Since the dawn of flight, human beings have
reveled in taking to the skies. Yet it was only with the invention of the jet engine
that man realized his true destiny: to strap one of those bad boys to his back and take
off like a bat outta hell. Dark Void tries to make the theoretical awesomeness of jetpack
flight into a videogame reality.When it comes to zooming around with your jetpack, performing
acrobatic airborne maneuvers, dogfighting with UFOs, and flying places you probably
shouldn’t, Dark Void can be pretty darn fun. Unfortunately, the other parts of the game
aren’t as fun. The third-person shooter action is competent, but mundane, and the plot is
an adventure-y cliche with only a few sparks of life. The campaign isn’t particularly short,
but once finished, there’s nothing else to do except play it again. It’s baffling, but
true: there are no online jetpack dogfights against your buddies. No multiplayer of any
kind. It’s a shame, because there is some fun to be had here. Sadly, it just isn’t enough
to justify the sixty dollar price tag. And it doesn’t help that the game gets off
to a slow start. Discounting the throwaway prologue mission, it’ll be a couple of hours
before you can take to the skies with your fully operational jetpack. In the early going
you’ll plod through levels, shooting enemies with a few different guns and taking cover
behind a lot of objects. Dark Void has that sticky, press-a-button-to-enter-and-exit type
cover, and if you don’t use it fairly well, you stand a good chance of being mowed down
by enemy fire. And cover isn’t just walls or low barriers. Dark Void has a vertical
cover system that allows you to lean over or hang from ledges and shoot enemies below
or above you. It has a certain novel appeal, but it doesn’t significantly improve the action.
Shooting mechanics are good and headshots are reasonably satisfying, but the third-person
run-and-gun action isn’t that exciting. You’ll realize very quickly that you have the power
to kill most robots with a single punch, so you’ll melee attack whenever possible. This
encourages you to be aggressive and elevates your run-and-gun tactics to run-and-punch-and-gun,
but again, this kind of combat doesn’t get much better than competent.
Unfortunately, the narrative elements in Dark Void sometimes seem to aspire to competence.
Things start off with a few cliches: The handsome down-on-his-luck roguish fellow, a mysterious
woman from his past, a fateful airplane ride. Throw in a sci-fi twist and it’s pretty much
business as usual. The bad guys have some enjoyably sinister moments, and the journals
you find scattered around tell some intriguing tales, but these signs of life are overshadowed
by predictability, dull dialogue, and occasional miscues. One glaring example is the introduction
of one of the main characters, which could hardly be called an introduction at all. There
is a lot of assumed familiarity that deflates any sense of wonder or intrigue. Why do the
protagonists know the names of landmarks they haven’t encountered before? Why does our hero
know exactly how to melee kill a complex alien combat robot? And on the opposite end of the
spectrum, why does the main character say, “Wonder what this is for?” after picking something
up for the eighth time? Inconsistencies and loose ends plague the plot and the characters
alike, making hard to really get involved. Yet the story proceeds at a reasonable clip
and takes you through a fairly sizable adventure, so it isn’t all bad. It’s just not particularly
good. The one part of Dark Void that is particularly
good is the jetpack. You fly with a fun sense of speed, and each flailing take-off is a
great visual reminder of the forces that propel you. You can fly, boost, brake, and hover.
There are also a few acrobatic moves that you can pull off to help evade or pursue enemies.
You are very maneuverable in the air and as a result you can take some daring and disorienting
flight paths if you so desire. Alien UFOs prove to be engaging foes, and the large-scale
dogfights provide some entertaining aerial combat.
Getting fancy with the flight controls Dark Void’s most appealing activity. Sure you could
hover into that open hangar, land, and then pick off the enemies from behind cover. But
why not try to scream in there at top speed, blast a robot point blank, smash the control
panel, and zoom the hell away? Yeah it’s dangerous, but why else did you strap that thing to your
back? Dark Void is at its best when it lets you use your arsenal and abilities in whatever
way you see fit. The simplistic cover combat becomes much more entertaining when you are
jetting across a level and then landing gracefully behind cover. A field of stones custom-made
for cover-to-cover movement is a lot more fun when you just decide to fly back and forth
over it, strafing your entrenched foes. The best moments in Dark Void are those of your
own making, when you embrace the fact that you’ve got a crazy jetpack on your back and
try to pull off daring stunts and maneuvers. And that right there is Dark Void’s chief
appeal. If tooling around with a jetpack sounds like fun, then you’ll have some fun here.
Unfortunately, it takes a while to get there, and the other action isn’t fun enough to stand
on its own. And without any multiplayer modes or replayability to speak of, Dark Void isn’t
a very good value. If you’ve got a few bucks, some spare time, and a hankering for flight,
consider Dark Void a reasonable rental. You may have to slog through some mediocrity,
but you will earn yourself some high-flying thrills for your troubles.