Dark Void (PC) Review
In a time when the video game industry is seeing an abundance of games being re-skinned and thrown out the door in a new package as the next big thing, Dark Void is a nice, albeit ultimately flawed, change of pace. The game begins in the early 1930’s where our protagonist, Will Grey, is a cargo pilot who finds himself taking on a job couriering cargo for a lady friend from his past. It isn’t long before Will finds himself crashing his plane while flying through the Bermuda triangle, and awakening to find himself in a very strange, yet beautiful, world filled with weird robots that want him dead, an enslaved native population of humans that need to be saved from their own beliefs, and Will trying to find a way back home. While the game has an interesting story, premise, and enough unique gameplay hooks to make it sound like it will be a top tier game, it sadly falls apart very quickly under the weight of too many interesting ideas that are marred with horrible controls, and bland level design.
The game starts by introducing you to the basic mechanics of any typical third person cover based shooter, however it isn’t long before you get the games first gameplay hook, that of the jet pack. Once you get the jetpack the game stops being a traditional third person cover based shooter, and opens up to what the developers had hoped to be gameplay that involves as much vertical combat in the air, as it does with ground combat. Due to frustrating controls while hovering, and an inability to aim at anything while hovering, or flying around on your jetpack, it soon loses its novelty as you will find it much easier, and more efficient, to simply stay on the ground, and play it as a traditional cover based shooter.
However one interesting aspect of the game that the jetpack allows you to engage in, is the vertical cover system. When in one of the select areas designed for it, the player is allowed to jump from cover to cover along the maps walls, scaling the insides of giant buildings, or the sides of cliffs, all while fighting enemies that are doing the same thing. However as with almost every aspect of this games gameplay, the novelty of the perspective change soon wares off, due to its lack of continued use beyond a few early, and late spots in the game.
Half way through his adventure Will finds a more advanced jetpack that will allow him to actually fly, and not simply hover for short distances. Once this unlocks, the game slowly begins to abandon ground combat all together, and the last half of the game is pretty much all based around flying around big open maps with the jet pack. While the first few times you fly onto an enemy UFO, and use a quick time event to highjack it from its occupant as you bust open the hatch, shooting its robotic pilot in the head, then throwing it off, and gaining control of the UFO is fun, it soon loses its appeal as you come to realize it’s pointless to do it as the UFO controls exactly the same as your jet pack does, with absolutely no differences in gameplay. As well this aspect of the game is all but ruined by a complete lack of control while steering Will around in the air. It appears as if the developers intended for you to always feel as if you never had full control over the jet pack, and unfortunately they succeeded in this respect a little too well, as trying to aim the guns mounted on your jetpack to kill any of the UFO’s you fight in these sections of the game is a test in the endurance of your keyboards ability to not break under the repeated punches you will no doubt inflict upon it after countless reloads of dying, due to the lack of control. No matter what the aiming sensitivity was set at, the flying always felt like it was ether so slow the enemies would fly right past you before you could even point your crosshair at them long enough to fire, or that it was so finicky it was impossible to aim at anything, as your crosshair would wildly swing past everything but what you wanted it to. Thankfully there are only a few maps that you play where you are forced to fly around with the jetpack and fight the UFOs, as at a certain point every map you play that requires you to fly around killing them also has a turret that you can occupy and use instead. Sadly this just leads to the game going from being frustrating, to it being boring, as enemy UFOs simply fly right at you.
Despite its many flaws in controls, and in its bland level design, the game does have a few standout features worth noting. One of most obvious ones is that of its beautiful art direction in the look of the games world, and of its blending of early 1900’s clothing with the high tech look of many of the games characters. While walking around the camp site of a group of fighters you meet up with early on in the game, and help fight with throughout, it is very easy to spend time just standing around looking at the various items around the camp site, and of the design of the fighters inhabiting it. One of the other surprising features of the game is how well it runs on the PC. Sadly these days most games that get ported to the PC have little to no effort put into its optimization for the platform, but Dark Void is a shining example of a game that has had the effort put into its port, and it shows. The game runs smoothly, looks beautiful and I found no instances where the game would slow down, or have any textures, and shadows display inappropriately. It should be noted that at one point the game did make my computer lock up, and forced me to restart it, but it only happened the one time.Overall the game starts out very strong as you are introduced to the games world, its characters, and its unique gameplay hooks; however it isn’t long before the shine of these things wears off, and your left with a mediocre game at its core. It has a lot going for it, with its unique take on the third person cover based genre of shooters, but the games shoddy controls and uninteresting level design just brought the whole thing crashing to the ground faster than Will forgetting to start his jet pack after he leaps off a cliff. Hopeful the developers will be in a position to make a sequel to the game, as for a starting franchise Dark Void sets itself up to be a very serious contender for being one of the big name games out there, if only its control and gameplay were to get a good look over. Unfortunately as it is, Dark Void is a game that is best borrowed, or rented for a weekend, and admired for its attempt at doing something new, and to hope that others in the industry can use Dark Voids mistakes as a lesson to build from.