Void (noun) – a completely empty space. Yeah, that about sums it up for us. As hard as we peered into Dark Void we struggled to see a shred of originality, or a spark of excitement that lifted the game above anything other than beige mediocrity. In a world of Modern Warfare and Gears of War, this game is a bit of a non-entity.
The main problem is that, even with the jetpack mechanic (which we’ll get onto in a minute) Dark Void simply doesn’t excel at anything. There isn’t a single memorable moment in the game – a moment that made us sit up and think “wow, this might be pretty cool”. Worse, it kicks off with one of the shoddiest prologues we’ve ever been subjected to.
Dumped into the middle of an aerial battle, you’re hastily given a few button commands before being asked to deal with the game’s twitchy controls and shoot down a handful of weird UFOs of the most generic variety possible. Sure, it all gets explained later, and we understand why the devs didn’t want to kick off with an hour of dreary third-person shooting (which pretty much sums up the first couple of levels) but it’s still a totally disorientating opener and leaves a nasty taste in your virtual mouth, which would require a huge amount of gaming greatness to expunge.
With the prologue done, you’re then introduced to freight pilot Will and his sexy-if-you-like-that-kind-of-thing customer Ava. Who also turns out to be his Ex. Funny, that. The two are on a flight through the Bermuda Triangle – which is clever of them – and all of a sudden they’re crash landing on a jungle island. Next they suddenly turn into combat-hardened marines and go about dispatching droves of weird alien robots with sort of slugs inside them, who are worshipped by the natives, and Nikola Tesla pops up, and Will falls down a big hole and… oh, it’s relentless sci-fi bilge. Perhaps there’s a decent plot lurking underneath it all, but the game seems so intent on rushing you towards the next bizarre revelation or tenuous plot/gameplay link we stopped caring by episode two.
Sadly, it isn’t as if you can get your jollies from the action instead. The shooting sections are twitchy as hell, presumably to give you a chance at hitting the Watchers (skinny robot enemies) who jerk around the screen like characters in a badly buffered Quicktime movie. The bad guys are unnecessarily tough too. We don’t care if they are robots: a headshot should equal death, and in Dark Void it doesn’t. Quite a ways into the game you finally come across your first flying section, and this is more entertaining. Blasting enemies out of the sky is tough, but hovering above ground-bound grunts and peppering them with your machine gun proves to be pretty satisfying.
However, just when you start to enjoy yourself, there’s always something to bring you crashing back to the earth with frustration. One of the first jetpack stages is an escort mission where you’re protecting a man who doesn’t think twice about slowly walking towards mounted machine guns. A couple of stages later and you’re engaged in a full-on dogfight inside a narrow canyon against wave after wave of flying saucers. It’s challenging enough, until you die and realise you have to start from a checkpoint pretty far back. And it doesn’t have the same sheen the second time around…
There’s nothing offensively bad about Dark Void; it’s just exceptionally mediocre. We blasted through the whole six-ish-hour campaign and now we struggle to remember any of it. It’s like those hours just mysteriously vanished. Eerie.
Jan 19, 2010