The lights are on
Dark Void takes place in an alternate, or rather, just before an alternate WWII. You play as a pilot named Will who flies into the Bermuda Triangle, transporting him to a world called "The Void." It's inhabited by alien robots called the Watchers, who once ruled Earth before being sent back, and a resistance made of other humans who fell into the Void.
The story isn't all that great: Plot twists come out of nowhere, a character who you think would be important shows up, is just kind of there, and then dies after a while. Will reacts to finding an alternate universe with all the emotion of a cardboard box - or even worse, me. The Watchers are helping the Axis, but it's never clear how assisting one group of humans actually helps them - wouldn't they want the two sides evenly matched, so the war would be as long and bloody as possible? In 1939, Germany vs. the rest of Europe was already an example of "outnumbered but not outmatched." They also refer to "the Fascists" rather than "The Nazi's." Not really a problem, but it implies Italy is a threat to something.
Dark Void is at its best in the gameplay, but it starts unnecessarily slowly. You go through two levels with it being an entirely standard, and rather boring cover based third person shooter. It starts looking up when you get the basic jetpack, but it only hits its stride once you get the Rocket Pack.
The biggest difference that the basic jetpack makes isn't flight, but the vertical cover system. It lets you fight using ledges as cover, going up and down rather than forward and back. It makes grenades riskier to use, allows quick retreats by letting go of the ledge you're on, and adds a new dimension to the combat. Dark Void boasts of being the first truly 3D action game, and this is the first step to making good on that boast.
The basic jetpack gives you access to the vertical cover system and a glimpse at the hover-flight mechanic, but Dark Void only starts to impress when you get the Rocket Pack. The hovering gets a significant upgrade, and you can go into full on flight at a hundred miles an hour. In the former you use your normal weapons, but flight is drastically different from the other modes of gameplay.
A good example of what Dark Void is when you get the jetpack is an early game section where you needd to fly into the bottom of a floating structure, go up to the top of the inside, hit a self destruct button and get out before it explodes. It's filled with ledges, so you can use the vertical cover system or use the normal hovering mode to make your way up there. I decided to fly straight up, dodging bullets and the environment alike, hit the button, then fall out at terminal velocity and turn the jetpack on before I hit the water.
In normal gameplay, there's plenty of variety in how to play. You could fight on the ground primarily and use the jetpack when it seems advantageous, use it to get to a high vantage point so you have the upper hand, or just disregard ground combat altogether and stick to strafing runs. It never gets boring, because the gameplay is so dynamic.
Dogfights don't fare as well, though. While the controls work well for targeting ground-based enemies, it's difficult to get a bead on fast moving targets, and the most common air enemies are UFO and UFO with energy shield, both of which take quite a few shots to bring down. The biggest problem with the air combat is a lack of variety.
Speaking of a lack of variety, Dark Void could use more guns - there are only six. Two automatic weapons, a laser that functions like a minigun, two rocket launchers, and a sniper rifle. They're all distinct, and several have a final upgrade that makes them more distinct - like explosive bullets, ricocheting shots, or making dead enemies explode. There are also turrets, grenades, and your Rocket Pack weapons.
At it's best Dark Void is great, but it isn't great for long. Not only is there a late game level where you lose the jetpack and it goes back into "standard TPS mode," but it abruptly ends shortly afterward, just 3-5 hours in. Dark Void had a great deal of potential, but it's apparent that it was a rushed game - a shame they ran out of laundry powder.
Although I'd have had a hard time recommending at $60 it when it first released, I have to give it a recommendation now, since it's only $4. The good parts of the game are worth suffering through the mediocre parts and some pocket change. After all, how many good jetpack games are there?(even if Dark Void is only good 2/3rds of the time.)
Also, as an addition I decided to make on a whim, here's the "short version" of the review:
Alternate WWII, story isn't all that great, Italy sucks, slow beginning, shows promise a couple levels in, is great when you get the Rocket Pack, not enough guns, dogfighting isn't as good as fighting ground based enemies, too few guns, recommendation, 6.75. Survivor Missions: The best of Dark Void condensed into two horde mode maps, arcade-esque scoring system, excellent level design, 8.5. Overall 7.75, rationalization for having DLC have as much control over the score as the main game.
*This review has not been edited to address the Zero Punctuation reference
The Survivor Missions
The Survivor Missions DLC is a $4.99, two map horde mode. It features an air map that's fine, but suffers from the problems mentioned with air to air combat mentioned previously. The star of the DLC is the ground map, The Battle of Ghen Crag. They each have you defend three objectives for ten waves in addition to trying to stay alive, and while the air map has you defend the three objectives simultaneously, the ground map has three different areas that you defend one at a time.
Each of the areas focus on different aspects of Dark Void, but you're capable of using all of them in each of the areas (except for the vertical cover system on the second area). In truth it's more like three small, well designed maps than a single large one, and switching between them with each wave keeps it interesting.
In addition, there's a point system where you get points for killing enemies, and killing an enemy causes a multiplier to go up. It stays between waves, and you can get massive amounts of points in the later waves. You should be able to fully upgrade most, if not all weapons within the fifth wave, and you can switch on a whim since there's a Weapon Locker with each of the weapons in it.
By default, it's fairly challenging, but you can make the difficulty anywhere between that and masochistic with Survivor Modes. They increase the difficulty by adding a time limit, increasing enemy health, removing AI allies, or other things. Each adds a multiplier of 2, 4, then 6 to your final score.
For the overall score, 7.75. Someone might object to having the DLC impact the score as much as the game, but they almost cost the same amount. The main game might have more content, but I've already spent more time playing the DLC. Therefore, I'll go with the average between the two.