Out of the darkness too soon
In 2003 Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge was released for the original Xbox. It was not a game that sold very well, but a game that reviewed very well and is considered to be something of a cult classic today. Flash forward seven years and Dark Void is released by Airtight games, a group comprised of many of the same people who developed Crimson Skies. The one thing that you can say about both Dark Void and Crimson Skies is that neither of them sold very well.
Okay, so this game is not very good. The combat is mostly unsatisfying and has little weight to it, and irritatingly there’s often not enough ammo to last you through some of the lengthier gun fights, occasionally forcing you to venture out into gunfire to pick up enemy weapons. This problem is particularly noticeable for The Oppressor, the primary gun you’ll be using (the basic machine gun is rubbish), which can only hold 130 bullets or so, which is simply too low. And you can also only carry two weapons at once, which while good for some games just doesn’t do Dark Void any favours, especially with the ammo problem. The game has too few varieties of enemies, with only one noticeable mini boss type enemy, though an extremely cool final boss, but the majority of the basic foot soldier designs are too similar to liven up what is already a bland canvas for on-foot combat. And they are nothing but irritating when in their flying versions. Many of the guns simply do not fire fast enough and too much leading is required.
Dark Void does have a trick up it’s sleeve though, and that is the hover pack that’s added a few chapters in. This adds some spice to the combat that helps lift the game above some of the competition (thank you, thank you), but that doesn’t make it necessarily better, it just has a hover pack in it. The controls for flying are functional but most of the areas in the game are just a little too enclosed to take full advantage of this mechanic, and in the end I spent a lot of the game playing it like a regular cover-based shooter, which is when Dark Void is at its worst. Some levels have you fighting enemy ships, which you can hijack if you want, and these parts of the game tend to be a bit more fun, though the repetition and overall dullness still carries over. Though the most frustrating problem with these segments is that you close on your enemies too fast, and at close range your manoeuvrability is extremely limited, meaning that one of the only viable tactics is to fly as far away from the enemies as possible and then close in on them taking as many shots as you can before repeating the tactic. This is especially true for the final boss and can getting fairly maddening.
This is a game I would argue is a casualty of the post Gears of War world in which we live that forces every other game made to be a 3 person cover-based shooter. Dark Void does it’s best to change things up with the hover pack and air-based shooting, derived of but not better than the developers previous work, an interesting but insubstantial vertical cover system, and it’s ever so slight steam punk feel. But this game is disappointing because it could have been so much better if it wasn’t for the curse that Gears of War has laid over gaming in the last few years. This game, like many others, would be much better if it didn’t try to be Gears so much. It plays as if more than half a game is missing from Dark Void, with story elements spread too thinly, and numerous glitches and bugs still prevalent. The game presents some interesting ideas and for the most part manages to establish itself within an interesting universe but so much more could have been added, and I assume a lack of money and time is to blame.
On the plus side Nolan North provides the voice of the lead character, always a plus for any game. And the musical score, written by Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary, is actually pretty good and probably the most accomplished aspect of the game. An 8-bit version of the main theme plays over the credits which is a neat idea.
I’ll be honest here, I wasn’t expecting Dark Void to be any good, and only rented it for the achievements. And though I feel it had some potential, anything and everything this game could and should have been was lost early in development, and I would actively discourage anyone from buying it. Rent it if you must; the game is very short and not that difficult, only slightly frustrating in some spots, though I feel that is more because of the dodgy game mechanics than actual difficulty. Another Gears of War clone at its worse, albeit with a hover-pack to occasionally brighten things up, makes it’s way onto store shelves and sells poorly, reviews badly, and yet people are still making more games that follow the Gears formula when they should deviating from it. Leave Gears to Epic, game developers need to start thinking outside of the box again, because cover-based shooting is quickly getting tiresome. Maybe if it had been an open world RPG this game would have been better? With a quest system, full on exploration of the void, and a more extensive weapon customisation system. But all we have is an average game at best, and an overly short and dull romp through the halls of what-if at its worst.
Originally posted by me on Amazon.co.uk