WARNING! INCOMING SPOILERS!
Dark void. Hyped by Capcom for months, touting a vertical combat system and very shiny PS3 graphics, Dark Void is mostly well known for it's 'Rocketeer' jetpack-flight-combat look and feel. Oh, and Nikola Tesla's mixed up in this somewhere as well. Because jetpacks are AWESOME.
In the review, I'm going to be tossing out spoilers, opinions, and random thoughts like water over Niagara Falls. You've been warned.
That being said… Darn it, Capcom!
Before I go further, I'm going to rate different aspects of the game, get the numbers out of the way.
Gameplay: 2.5/5- Hey, it's that thing you do to make stuff happen!
Gameplay overall was both well done and not noticeable. Nothing new to make you go "That was awesome! I want to reload my save and do it again!", but overall was decent. However, there IS NO MULTIPLAYER. That's right. No. Multiplayer. COme on, who didn;t want to get going in a multiplayer jetpack battle with friends? CTF, deathmatch, defending and capturing objectives… how cool would that have been? Shame on you, Capcom. Shame.
Graphics: 4/5- This is the stuff that's part of the visual rendering engine- Environments, models, effects… invisible walls.
The graphics were really nice. Animations, effects, and all the other things here and there to make it pretty and shiny were nice. There were a couple of places where the level design- which was linear- looked very linear. Most of the time, the fact that the ground areas are linear were pretty well hidden, but you could tell where to go next without needing your objective on your radar/HUD. Note: the animation where the jetpack goes from hover to fly is awesome, and a little humorous- limbs flail and seem to ragdoll slightly as the sudden shift in momentum is applied to the pilot's body. (I said seem because it's an animation, and not actual ragdoll physics.)
Learning curve: 4/5- How tutorial-laden was the game, and how fast can you pick up how to play?
The game progressed in a very fluid manner- each new element was added after a few levels. Walking, shooting, vertical combat on cliffsides, then jetpack lite (more like a big jump + glide mechanic) followed by actual jetpack use.
Controls: 3/5- The buttons and analog sticks used to make your character move and do stuff, and how well they work.
The controls were pretty easy to get used to, with each new bit of control enabled and shown in a simple way. no pausing to show 'Do this!', just a few muttered comments by Will Grey (The player's character) and a quick pop-up showing what button to press for the new action.
Story: 5/5- The bit that has plot, characters, intrigue, plot twists (What a twist!)
The story was engaging, interesting, and kept me going to try and figure out what would happen next. Overall, it's not too far off the standard science-fiction beaten path, with tropes aplenty for those to see them (Did I mention 'The Rocketeer' yet? I did? Oh, well, uh.. yeah. That.), but enough to keep me interested, right up until the boss battle, the final plot twist, and the moderately open-ended ending.
Music: 5/5- Listen to that beautiful music!
Two words: Battlestar Galactica. That ring any bells to you geeks out there? Yes? Good. Cos the guy responsible for the soundtrack to the amazing Sci-Fi channel (I refuse to call them SyFy) tv series also did the soundtrack for Dark Void. (And he did an 8-bit version of the theme for Dark Void Zero, as well as the rest of the soundtrack for the 8-bit demake of the game. Win.) The soundtrack itself has his touch on it, but it fits each section perfectly.
Polish: 2/5- Bug testing, smoothness of experience- all the things that make the immersion into the game smooth (or not, if they were skimped on)
The game itself was fine, and fun, but it felt like it was lacking… something. (No, not just multiplayer.) It's a bit nebulous for me, but it felt… unfinished. Like they took all the awesomeness and poured it into the music and story (and jetpack) and then ran out when it came time to put effort into the rest of the game.
Advertised features (AKA 'Stuff on the box'): 2/5- All that stuff that they claim on the box ("Better! Faster! Stronger! More awesome!")
Jetpack? Check. Reality-jumping? Check. Adventure? Check. Save the world? Check. Nikola Tesla? Check… ish. The bit about helping Nikola Tesla was one of the things that really caught my eye when this game was being advertised. I am a sucker for electropunk stuff, and steampunk, as well. But Tesla was featured very little in the game- he gives you a hoverpack early in the game, and then goes off to do stuff and isn't seen for at least an hour or two of gameplay. Then you run into him again… but only via radio, as the ARK is prepared for takeoff. Then you see him again one last time as he is killed, anticlimactically, two-thirds through the game, and he's never brought up again. Dammit, Capcom, I wanted more Tesla.
Impressions and such:
Dark Void is a game that could have gone either way. It was developed by Airtight Games- guys who also worked on Crimson Skies: High road to revenge, among other things. With a pedigree that involved that award-winning (and hellishly fun-to-play) game, you'd think that something with more flight, (and jetpacks, no less) would be a game to knock your socks off. But it lacks something very important- Multiplayer. It also lacks polish, and something else I can't quite put my finger on.
The story itself could just as easily have been made into a major Hollywood film (Get Michael Bay to direct it and it would WIN), and at least if that happened, you wouldn't need to spend time on QA for game testing.
Dark Void is, in closing, a game you'll play probably once, and then trade it in for store credit, or sell it to a friend. Unless Capcom and Airtight can get a sequel made that fixes this title's problems, it likely will fade into obscurity. Darn.