Dark Void is a game that I’ve been hearing about for a while that I really didn’t know much about. I heard things like “vertical combat” and jet pack, but there are some games that you just have to play to really get a feel for, and that’s why I was excited to hear that there would be a demo this week. Well, I’ve played the demo, and I’m ready to say that I cannot properly make a judgment call based on what little is available to play there. Yes, I know, that’s sort of a cop out, and maybe no one should make judgment calls based on demos, but generally I get a sense of whether I like something or not in the demo, and Dark Void just made me more confused.
Allow me to explain: the Dark Void demo is not very long. It covers a small segment of open air flight and then a brief battle on foot. The first thing I noticed was that Nolan North, voice of Nathan Drake and several other videogame characters, was also voicing William, the main character in Dark Void. This may seem inconsequential, but North may be becoming over-saturated in videogames, and his appearance in everything is actually breaking the suspension of disbelief, just like when Samuel L Jackson appears in anything. Moving on, the demo doesn’t present a whole lot of story structure. Basically, there’s a guy who sounds like Nathan Drake, and there’s a crazy jet pack, and they join forces to destroy whatever it is they’re destroying, because it’s inherently evil, I guess.
The things you’re fighting aren’t human, rather they seem to be robots in the vein of the Star Wars prequel robots; lanky humanoid creatures that you’ll instantly hate for no apparent reason. You start off shooting stationary objects during the flight portion. This is very much a tutorial, but the guides will disappear after a while, so if you weren’t paying attention you’ll just have to wing it. Once you’ve defeated those defenseless objects, you’ll get a few bogeys coming in for you. These flying enemies will actually fight back, and they’re not super easy to hit with the way the jet pack controls, which is not unlike a jet. On normal difficulty, they don’t really present a challenge, but trying to turn around and actually aim at them is a challenge in and of itself. If this were pivotal rather than trivial, I think the imprecise nature of the controls would irk me greatly.
Once you’ve disposed of the enemy ships, you’re directed to an airship that you can land on. You’re told to use your hover ability (or else you’ll die!), although it doesn’t actually hover, it just slowly lowers you to the ground. Once you’re on the ground, it becomes any third person shooter, except your shots don’t do any consequential damage. You could chalk it up to the fact that what you’re fighting isn’t human, but they don’t seem to react much at all until they’re actually dead, which takes a lot. Once you’ve dispatched of the robots, you bust up the ship and then fight some weird crocodile alien looking things. They move quickly, but you can use your melee to kick them to death, which is shockingly more effective than trying to shoot them. It would be, at least, if the melee button worked consistently.
The user interface, including the map and weapon selection, are displayed on screen at all times, but the map is rather confusing since it uses symbols that are never defined to mark certain objectives, usually enemies or landmarks. I, at one point, thought that I was one of those points, and I can’t actually verify if I was or not, because I just didn’t really understand the information that was being given to me.
Like I said, the demo is short. The story is a blur, the flight controls aren’t intuitive, and the on ground controls feel somewhat generic and lackluster, but I’m not willing to judge the game based on that alone. Dark Void could very well be greater than the sum of it’s parts, and there was a boss battle hinted at when the demo ended, which I was rather shocked I wasn’t going to get a chance to play, but the demo doesn’t present anything that gets me excited. I came into the demo neutral, and I left neutral. That alone seems foreboding, but there’s only a few weeks left until we find out, so I’m going to be waiting with cautious optimism. You can come to your own conclusions.
Dark Void will be released for Xbox 360 and PS3 on January 12th, 2010.