One hundred and twenty minutes into Capcom’s Dark Void, and that wee pocket in your mind – the one that keeps a pedantic record of devotee genre references and influences – is probably going to begin to buckle. Over the course of those (hugely entertaining) opening two hours, the more astute are going to spot broad nods toward the likes of Uncharted, Fallout 3, Gears Of War, Haze and Rogue Squadron. And this is to name merely a few, and doesn’t even begin to take the game’s completely bananas second half into account, which is so fawningly reverential (visually, at the very least) to this generation’s two most admired space operas – Halo and Mass Effect – that Bungie and Bioware must either be blushing gracefully, or contemplating legal action.
If all of these fanboy allusions were made with the same brand of arch and eccentric humour as Sega’s current, wonderful Bayonetta, the aficionados would undoubtedly be singing its praises to the hills and back. But as such, Dark Void is going to have to settle for being idly labeled as shamelessly derivative; a salutation that it doesn’t just earn, but battles doggedly to protect and uphold. And so should it.
Because although Dark Void is not perfect, there is absolutely no reason for it to get left behind in this year’s (uncommon and hugely welcome) post-Christmas excellence rush. It’s a goofy, sweet-natured pastiche of everything bar the kitchen sink, and its underdog charm bears comparison with Capcom’s very own cult 2003 treasure PN 03. Far too many people dismissed that title, purely because (much like Dark Void) it was an initially disorientating, stripped-down bit of software that was commendably bereft of redundant bells and whistles. It was a solidly old-school experience, and one that more casual gamers had to work a little bit to adapt to.
And so it is with Dark Void. Gameplay is split into three distinct parts: Gears Of War-style on foot run-and gun, Rogue Leader-inflected mid-air battles, and unbelievably nifty, vertigo-inducing ‘vertical platforming’ sections. These sequences – in which perspective shifts to allow for the game’s hero Will Grey to tackle mountains side-on – are by far the freshest and most exciting parts of Dark Void’s entire package. And not only are these segments absurdly fun to play, but the AI in every single one of them is absolutely outstanding, with enemies taking advantage of your spatial disorientation and seizing any opportunity to flank in every direction.
The plot is slight and easy to ignore, and unlike Leonard DaVinci’s rather bold appearance in last year’s Assassin’s Creed 2, Nikola Tesla’s appearance here is a pointless exercise; merely a device used to establish the period in which the story is set. The save structure is imperfect but inline with the old school vibe, and a truly rudimentary weapons upgrade system should have been canned altogether. And whilst it is always nice to hear the melodious baritone of Nathan Drake himself, it is hard to shake the feeling that Nolan North’s casting here was another way of hitching another ride on yet another bandwagon.
Watch the trailer here…
Dark Void is a genuine contender for the least original videogame of the century thus far, and that fact doesn’t belittle the experience one iota. Because Dark Void is also a confident and deeply entertaining videogame, and one that resoundingly deserves to find itself a blockbuster-sized audience.