Games for Lunch: Dark Void
Developer: Airtight Games
Release Date: Jan. 19, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site
0:00 I played Dark Void briefly at CES 2009, and then again at CES 2010. During those sessions I was a fan of the floating, jetpack-based combat but not a fan of the severe lack of ammunition I keep running up against.
0:01 A blue light with a metallic logo flying in. Timpani-heavy drums in the background. Fade to white and the menu screen, a generic futuristic computer interface.
0:02 I choose Normal difficulty and dive into: "Episode 1, Chapter 1: Prologue." Introducing: An Introduction!
0:04 "Silver Watcher Sergeants are tougher and more aggressive." Thanks for that, loading screen! August 1938. Biplanes fly over a mesa. But they have jet engines? In the '30s? A guy with a jetpack flies with them. "The lateral stabilizers seem to have made the difference," says a voice in my ear as the camera swings behind the jetpack guy and I'm immediately in control. "Yeah, I have to admit I was a little nervous, but it's flying great." And it is ... the controls and pretty fluid and natural. The beautiful rocky outcroppings below help.
0:05 "Hold up, we got company." It's a thin, circular alien ship, with a rotating ring around it. Looks like something straight out of "Independence Day." "Look out!" "Incoming!" The aliens take out a jet-biplane.
0:06 Some satisfying aerial dogfighting action -- dodging their shots with gentle loops, then zooming to get them in my sights. The only sour note is the constant radio chatter. "Now, take them down with your rocket pack." "Take 'em out, take 'em out!" "Let's make 'em pay." SHUT UP!
0:08 Fifteen Achievement points for "Mark of the Adept" as we go into a cut scene. An alien ship comes up right behind me, and I fly away and hover down to the ground with my oxygen mask on. I break out a big gun as a robot scorpion jumps off a rock wall, hitting me in the face with a white energy beam. "One week later" and the scene changes to a tropical Nassau Airport -- "Gateway to the skies." A black sedan rolls up to the gate and a woman with sexy boots gets out. She's a private courier, Ava. She recognizes Will, the pilot; and he, her. "Well, ain't life strange." 15 more Achievement points for "Prologue." Wow, I'm racking 'em up.
0:11 So of course we're flying through the Bermuda Triangle and an alien ship buzzes by us. Our wing hits a rocky outcropping and we crash in the forest. Everyone wakes up groggy, except Cooper, who's dead. The plane falls a few more feet from the treetops to the ground and a gas-masked guy in camouflage bounces off the windscreen. "Is he okay?" Eva asks. "Uh, not really. He's dead," Will replies. They're trying a little too hard for the world-weary dialogue here...
0:13 Back in control, I'm told to "Follow Ava to the village." Some pretty lush jungle environments, but in my mind I keep comparing it to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and finding this game wanting.
0:15 After two minutes of pointless running through the forest, complete with expositional conversation between Ava and Will, something finally happens -- we stumble on more dead guys in black suits. Another guy with a brown suit and a gas mask tells us to take cover. He walks into a cave, where his neck is snapped by a silvery sleek, tall metal robot. "What was that?" Will asks, understandably. Another acceptable response: HOLY SHIT A KILLER ROBOT RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!
0:16 Will and Ava grab the dead guy's weapons, to the strains of a dramatic music crescendo. "You know how to handle that?" Will asks. "What do you think?" Ava responds. "Huh, fair enough." The voice actors can't quite pull off the nonchalance needed here. Again, it suffers in comparison to Uncharted 2.
0:17 A rockslide conveniently separates Ava and Will. Luckily, she has a radio, so we can still talk. Or "unluckily," if you don't like the voice acting.
0:19 Just finished my first firefight, with a couple of those tall robots. Press X to take cover behind a concrete pillar, hold LT to aim, and tap RR to fire. I've played so many of these games, I could do this in my sleep.
0:20 I like the yellow dot that shows my current goal. Makes it hard to get lost.
0:21 Ava gives some cover fire from above as I shoot at a few more robots from down below. I think I've taken most of them out, so I run up to take out the last guy. Nope ... there are three of them still there. I break out the melee attacks and barely survive, with the screen edge turning red and the sound of a heartbeat overpowering the music. Of course, in five seconds I'm good as new. Fifteen more Achievement points for finding a journal that I can't be bothered to read right now.
0:23 Ugh ... instead of walking across a conveniently placed log to get to the next area, I totally miss and fall into a ravine. It takes two whole minutes to get back to where I was. It's my own damn fault, but still...
0:24 "I'm taking fire," I say into the radio. "Fire back!" Ava responds. "I am!" I answer back. Bleh. They're trying too hard.
0:26 Another set of six or so robots. I'm just staying behind cover, popping out when they pop out to fire. Each of these robots takes a RIDICULOUS number of hits -- it takes 12 shots to the face to take one out. Yes, I counted. Running up and doing a melee attack is much more effective, and gets me a cool animation where I shoot a robot IN THE SPINE!
0:28 There's a shiny purple glowy ball up on a high pedestal. I go around to look for a way to jump up (by the by, this guy has a six-foot vertical leap. It looks ridiculous and floaty). I'm ambushed by two robots. I manage to melee one, but the other takes me out. That's what I get for treating this like an action game instead of a "hide from the enemies" game.
0:30 I make it past a turret by sprinting, then use that same turret to destroy a large door in a mountain. There's a delay in the explosion sound effect -- it falls and then I hear it a second later. That's just sloppy.
0:31 These robots are idiots ... they're emptying out of the mountain and running right into my turret fire like lemmings. I get a Killing Spree Achievement for killing 10 enemies in 60 seconds.
0:33 The purple glowy ball is a "tech point cache." Seems kind of out of place to have large, glowing energy balls around when everything else is rendered semi-realistically (in a sci-fi sense).
0:34 I'm taking "vertical cover" on a ledge now, as the camera swings to point straight down. Tapping X when it appears on the screen lets me jump down effortlessly to the next platform down. Not super-exciting...
0:36 Another pointless firefight, but this time it's vertical, with me shooting straight down and them shooting back up at me from under ledges. The main practical difference is that the enemies fall backwards when I kill them now.
0:38 I get cocky and jump down farther than I should. One of the robots gets above (read: behind) me and leaves me stranded with no cover. I'm dead incredibly quickly. Argh!
0:41 I'm a little smarter about things this time. Rather than just firing from afar, or dashing down ahead, I work my way down methodically, grabbing and throwing robots off the side of the cliff as I go. This melee attack is way too powerful, especially compared to the super-ineffective gun I have now. Where are these upgrades I keep hearing about?
0:43 An extremely rickety wooden rope bridge seems an ideal place for an exciting battle. Nope ... it's just 30 seconds of straight walking. Yawn...
0:44 I found a weapons locker, but I actually don't have enough points to upgrade either of my weapons. Even though I found that purple glowy ball? Come on...
0:45 I throw some recently found grenades to blow up a large door. I'm about to walk through when four robots pour out and take me out EXTREMELY quickly at point-blank range. Sigh.
0:46 Now that I know what's coming, I fall back and throw a grenade at the advancing enemies, like the game's designers obviously want me too. I hate the feeling that I'm just wandering from battle to battle here.
0:50 A firefight with three more robots, this time in a swampy area. The water barely reacts to my presence ... like it's a flat, unmoving sheet.
0:53 Yet another firefight with six or so robots along a narrow alleyway with a bunch of cover points. I can't believe I haven't seen a second type of enemy yet. I also can't believe I haven't gotten the jetpack yet, as I know from previous demos that it is, by far, the coolest part of this game. I guess they're trying to show how hard things are without it, but really, this is just getting repetitive.
0:58 I spent the last five minutes on a "boss fight" with two slightly larger silver robots. They have slightly better articulation and fire rockets that are largely ineffective, as long as I'm behind cover. They can take an even more ridiculous number of hits before dying. When my ray gun runs out of ammo, I switch to the machine gun, which has a much more satisfying kick.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I really want to get to the part with the jetpack, at least, because I know it's a lot more fun than the dull, repetitive hour I've played so far.
This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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