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Game review: 'Dark Void' gets vertical

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To quote the name of the Scottish rock, we were promised jetpacks. After all, Buck Rogers, George Jetson, and James Bond all wore one. And at each turn, personal flight became shorthand for the awesomeness of technology. That iconic piece of aerial equipment’s been showcased in video games– as in the Tribes series — but hasn’t appeared as much as you’d think.  That all changes with Dark Void, which lets players get to strap on their own engines and fly through the air with — almost — the greatest of ease.

Dark Void wears its genre influences on its bomber-jacket sleeve. Set in the run-up to WWII, it’s a little bit Indiana Jones, a whole lot of Rocketeer, a teensy-weensy sliver of Starship Troopers, and even a smidgen of Casablanca. You’ll play as Will, a down-on-his-luck cargo pilot who winds up in an interdimensional limbo after flying through the Bermuda Triangle with an ex-girlfriend. Once he’s trapped in the Void, as it’s called, Will fights against a marauding reptilian species called the Watchers. The creepy crawlers don robot battle suits and subjugate a small community of loincloth-wearing humans who worship them as gods. There’s a pulp feel that takes lots of cues from Saturday matinee serials. For example, it just so happens that you stumble upon Nikola Tesla living in a village with a bunch of tropical natives in another dimensions. And he’s got jetpacks ready for you. Of course.

You don’t have to worry much about this plot stuff, especially since it’s got holes big enough to fly through. What makes Dark Void worthwhile is its twist on the standard shooter action. One half of the game is a cover-based shooter, like the Gears of War or Uncharted series. But with Void comes veritcality. Thanks to your jetpack, gunfights can take place on sheer cliff-faces, with outcroppings of rock serving as cover. The whole thing literally turns your perspective topsy-turvy, but the game’s built well enough that you don’t feel at a loss during combat. In addition to vertical-cover combat, you can blast off into the sky and use the jetpack’s mounted guns to engage in dogfights with the Watchers’ flying saucers. You can land on the UFOs and hijack them, too.

The levels in the game are massive, and having a new dimension to explore really livens up a style of gameplay that many are already familiar with. It’s incredibly freeing to float up above a baddie and snipe at him from above. In terms of the flying itself, the rocketpack has just enough of that out-of-control sensation to make the simple act of getting around feel dangerous. There’s a learning curve but it’s not terribly daunting. Later missions take your jetpack away from you and you wind up feel crippled. That feeling is a testament to how good the flying feels in the game.

If anything makes Dark Void lose altitude, it’s a few overly long levels, the fairly generic story, and a plot that doesn’t hang together well. But the combo of stop-and-pop shooter action and death-from-above air superiority should put it in most gamers’ mile-high club. Grade: B-.

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