This Week in the Mercury


Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Void: Rockets, Robots and Neo-Futurism

Posted by Earnest "Nex" Cavalli on Mon, Jul 21, 2008 at 7:02 PM

darkvoidmerc.jpg

After Capcom insisted I watch a video of a game about herding sheep (some of whom poop without warning), I was a little let down. Street Fighter IV was cool, but if all the company had was fecophiliac livestock and aged fighting games, I was ready to leave E3 thoroughly disappointed.

And then, I saw Dark Void, fell in love, had Dark Void's babies and moved to a little house in the country where we could raise a family of deadly robots, automatic weapons and allusions to 1940s-era pulp comics.

(If you promise to hit the jump, I promise to be less obtuse.)

Dark Void is a title from Airtight Games, the lovely people behind the massively underloved Crimson Skies. Like that game, Dark Void is big on Rocketeer-style retro-futuristic action, only, unlike that Disney movie, you're also given a healthy dose of modern ultraviolence that feels like Gears of War without the homoerotic undertones.

The demo level that I was shown by a member of the development team started out on foot. The character -- whose name I've forgotten -- wandered forward, alternately firing on heavily armed robots and ducking for momentary cover behind pieces of the landscape. It looked so similar to Gears of War that the game even uses the same buttons to control moving in and out of cover, tossing grenades and reloading.

After a few minutes of this (during which I'd already chalked the game up as a dull clone), everything got blown to hell. The lead character found a jet pack and took to the skies like some kind of angry greaser sparrow. The game does a fantastic job of eliciting the freedom and inherent joy of flying at Mach 1 with a missile strapped to your ass, and an even better job approximating combat 300 feet above ground.

Needless to say you can fly around and fire at enemies, but the coolest bit is when you opt to jack their airborne rides. Once you fly in close enough to an enemy, you land on their craft, mimic a few on-screen button taps, snatch the pilot from the cockpit, blow his head off, and find yourself in command of an all new weapon of mass destruction.

The only craft I saw treated to this Grand Theft Aero was a bizarre, rotating alien thing, but the developer assures me the game will be full of vehicles from which to "straight jack fools" (Ice Cube's words, not his).

This entire game mechanic is wrapped in a futurism-meets-pulp-serial shell. Though the world in Dark Void is a bombed out dystopia, there's a romantic subplot, our hero wears a sharp approximation of a bomber jacket and there is an undercurrent of Roosevelt-era optimism running through everything -- a sharp contrast to the depressingly macho shooters we've all become so used to thanks to the boys at id Software and Epic Games.

I'm still amazed that Capcom decided to let this game be completely overshadowed by Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter IV and Mega Man 9, but I beg all of you to seek this thing out when it hits shelves next year and make sure it doesn't end up some unloved cult classic. The Crimson Skies folks have already been down that road and they really deserve some widescale financial success.

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