An Apt Title for a Game Missing a Lot
Posted by numbthumb originally at: http://numbthumb.wordpress.com/
DARK VOID REVIEW
(360, PS3 & PC)
The video game industry currently finds itself amidst a transitional period where the scope of appeal has been opened up for a more casual market, young and old. But without a doubt developers still know that the hardcore demographic, those males between the age of 15 and 27, are the ones that can be relied on to perpetually throw money into new software for their systems. If we wanted to paint in broad strokes we might easily assume this target audience also happens to dig aliens, robots, guns and rocket packs. Heck, anyone that grew up on Star Wars STILL loves that stuff. So how does Airtight Games churn out such a monotonous, dreary and thoroughly uninspired title in Dark Void – that offers every single one of those things?
You play as Will, a pilot who crashes, along with his ‘sometime’ lover Ava and friend Coop, in the Bermuda Triangle, only to be then teleported to a parallel universe where he helps a group called the Survivors against the ominous Watchers. The Watchers are large slugs that use robots and UFO’s along with some nifty future technology. To combat this, the Survivors have scored the help of Nikola Tesla to retrofit some Watcher tech to use for themselves. I’ll admit freely that I have a soft spot for this type of pulpy science fiction, but I can also readily spot terrible story telling when I see it. And boy oh boy is this some shoddy story telling.
Dark Void lacks any true action set pieces or shocking moments to wow you along the way. Instead we get choppy story beats that pile on new information to justify the next stage, in hope that you’ll be impressed by the sudden shift and creative direction. You won’t be. It felt like they made it up as they went along, forcing ideas together without any notion of how to let them breathe on their own. It becomes laughable, but worse even still it’s just plain forgettable. Nolan North does provide the voice work for Will, so it’s not all bad. His surrounding cast is also fairly adequate in delivering what lines they have, it’s just unfortunate that those lines are so poorly written and increasingly repetitive during gameplay.
If you’re the type that doesn’t care for story, so long as the actions good, you’ll still likely be disappointed here. If there is a divisive stance on this game, however, it’ll be derived from the combat and flying, because there’s definitely some fun to be had I just don’t feel it’s extensive enough to make up for its faults. The game starts with a quick tutorial on how to fly with a jetpack strapped to your back, a jarring experience without any preface to the action to orientate yourself with what’s happening. Airtight may rightfully have wanted to start the game off with some real action, but it’s a convoluted introduction that crashes before it ever takes off. You see, immediately after this short start you take on the roll of Will, sans jetpack and guns, freshly crashed with your companion and tasked with some exploration. The main hook that the game offers you doesn’t come back into play for a couple levels and moreover you don’t get the full extent of that power until well into the first Episode, of which there are three. Much like the story, the creators don’t seem to understand the merits of a slow burn to reveal vital aspects of their own mechanics. This isn’t to say that flying can’t be fun; at times it’s everything you want it to be. There’s just an undeniable sense that it’s never paced nearly as well as it could have been.
A lot of the game will be spent on the ground, in third person perspective. There are six weapons to acquire for your arsenal, all of which can be upgraded twice. As you kill enemies you’ll be given tech points, which you can also find spread out in the world, and these points allow you to spend on the weapons you favor. A bright spot on this front is that the upgraded guns feel more powerful, warranting the investment. I wasn’t able to upgrade everything through a single campaign but they do cross over to multiple playthoughs. But there’s a nagging issue that draws this all back. The game isn’t exceedingly difficult, but I found especially on harder difficulties that enemies required absurd amounts of damage to take down. Sometimes three or four headshots are needed to destroy a robot, that shouldn’t be the case. Maybe it’s because they’re robots, but it runs against the grain of conventional shooters and this game spends too much time being one to ignore some of the basic ground work.
Games that include flight can provide stunning landscapes for exploration and item seeking. Dark Void is drab, brown, and undistinguishable virtually the entire time. You fly around cliffs that from start to finish look the same; I actually wasn’t able to tell if I was supposed to be fighting in literally the same world areas or if they just didn’t care enough to make more of them. Spaceships that you infiltrate provide some minor relief from the repetitive scenery but manage such limited detail themselves that you’ll never stop to take them in, because there’s really nothing rewarding to see.
There’s no multiplayer to speak of, a shame because the very idea of dog fighting with jetpacks and rockets is interesting enough. All you get is a 6-8 hour experience that you’d be hard pressed to want to go back to again unless you’re a hardcore completionist and need every last upgraded weapon and journal entry. The game just isn’t fun enough to go through more than once.
Dark Void is everything the stereotypical gamer wants; guns, aliens, spaceships, Tesla, parallel universe, and decent science fiction…in premise. The half baked nature of all these elements, however, proves that the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. It’s difficult to say there aren’t a few moments that’ll induce a couple of smiles, but they’re short lived and shallow. When being asked to drop 50-60 dollars on new gaming software in a quarter of the year where there are legitimately already two or three triple-A titles, Dark Void doesn’t meet the standards, but it might be a fun rental for a day or two.
THE WORLD: A parallel universe that you’re transported to from the Bermuda Triangle is a wonderful setting pregnant with possibility. Dark Void foregoes all of that to fall in line with the most basic of brown-world shooters. So many places look virtually identical. 4/10
THE STORY: This is where good writers can save a game, and bad designers that think they’re good writers can kill one. Poorly told, choppy and the dialogue is derivative. The idea might be interesting but that’s not enough to care about. 4/10
THE COMBAT & FLYING: Flying can be jerky, but it’s probably the least of the concerns in the game. Once you get used to hovering, soaring, banking and all of that it becomes really enjoyable, even if there’s a lack of variety. You can hijack UFO’s or man Survivor aircrafts, but each hijack sequence is the exact same making it a tedious endeavor at best. Gun’s upgrade believably, but the enemies can be sponges for damage and the aiming is anything but spot on. Cover mechanics work, but aren’t very useful. 7/10
THE PRESENTATION: There’s an exaggerated styling to some of the body movements, especially when flying and it’s a fitting choice. A distinguishable design graphically isn’t make or break, but it’s also dated when compared to anything else out there right now. The Score is fantastic and one of the real bright spots with the game. Voicing work is better than average, but the script takes it down a notch. 6/10
THE VALUE: Six or seven hours on regular difficulty, no multiplayer and no replay value or exploration warranted. Unless you’re an achievement/trophy hoarder you’ll have no reason whatsoever to play this again. Nothing you can’t beat in a day or two rental. 5/10