Published on July 30th, 2009 | by Cameron Woolsey
Hands on: Dark Void
In 2003 FASA Studios brought Xbox owners the high-flying and fun-to-play flight game, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. Critically acclaimed by reviewers and players alike, a sequel seemed very likely. Unfortunately, the sequel was canceled in early stages of production and FASA was eventually closed down. Now Airtight Games, a company composed of the core FASA designers behind Crimson Skies, is bringing us the spiritual successor to the series, Dark Void, and I was able to check out their progress.
In Dark Void you play as Will, a young daredevil with a leather jacket who is in no way related to the main hero of Rocketeer, the classic Disney movie about a man with a jet pack and Nazis to fight. He zooms around the land wearing a high-power jetpack and helmet which bears no resemblance to previously mentioned movie and he fights off a great enemy who was once defeated and now are making a comeback that threatens the… alright, alright, you get the point. Similarities aside, there are many differences worth taking note. Will, instead of fighting Nazis, is fighting against an advanced alien race hell bent on wiping the world clean of the human race and it is up to him to put a stop to it.
Many segments of the game will take place while flying in the air. Pressing Y (or triangle for the PS fans) will activate the pack and send Will into the sky at a blistering pace. Holding the button down will all Will to fly at a continuous boost until released. The game also has different aerial maneuvers that can be performed while in the air such as twisting to avoid incoming fire and a sharp U-turn that will bring the player back into the fight. These moves are similar to those found in the Crimson Skies series. Though flying with a jetpack is a primary theme of the game, players will also get to fight on their feet as well.
During the demo I was given the task of destroying three (I believe shield) generators and kill any aliens that may stand in my way. I sped toward the nearest spire and landed on the platform with the delicate grace of a fat man tumbling down a flight of stairs. I didn’t have time to brush the shame off my leather jacket before being attacked by some alien defenders. The first aliens I encountered were the standard type: tall, thin, metallic, gun-wielding, and easy to take down. The basic grunt. During the fight I was able to take cover and return fire much like what has been seen in game such as GoW or Rainbow Six. You can use a rifle plus grenades to take down enemies and players also have access to many finishing moves that can be used on severely injured enemies.
After taking out the grunts, I was given the chance to check out the Vertical Cover system (labeled by Airtight). This cover system works much like that of a normal cover system except that you will be firing at enemies above and, or above you at the same time. The jetpack is used to fly up to the next level of cover above Will, or you can hover down to cover that is below. Enemies also have the ability to utilize the cover system so expect to attack aliens as they awkwardly position themselves below platforms while firing back. This scene in the cramped room of the generator core is where I began to notice some issues with the controls. Naturally I would expect a decently steep learning curve from a game that houses so many unique play styles, but I must have missed some friendly advice in how to navigate the jetpack in tight spaces since I could only smack against the walls of the room like a wayward ping pong ball before painfully landing on a platform that I was thankful to finally find. This humorous scene started when I fell off of a platform on accident. “Ok,” I thought, “I’ll just hit Y and get back onto the platform. Easy enough.” Not so, unfortunately. Pressing Y will activate the jetpack, but as I previously mentioned it also activates the boost, allowing my mind to go from, “I got this,” to “oh shit!” in the span of milliseconds. Perhaps there is a much prettier way of regaining your composure while falling down a narrow metal tube full of enemies, but I couldn’t find it in my short play time.
Leaving the generator with at least some dignity intact, I ran down the large platform I first landed on and then I leapt of the end, allowing gravity to take over and pull me down before I activated my jetpack and cinematically flew off into the blue horizon. After the embarrassment that was my first Vertical Cover fight, being able to pull off this move and fly freely made me feel happy again. Granted, I was feeling frustrated before, but the game has moments where you can easily see how fun it can really be.
Sadly the feeling didn’t last as I soon realized that the aliens were not too happy that I destroyed their cramped generator and sent a few saucers in order to take me out. The jetpack has two mounted machine guns on top that allow for aerial combat. Holding a button down (can’t remember which, sorry) allowed me to lock on to a target and encircle it while firing. Strangely, this only locks the camera in place but not the guns and being able to maneuver Will while flying while the saucer is flying around me while we are both trying to shoot each other felt awkwardly difficult. I could only manage to land one or two shots before I gave up and decided on getting close enough to hijack the craft which, of course, does not require you to aim. Hijacking itself is a chore since I needed to break a panel by way of button mashing while at the same time the craft’s turret could still turn and fire at me. So, in order to steal the craft, I had to bash a panel briefly before quickly moving all the way around the craft to avoid being shot, get back to the panel, bash a few more times, wash, rinse, repeat, until finally I was able to take it over….only to discover that I couldn’t do a lock on aim with the saucer either so it took me quite a while to defeat the other two saucers that were after me.
This last battle was the end of my play time and I left feeling a little on the fence. On one side, I know I can trust the developers to deliver a good product and the flying was certainly fun. But on the other, some unusual choices for the fighting sequences left me feeling perplexed. It will still be some time before the game is released so hopefully Airtight Games will be able to deliver a solid game. I am certain they will.
Closing Comments: Despite my gripes about using the jet pack in the generator and the non-existent ability to aim whatsoever while flying, I am still feeling excited for Dark Void. The flying feels solid and new videos and trailers continue to impress. I’m sure we will all know soon enough.