Welcome to The Second Chance Club, a new regular retro reviews column with a bit of twist. With TSCC I’ll be revisiting or trying out for the first time a game that’s received poor reviews or sold particularly badly in the last few years. Maybe it’s a game that’s failed to meet expectations or a title that’s generally received a mediocre reception all round. Whatever the first reception, every ‘bad’ game gets another shot at glory with The Second Chance Club. Or have a second nail nailed firmly into its coffin…
This week, we’ll be kicking off the inaugural edition with Capcom’s sci-fi flight combat-cum-third person shooter Dark Void.
On paper, Dark Void should have been a colossal success. Developed by Airtight Games, a studio made up the core staff that gave us the addictive dogfighter Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge on the original Xbox, it also had a score composed by Bear ‘Battlestar Galactica’ McCreary and the might of goliath publisher Capcom to boot. It even had the repetitive but normally dependable Nolan ‘Nathan Drake’ North voicing the main character. But somehow all these elements managed the quite impressive feat of cancelling each other out into a broken mess that received an overall metacritic score of 59 out of 100. Even sales of the game mirrored the savage mauling it took from the gaming press, essentially condemning it to the crowded ‘flop’ pile.
Dark Void follows Will, a pre-WW2 cargo pilot who flies into the Bermuda Triangle and is sucked into another world called ‘The Void’. Will finds himself stranded with his ex-girlfriend, like you do, in a conflict between a band of surviving humans (known rather originally as the ‘Survivors’) and a race of cybernetic aliens known as the Watchers (think of a cross between Mass Effect’s Geth and General Grevious from Star Wars). Throw in the presence of real-life scientist Nikola Tesla as the token-scientist who-happens-to-be-there-to-build-all-your-gear and you’ve essentially got Dark Void. No, that’s really it. It seems the idea of a coherent, emotionally investable narrative was jettisoned long ago.
There really aren’t many positive things to talk about when it comes to Dark Void, because the game manages to throw together a handful of different genres yet somehow create something instantly forgettable. The opening few hours are some of the most frustrating I’ve ever sat through. I say ‘sat’, on quite a few occasions I almost threw my controller through the TV thanks to the abrupt opening dog-fight with no narrative explanation, twitchy controls and meagre spattering of hints. What followed was a good hour or two of cover-based shoot out with no aerial shenanigans whatsover. If the first and years older Gears of War provides more dynamic and rewarding gun-play – even with all those original bugs – then Capcom should have thought twice about unleashing this game on the world.
Even when the game finally gives you the chance to hover and flit from nook to cranny with the first version of the jet pack, Dark Void manages to strip it of all the possible fun it could be. Being able to use ledges in vertical cover shoot-outs up the side of structures should be a fast, dynamic and genre redefining experience. Instead, it’s a slow and boring as the gun-fights back on the ground. Even, the weapons are near useless until you collect enough ‘tech points’ (which are Crackdown-style orbs scattered aimlessly around levels) which allow you to upgrade the piss-poor things into something approaching useful. Which help with the shocking aiming, inevitable deaths and mercilessly sparse check-points.
The thing is, there’s a part of me that desperately wants to love Dark Void. A self-confessed Rocketeer fan-boy, I haven’t properly enjoyed a good old dogfighting game since I played Crimson Skies to death all those years ago. Dark Void should be like Gears on War on four-dimensional acid, effortlessly combining aerial combat with cover-reliant shoot-outs. But it sadly misses that opportunity entirely. The power of current gen consoles means there’s no excuse to not fully realise a concepts full potential, only the limits of the design team or time given to make it. Airtight Games strength is clearly show in the flight controls, but these are sluggish at best. Even the mediocre Blazing Angels games feel more responsive than this painful genre pile-up.
Dark Void, as you’ve probably gathered by now, isn’t some misunderstood gem. Usually the omission of multiplayer would have me scoring off points for such a title, but in this case it’s more a blessing than anything else. Dark Void feels a lot like Peter Jackson’s King Kong tie-in, a game with all the potential in the world, executed with all the grace of plane crash.
Avoid, like the plague. You’ll thank me one day.
TSCC Score: 4/10
Year of Release: 2010
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Alternative Formats: PS3, PC