Giant Bomb Review

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Dark Void Review

3
  • X360

Dark Void lays down a great foundation with its solid premise and characters, but the action is grounded by a handful of technical issues.


You'll play as Will. 
Here we are, it's 2010, the first year of the far-flung future. yet we still do not have jet packs. Actually, I'm not sure what's more depressing: the lack of jet packs or the frequency with which they are brought up in relation to it being 2010. But let me open the wound one more time by telling you that in Capcom's Dark Void, human beings encountered jet packs all the way back in 1938. One such human is Will Grey, the game's protagonist. His story is an interesting one, but a series of unfortunate technical glitches get in Dark Void's way.

In fact, the fiction behind Dark Void and the way that story is presented are probably the best things about the game. It opens with a sort-of-stock "plane gets sucked into the Bermuda Triangle" event, and from there you discover a new world that is ruled by an oppressive race of shiny metal robots called the Watchers. These guys have their hooks in everything, both in the Void and in the real world. In the game's first cutscene, Will and an old flame named Ava get stranded in the Void. From there you'll encounter villages filled with humans who worship Watchers as if they were gods. You'll also encounter Nikola Tesla, who's been reengineering Watcher technology to help the stranded humans rise up against the Watchers. Will quickly gets his hands on a Tesla-built prototype jet pack and, just as he's about get in over his head, he meets up with the resistance and becomes a powerful new force in the fight.

That fight takes place both on land and in the air. You'll start out the game on the ground, and when your feet are firmly planted there, it's a very familiar-feeling third-person shooter. You'll take cover behind objects and pop out to gun down the Watchers whenever they attack. Will starts out with a basic assault rifle, but you'll also have plenty of opportunities to use enemy weapons. The rest of these guns fill out the arsenal, and include equivalents to the standard sniper rifle and rocket launcher. There are six weapons in all, and each can be upgraded twice using tech points that you earn for collecting orbs that appear after kills. The weapons have a passable feel to them, but once you're fighting airborne Watchers that won't sit still, the amount of time you spend leading your targets will probably make you wish for some guns with faster projectiles. Also, most of the weapons are only especially useful in specific cases. I spent the bulk of my time using the Watcher version of the assault rifle. Still, blasting the Watcher robot suits apart and getting a look at what's inside is pretty satisfying, especially when you're landing head shots.

Tesla's got your back. 
After a brief stint on foot, you're equipped with a hover pack. Though you're not going to do much flying in it, the ability to jump up and glide in the air for brief periods of time changes your tactics dramatically. When you can position yourself above the enemy's position, the cover they're hiding behind doesn't work so well. There's a certain "death from above" mentality that feels pretty good, though it doesn't take long for your foes to start employing the same tactics. As a result, you can't stand still for particularly long.

After a level or two with this hover ability, you'll upgrade to a full-on jet pack. At this point, you can enter fly mode at any point... though if you aren't flying in an area that was clearly designed for full flight, you're likely to bump around into walls and meet a quick end. Taking flight often feels like you're barely in control, and at first, this can be frustrating. But as you get better at controlling your flights and--more importantly--you gain a better understanding of when you should actually choose to fly, it can be a lot of fun.

When you're flying, the game takes on the control stylings of an arcade-style dogfighting game. A number of the folks behind Dark Void worked on Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge for the Xbox, and it shows in the way the air combat controls. You'll be able to pull off evasive maneuvers to dodge incoming fire as you fly around large canyons and face off against enemy UFOs. If you get close enough, you can even opt to steal one of these enemy flyers, but the half-Quick-Time-Event, half-minigame you'll perform every time you want to get in a saucer gets tedious after its second or third appearance. The guns mounted on your jet pack are powerful, and Will is resilient enough to not really need the extra armor that a UFO provides, so once I got comfortable with the flight controls, I stopped UFO-jacking entirely. Other than a sequence where you have to fly around a large aircraft to power-up its engines manually, and then another sequence where you're defending said ship from waves of enemy attacks, most of your air time is spent knocking the same UFOs out of the sky. While the controls feel fine, the enemy's tactics never get tricky, and there are only around four different sky-based targets, one of which is a stationary mine.

Though both the on-foot and flying action can get a little repetitive, the game's story carries things along well enough to make Dark Void worth seeing through to its cool-looking final battle and the story's conclusion. That said, the game has a few different technical issues that get in the way--at least on the Xbox 360. For starters, the frame rate gets uneven when the action heats up, both indoors and out. The texture pop-in that has become something of a signature for the Unreal Engine is present, as well, and in one case, I ran into a spot where the more detailed textures would fade in, then immediately pop out to become blurry again... only to fade back in a second later and repeat the whole process until the end of the cutscene. This all happened during a fairly climactic moment, which can really take you out of the story. Lastly, some of the speech stuttered a bit during cutscenes.

The best part of Dark Void's presentation is its orchestrated soundtrack. Like a great piece of science-fiction television, Dark Void establishes a core melody, then revisits it in different ways, giving you a triumphant feel when appropriate, a down-trodden version for the darkest parts of the void, and, just for kicks, an 8-bit version to play over the end credits. It probably says something very specific about my tastes that it's that NES-style take on the theme that's stuck with me. The voicework is solid all around, with Nolan North heading things up as the voice of Will. He turns in a fine bit of work here, but little things, like the way he mutters "I bruise easily" when getting shot at, get a little too close to Nathan Drake territory. But with a solid supporting cast backing him up, it's hard to harp on the Will's Drake-like performance.

Your radar is absolutely key when dogfighting. 
There's a cohesive art style to Dark Void that makes it look different than the typical Unreal Engine-based shooter. For starters, there's a lot of open sky in the game, which makes Dark Void look a lot brighter than its name might lead you to believe. Also, the character models have a slightly exaggerated look to them that, when combined with a similar style of character animation, give the game's characters an interesting look. This especially helps the game's cutscenes, where Will and the other humans emote really well with their eyes. Between the dialogue and their body language, it's easy to see that there's history between Will and Ava, for example.

The core elements in Dark Void are well-designed and fun to play, and it tells an interesting story while setting up a world that's developed enough to deserve a sequel. But with its technical problems and a lack of enemy variety, Dark Void starts to feel like the game is getting in the way of its own universe. It's worth seeing for its unique twists on third-person shooting, but you'll probably come away feeling like it could have been much more.     Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
91 Comments
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Posted by Bigandtasty

Sorry to hear that. Jetpacking around sounds fun though.

Posted by KillerFly

Sounds like a made the right call by GameFly-ing this. Still very interested in checking it out though.

Posted by Galiant

The demo did not impress me much. Too bad, because there were a  lot of interesting ideas in it.

Posted by solidlife

The demo really put me off this game

Posted by General_D23

 
Sad to hear about the technical difficulties. I think I might still rent it. 
 
But with ME2 and NMH2 coming out next week, I don't think I'll get around to it until summer, after the busy season we're getting into is over.

Posted by JJOR64

The demo was OK.  I think this would be a game I'll get when it gets on the cheap side.

Posted by Balaamsafe

Shame the flying and the on foot stuff never really meld perfectly, there just isn't enough control over your actions.  Oh and the camera sucks :(

Posted by Jolt92

Would play, but the demo was so off putting. Maybe sometime I'll get around to it. Not right now, though.

Posted by MAN_FLANNEL

I haven't come to expect high quality shooters from Capcom. 

Posted by virtorio

In other words, it's a shooter from Capcom.  

Posted by Amatsu

3 out of 5 is pretty well the score I expected it to get.  Now, to read that wall of text before I go to sleep:D

Posted by ahoodedfigure

I think the design of this game is still mind-blowing, even if the execution of the actual game isn't meeting expectations.  
 
So my appeal to Hollywood is:  Make this a movie!

Posted by Meltac

Sounds better than I would have expected. The demo really left me unimpressed, but maybe I should give it a hance, when it gets cheaper.

Posted by Addfwyn

I still want to play this more than Darksiders or Bayonetta I have to say.  I was holding off in case the review totally slammed it, but it seemed a decent call from the review, so I'm gonna give this one a shot.  The demo was fun I thought, handled well, and should be a pretty fun game I think.

Posted by CitizenJP
@virtorio:  
Lol, bingo. ;P
Posted by Skald

Where am I? Third person shooter purgatory? This game looks completely forgettable.

Posted by Darkstar614

Man what a bummer that there are those technical issues. The story and setting look pretty interesting. Movie adaptation in the future possibly?

Posted by Jezotron

seems like graphical glitches are the vogue thing to have right now. Dark Void, Darksiders, Bayonetta... can't make a release at the moment without some screen tearing and framerate drops...

Posted by EthanielRain

Review could use some proofreading.  
 
Game sounds like a rental for some rainy weekend.

Posted by mythus

the demo murdered the game in terms of sales; or at least thats my forecast.

Posted by Kohe321

Sounds like a fair score

Posted by Scuzzy86

I hate flying games so the aerial dogfighting really put the nail in the coffin for me, but thats just me, the rest of the game sounds\looks\feels like every other 3rd person shooter, just not as good. 
 
Definetly NOT buying this, maybe when its reeaaally cheap @ gamestop this summer when theres nothing else to play

Posted by thecleric

You know what's really sad? 
Dark Void on DSiware is AWESOME.

Posted by TatsurouXIII

played the demo on 360 and couldn't help but feel the game is broken, especially the controls. shame, I was kinda looking forward to it sine last year's E3. Oh well.

Posted by masternater27

I thought the demo was pretty neat.  But yeah, between Mass Effect 2, No More Heroes 2, and Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom ALL next week, it'll wait until it's bargain bin material or I get around to renting it at some point.  Plus I'm still working on Dragon's Age and Assassin's Creed 2.

Posted by FellOpenIan

There's really no excuse for how confusing the dogfighting feels when most every 3D air/space flight game around at least gives you enemy tracking in the form of indicators around the reticle or edges of the screen. I can understand that they probably didn't want players locking onto targets but to relegate all enemy tracking to that shoddy mini-map is just torturous.
Posted by TheYear20XX

I'll rent this. Maybe if it was coming out in a dry season I might be more inclined to purchase, but Mass Effect 2 is next week. Sorry, Dark Void.

Posted by MachoFantastico

Better score then I was expecting, still might be worth a rent at some point. This game as Nolan North, so it must be worth a consideration for his voice work alone. 

Posted by GeekDown

I've been looking forward to this game for months now and it's a shame that it has technical issues. I will still buy it, but I'll wait until the price gets a little bit lower.

Posted by Floppypants

This game is getting mediocre reviews across the board.  What'd they spend all that extra development time doing with this thing?  Dark Void:  A Very Shiny Turd.

Posted by AutomaticSnake

3 stars in this site usually means 2 stars.

Posted by Lozz

After the demo I knew it wasn't going to be amazing. Maybe I'll rent it, certainly won't buy.

Posted by NathHaw
@GeekDown: 
 
I thought there were some OK vids and such.  What was it that made you anticipate this game as much as you did?
Posted by Seppli

I like the demo. I did like Crimson Skies back in the day. Will most likely pick it up from the bargain bin.
 
I would have liked to read more about the so called 'Vertical Combat' in your review Jeff. I take it, it isn't noteworthy then?
 
Also, getting the split between 3rd person shooter and arcade flight combat gameplay would be an interesting information. Is it about 50/50?
 
Nice early review.

Posted by Delta_Ass

The review itself reads more like a 4 star then a 3 star, in my opinion. 
 
Maybe Jeff was trying to be nice to the guys he knows at Capcom.

Posted by Legend

Not quite what I was expecting to be honest.

Posted by Ceebs

Sounds like the PC version could be a very solid game since it should fix most of the technical issues. Looking froward to it.

Posted by ParadoxEleven

Seems okay might give it a rent on PS3, I'll see if the technical bugs are the same there.
Posted by Sword5

Does Capcom have any quality control? Sounds like another half baked game like Bionic Commando.

Posted by regnits

GB could you let us know if there are no problems with it the PC version? The PC demo ran fine and so do all the other Unreal 3 engine games. If you are going to test the PC version would you do a new review?

Posted by armaan8014

It looks good. There's innovative gameplay. Though I won't be getting it immediately, maybe around may instead.

Posted by CHIEFMEGADETH666

Capcom are putting there money behind some OK stuff and thats not good enough.i dont want to lose faith all together?
Thank God for Super Street Fighter 4
Jeff has by far the best reviews on the internet!:)
Check out Jeffs review of ''50cent blood in the sand''
Lol LMFAO!!!!

Posted by soupbones

Man... I REALLY wanted this game to be great, but the demo felt really unpolished – and it seems the game carried on that issue.  
 
I'll be renting it - hopefully Capcom sticks with the franchise and delivers a more ironed out game.

Posted by DrLove

i hope everyone understands why this game was pushed out of Q4 2009, lol it wont even sell that much now, had it come out then it would have bombed.

Posted by Griddler

The review makes it sound like a 4 star game, I think I'll pick it up when it's £15-£20.

Posted by BaconGames

Basically a 4-star quality game with enough technical issues to make it a 3.  That's how I see it anyway.

Posted by JackSukeru

Expected this. I'll play around with the demo a bit more before deciding if me loving the concept is worth getting it despite it's issues.

Posted by Icil

You never mentioned the vertical cover system in this game at all in the review, so I'll assume that Dark Void didn't do it well enough for mention =/

Posted by Afroman269

Shame I had high hopes until the demo came out and made feel like this game was too bland. I guess I'll just rent it.

Posted by sfj

Hey about halfway through, and i'm actually loving the gameplay. If you embrace the "hover and cover" It's quite freeing and fun... and challenging. People keep knocking it, which I don't get. I feel, just as Mugatu did, like im taking crazy pills. This game is rad. Yes tech issues aside and short campaign...but c'mon people are we that spoiled? p.s. Those basing their assessment on the demo should reconsider.  The actual level the demo is taken from, is much deeper and involves some pretty cool moments. Played Bayonetta, Darksiders, and this, and I would definitely put this on their level. 

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