameplay, supposedly ‘redefining’ cover shooters in the process. The demonstration we were shown was approximately one third of an entire level and took only 20 minutes to complete, but it showed enough to confirm the game as an exciting prospect while never truly convincing us of its revolutionary potential.
The cover-shoot mechanic has become so ubiquitous that a videogame would have to be set in a universe without walls or sandbags to consider Leaving it out. In that sense, it was perhaps inevitable that Dark Void’s ground-based combat felt derivative, but it worked smoothly enough to blend into the handsomely rendered background. Similarly, the air-based sections – particularly when we commandeered an enemy craft – were redolent of Airtight Games’s work on the Crimson Skies franchise, but again the gameplay was familiar in a compelling way.
Dark Void really shone in the seamless transition between air and ground. Thundering through the skies destroying the devious Watchers is fun, but it’s the ability to turn your gaze to the battle below, firing from above as you swoop in to land, and slide straight into cover that sets the experience apart. Arguably, the closest videogames have come to the experience is Iron Man, and we have no reservations about saying Dark Void is more impressive in most conceivable ways.
The game’s most frequently cited selling point is its vertical combat, where Will has to fight up the side of a vast structure, using his jetpack to move from cover to cover. Unfortunately, the set piece we played merely raised the eyebrows rather than slackened the jaw, and Capcom is almost certainly banking on the latter. There is a certain sense of spectacle to the idea, but at no point did it seem unreasonable to just forget about cover and blast directly to the top.
Evidently, Airtight Games has considered this approach because it took just a single collision to cause instant death. Ultimately, Dark Void broke what should be the First Commandment of Videogame Development: death should always feel deserved, and never unreasonable. There’s an outside chance the game’s vertical sections will eventually become repetitive. If Airtight Games continues to punish players for the tiniest mistakes, that chance could become a guarantee.