Thursday, May 05, 2011

Review: Dark Void (PC)

Dark Void was released in 2010 and developed by Airtight Games. The game mixes regular third person shooting with Crimson Skies like air combat, a previous game form Airtight Games. The story focuses around a cargo pilot that while traveling through the bermuda triangle got catapulted into a another world where he has to fight of on alien invasion that targets earth.

The game starts out with a ridicoulus long installation routine, that for some reason took two hours here. Not sure what went wrong there, it might have been a broken DVD, but I could copy data from the DVD normaly just fine, only the installation worked at a snails pace. Once the installation was done the game however ran without any issues.

The story of Dark Void makes a rather rushed and unfinished impression, as it wastes basically no time in actually introducing the setting or characters and instead has you pretty much fighting right from the start. Even throughout the later parts of the game that initial confusion doesn't really clear up, as character are barely ever properly introduced and the motivations for the next mission barely ever properly explained. In addition to that everybody seems kind of unsuprised at what is happening. Aliens in the bermuda triangle? Apperantly nothing to unusual in Dark Voids universe.

Most of the story is told through regular non-interactive cutscenes and while those cutscenes themselves are fine with good graphics and solid voice work, there just aren't enough of them to really piece together a coorent story. In a few rare spots the game also uses dialog between characters to tell parts of the plot, but those parts feel rather awkward, as you have to simply run behind another character while the non-interactive dialog plays, which turns it into more of a chore then an interesting way to deliver a story.

The fighting is split into air combat and third person ground combat. While there are a few sections where both can be used together, a very large part of the game is spend either completely on ground or completely in the air. The split between both air and ground combat is around 40/60.

Ground combat follows mostly just regular third person shooter conventions. You can take cover, blind fire, etc. Melee attacks are possible, but I found them hard to pull of, the game seems to require you to stand in an exact position relative to the enemy or else it just won't register your button press. A special feature of Dark Void is the vertical cover that allows you not only to take cover behind the regular boxes, but on the ledge of a platform, to either fire up or down. Enemies themselves have the same ability and thus a small part of the game is spend climbing up towers or other vertical structure while fighting enemies along the way. However the vertical cover doesn't really change much of the core gameplay, as it plays pretty much like regular cover, only the camera, which in those modes looks straight up or down causes a bit of initial confusion as you enter or leave vertical cover. Climbing between platforms happens via canned animations that leap you from one platform to the next, Tomb Raider-like climbing mechanics aren't present in this game.

When in the air the game uses pretty standard air combat controls, you can brake, you have a boost and a gun. A press of the A button will switch you to hover mode. The second analog is used to trigger special maneuvers such as 180° turns or dodging. Enemy planes can be captured via a short quick time event sequence, once captured they provide a bit of additional firepower and production. When hovering the camera still tries to stay in the over the shoulder perspective, will can get quite a annoying as it makes it impossible to see your feed and thus judge distance when landing. A further zoomed out camera would have been prefered.

The game features six weapons that can be upgraded over the course of the game, however as the money you need to collect is hard to come by, you will only ever manage to fully upgrade two of them and pretty much ignore the rest. The game also gives you little reason to ever switch weapons, as all of them pretty much feel equally ineffective against enemies. Most enemies can take a full magazine before going down and there don't seem to be any discernable special hitzones to speed it up. This makes combat often very tedious.

The graphics are pretty good overall and run quite fluid on the PC. They also feature some nice looking crepuscular rays on the higher settings. Character art leaves something to be desired, as the faces look kind of weird. In some interior sections the graphics can however get quite dark, making it hard to really see anything, even with a maxed out brightness setting.

Overall this games leaves a rather mediocre impression. The few moments where you can freely switch between air and ground combat and use each of them to your strategic advantage can be good fun and in those sections the game manages an impressive sense of scale. But far to much time in the game is spend in regular third person combat that simply feels boring and unexciting. The number of different enemies is extremely limited and doesn't really change much over the course of the game. The few quick time events that the game uses to take over an enemy aircraft can also get repetative very quickly as there is only really a single of those sequences that is always the same. In general the game just lacks variation.

The recharging health is also rather troublesome, as it is hard to really get a proper idea of how much health you have left and recharging takes a little long, so you die quite a bit by simply being inpatient. Reset points can also be a little to far apart and uneven, as sometimes you don't get any after a cutscene, while othertimes a reset point will put you past the enemy you where just fighting. Air combat also has its issues, as it never gets very creative, most of the time you spend hunting down the exact same enemy planes and while there are a few nice sections where you have to fight bigger battleships by landing on them, those sections are however very rare.

The setting is certainly interesting and some of the set pieces look quite nice, but the story is completely underdeveloped and gives you very little sense of what you are fighting against or why. The game also overuses waypoints a lot, so instead of figuring out where you have to go next on your own, you are guided by a bright yellow dot. Exploration is pretty much non-existent and the whole experience feels extremely linear.

It is not an awful game by any means, but given the interesting premise it could have been so much more. As is, it is a rather boring third person shooter with some fun, but not really outstanding, flying action. Given that the game sells for $5 these days I would still recommend it, as there just aren't very many games that have you flying around with a jetpack, just don't expect anything to special. It is fun for the good 7 hours it lasts, but doesn't really do anything that you haven't already seen done better in other games.

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