Features & News

Demo Impressions: Dark Void

January 13, 2010, Author: Brian Gourlay

As wonderful as the internet is, there are times when I feel like it has a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of different types of media. Sometimes you’ll find out the ending to a film or book before it’s even been released to the public, while game developers are under so much pressure to build hype for their upcoming releases that we’re often inundated with gameplay footage that leaves very little to be discovered on our own. With this in mind, Dark Void is a breath of fresh air, in that I hadn’t heard a single thing about it until the demo popped up on Xbox Live and PSN.

Sure, it might have been because I’m not looking in the right places, but it was a nice feeling going into this with a clean slate and an unspoiled perspective, which I strove to maintain until the very second that it had finished downloading. Going by the name I was expecting something that involved a celestial battle between demons and yourself (they do seem to be very in these days, with Darksiders, Bayonetta, God of War 3 and Dante’s Inferno all involving conflicts between mythological beings), but was surprised to see that you do, in fact, play as someone who looks like a lot like a WW2 pilot and sees you fighting hostile alien invaders. Already the game had thrown me a curve ball, and I found myself getting quite excited about what other surpr… he has a JETPACK!? What the hell am I still waffling on for, let’s get this baby fired up!

It’s pretty much straight into the action with the demo, with your hero (William Grey, whose voice and facial features seem to resemble, or at least are inspired by, Nathan Fillion) desperately trying to repair his downed fighter plane. He gives up almost instantly however and then decides to just strap on the jetpack that was sitting next him, despite the misgivings of his oddly dressed buddy who tells him that “The Watchers” are swarming the area. And that’s it, apart from clearly setting up William as the square jawed have-a-go hero and briefly mentioning him attempting to save someone called Eva, we’re given no inclination as to who is who, what’s going on or where the hell we are! That becomes instantly irrelevant however, as you’re granted control of William at the edge of a cliff, the immortal phrase “Press Y to fly” is emblazoned across the screen, and I found myself soaring through the skies in no time.

What the hell!? Which freak inverted my Y axis!? *plummet*

What the hell!? Which freak inverted my Y axis!? *plummet*

Despite being a little bit thrown off when I initially started my debut flight, which was matched by William’s rather undignified take-off animation, the flight controls are very easy to pick up and a quick tutorial allows you to get to grips with them. Use the left stick to navigate through the air, the right stick to roll and the face buttons to slow down, speed up or switch to hovering mode. You can also perform acrobatic maneouvres to quickly turn around or dodge enemy fire, but they’re quite unnecessarily fiddly to accomplish as they involve pressing the analog stick and moving it at the same time.

Flight checks over, you’re instructed to take out a few communication towers and gun emplacement that are dotted around the valley you’re exploring, which lets you try out the experimental jetpack’s more destructive functions. Unfortunately the demo doesn’t give much away in this aspect, as your upgradeable equipment is still in it’s infancy and your only means of attack being pretty bog standard mounted cannons. Yes that’s right, bog standard experimental jetpack mounted cannons, but even with the meagre resources you’re given, it’s still possible to engage in some pretty exciting dogfights when some Watcher fighters crash the party.

You only fight three of the enemy ships, which are proper retro flying saucers as it happens, but the mid air battles are still suitably exciting, especially when you make the most of the impressive looking air acrobatics and the hijacking mechanic. Getting close enough to a fighter allows you to land on top of it, triggering a quick time event that involves trying to rip off a control panel on the ship whilst dodging it’s attempts to shoot you and holding on as it tries to shake you off. It’s pretty simplistic and a bit too easy to trigger the events but they are very cinematic and absolutely lovely to look at. The hijack concludes with a brief scuffle with the Watcher pilot, a gunshot to the head and a brand new piece of hardware to crash into things with.

The controls appear to be exactly the same from vehicle to vehicle, but with varying levels of firepower mixing up the options a bit. With the Watchers dispatched for the moment, you’re instructed to enter what looks like a miniature space station with the aim of fighting through it and shutting down a shield generator which is pinning down some of your allies.

It’s through playing this section that I discovered that Dark Void combines its air combat with ground conflicts and a cover system, and they all actually merge together pretty well. When approaching the space station I quickly triggered hover mode allowing me to slow my descent into the landing bay, firing on the ground defences all the while, and then rushing for the cover of a well placed crate as soon as I hit the deck. What follows is a few firefights on your way to the control panel, and I was surprised to see that the combat is actually pretty good, if not groundbreaking.

It’s rare to see a game that has one main hook or selling point deliver on other levels, (I’m looking at you Bionic Commando) but Dark Void looks like it could buck the trend. The cover system works perfectly well despite being a little bit sticky at times, the weapons are all visceral and satisfying to use (especially some of the bigger Watcher weapons) and the controls transition seamlessly from ground to air, meaning I didn’t have to think about a completely different control scheme every time I changed my elevation.

In the face! In the faaaaace!

In the face! In the faaaaace!

My only gripe is that the enemy AI seems to be a bit one dimensional. Enemies all seem to follow the same pattern in that they will spend a few moments shooting at your from cover before suicidally rushing towards you regardless of what stands in their way (not even a grenade at their feet will stop their march). It can be a bit overwhelming at times since the Watchers can take a real beating before going down, leaving you with only one remaining strategy: Find a bigger gun. This did let me experience some of the close combat, again driven by quick time events, but I hope that the Watchers get a bit smarter in the next couple of weeks, as it could prove to throw a spanner in what otherwise looks to be a very well oiled machine.

Now that Dark Void has placed itself on my radar, I have to say that I’ve found the demo to be very enjoyable. It’s pretty short and I’m worried about the enemy AI, as well as the cut-scenes which don’t seem to convey the story in a very effective manner. However I can see myself playing the full game further down the line as it takes a lot of good points from other games and then tops it all with a very accomplished flying mechanic. It’s a bit disappointing that the demo is quite bare, the “Vertical Cover” which allows you to take cover while flying doesn’t make an appearance and the equipment that William begins with is extremely basic. I suppose Airtight Games need to keep their cards close to their chest however and, considering how well being oblivious to the game has turned out so far, I certainly won’t be trying to prematurely have a peek at them!