It’s not the best name in the world. At best, it’s almost willfully generic. At worst, it’s forgettable, and that’s a crime I’m guilty of. Maybe it’s not surprising considering the lights and noise of E3 and the sheer amount of things on display, but you know what? That doesn’t make it less of a crime, because Dark Void is brilliant.
The premise, essentially, is that the game is set around 60 years in the past. The main character is a cargo pilot who just so happens to be sucked through into another dimension when he flies through the Bermuda Triangle, and things aren’t going well there, largely thanks to the presence of a rather hostile alien race. Before long, Will’s kitted out with a rocket pack and a selection of guns, and takes the fight to the aliens.
The aesthetic is clearly a part of that 60-years-ago vibe, with the aliens having a retro, 1950s-style look. The UFOs are giant flying saucers, albeit flying saucers made up of two concentric circles, with a bit of a gyroscope thing going on. Will’s gear is vaguely reminiscent of The Rocketeer. There’s a mix between the big weapons of modern shooters and the sensibilities of the UFO craze, and it gives the game a very distinct feel.
Initially in my playthrough, the game appeared to be all about the flying – which is wonderful. The team have clearly taken inspiration from the Crimson Skies series, in that it’s very, very simple to understand and initially control, but with plenty of room for skill to shine when you get the hang of it. With a couple of clicks of the analogue sticks you can flip 180 degrees, or spin and jink and dive in whatever direction you like, through a variety of special aerial manoeuvres. If anything, this is even more impressive when you get your hands on a UFO and all of this is tied into some wonderful animations with those gyroscopic beasties.
Will has apparently been playing GTA a bit, you see, and those enemy UFOs are fair game for hijacking, in a rather interesting quick-time event. Stop groaning, you; these quick-time events are rather more involving than usual. Rather than hammering buttons as fast as they appear, these largely seem more sedate; hijacking involved one quick button press to the end but the majority of the time was spent trying to prise open a panel so that Will could get into the cockpit – and this was done via holding down a button. Making it rather more interesting was that the gun on top of the UFO was trying to get a bead on Will to blast him, and dodging from side to side was essential to avoid a laser-based death. Again, this wasn’t a “press a button to avoid dying,” but rather, moving the analogue stick actually moved Will around the rim of the UFO. Getting the gun firing in one location and then swiftly legging it back to the panel to rip it further open was the order of the day, and it’s a hell of a lot more fun and interesting than most QTEs. For once, I actually felt involved; it was me controlling Will, not the computer doing incredible things when I tapped an arbitrary button. Good QTEs in games? I know. Hard to believe.
Playing GTA in a proper third dimension and blasting UFOs are far from the only things on offer, though, as Dark Void has a solid ground game. Landing makes things rather more Gears of War, with the opportunity to run around and shoot aliens, with a rather excellent cover system. While games that try to do a lot of different things almost always balls them all up, there really were no issues with the cover system and third-person blasting on offer when landlocked. It controlled naturally, with none of the irritants of being unable to shoot from a particular part of cover or in a particular direction for no apparent reason. I admit, the ground game isn’t nearly as exciting as when airborne, but it’s quite tough to tell whether that’s because the air game is so good, or whether the ground game doesn’t do much that’s out of the ordinary. Except for one thing, anyway, which really caught my attention.
Dark Void manages to mix both the ground and air elements in a rather intriguing way, best described as vertical cover. With the aid of his jetpack, Will is frequently ascending or descending structures from the inside, but there are inevitably enemies around. What to do? Hang off the bottom of a platform and shoot them from there, of course, then bounce up to a higher one (or drop to a lower one) with the aid of the jetpack. This is a really odd inclusion, but it works fantastically. Functionally, it’s not terribly different to regular cover and blasting, but in terms of panache and, well, disorientation, it’s a winner. This threw me more than anything has since Descent. As gamers, we’re now used to cover systems being horizontal; adding the vertical (particularly with round platforms you can circle around) is initially deeply confusing and very, very cool. And I mean confusing in a good way, as anyone who played Descent can attest. Once you get your bearings, hanging from the edge of a platform, blasting two robot things above, then bouncing up there with a single button-press – cover works similarly to Wanted, with chaining your movement from cover to cover possible – and continuing in that vein is brilliant.
So: entertaining flying. A solid cover-shooter. A mix of the two with vertical cover. The mechanics are all there, so what remains to be seen is how well the story, the atmosphere, and the feel really tie it all together as a whole. Considering that there’s no multiplayer, with it having been dropped to polish up the single-player experience (with DLC to extend the single-player “talked about,” but no concrete plans yet) I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. And let’s not forget that this is a Capcom title – I’ve been promised that the Hardcore difficulty has the team worrying that it may be too hard. There’s room for mastery, there, and in a game as cool as this, that’s going to be something to see.