Hands-on at E3 / Dark Void

Since about the dawn of humanity, we’ve wondered why we’ve been unable to fly. Since the advent of videogames, we’ve created many simulated scenarios where we control other characters who are able to fly. Why not? It’s not like being in airplanes satisfies that feeling, so maybe the ever-more-believable worlds in videogames will give a sensation of true flight. Dark Void is an action game that joins those ranks, but also throws in the seemingly-required Gears of War cover system tropes with a little twist of its own.

Is it fun? Maybe. It’s pretty, at the very least. I began in a cave-like room and then stepped outside, where I was greeted to a huge, vast river lined by rocky cliffs, which is what the ledge I was standing on was a part of. From there, I took a moment to grasp the controls before I jumped off the ledge, and learned how to turn on my jet pack. Like me, it seemed to be protagonist Will’s first time out as he would lose his bearings on activation. Regardless, just like that, I was off and free to explore the cliffs and river and the adjacent futuristic structures as I saw fit.

The flight mechanic is about as simple as running in most games. The feel actually reminded me a bit of motion in a Metroid Prime game for some reason; feeling very smooth and not too concerned with the natural bob of footsteps. This makes for a very fluid, floaty experience, which is perfect for a game based on flight like this one. It’s also unbelievably tight. Don’t expect to be compensating for the physical hangups of actual propulsion physics here. You pull up, you move up. Going down takes you down with the flick of your thumb. Think of the controls in a Star Fox game and add responsiveness to even that. Given that this is an action title, I’m predicting that creating realistic controls would have been a little overwhelming. As is, you can do lots of cool stuff, and easily. It can also help offer a sense of the joy in flight, though I think factors like sound would have to contribute there, and on a loud E3 show floor, there was just no way I was going to hear anything of the sort.

About that action: it’s solid. As stated, it takes a lot from the winning Gears formula. You cover, you jump out and shoot, toss grenades here and there, keep going until you or they die. The twist that Dark Void adds is vertical cover. Here, the camera basically rotates up or down, you hang from a platform, and enemies will peek out over edges of platforms they’re on, above or below you, and fire. You do the same as well. You then either launch yourself up to the next platform, or fall down to one below, depending which direction you’re meaning to go. You can also jump left or right to other platforms. It’s very cool looking, and the animation is, again, very fluid. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was still a cover system battle like any other. The only difference was some movement limitations, and the fact that I’d have progressed to somewhere higher or lower rather than farther in some horizontal direction.

The game is slick, the presentation is about as polished as they come, and the simple mechanics are just right for this kind of game. However, I never found myself getting extremely excited in my brief time with the game. I’m imagining there’s more here than the one level I experienced, though, and the vast environs suggest as much, as I explored a very small part of a map, and that small part actually had quite a bit going on. We’ll be able to find out for certain come this Fall when it hits the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.