Freedom in video games is a Holy Grail coveted by many developers. To some this means open world exploration, to others it means the ability to make moral decisions or thoroughly customize a character. If Airtight Games’ Dark Void is any indication, the key to true freedom is a jetpack.
In Dark Void, players take to the skies as Will, an unfortunate cargo pilot who crash lands in the notorious Bermuda Triangle. After fighting Watchers (alien robots) and traversing a tropical jungle, he encounters a group of primitive natives who worship the metallic soldiers who’ve been out for his head. Eventually Will acquires the infinitely useful jetpack, the handiwork of inventor Nikola Tesla. Just as the marooned pilot starts to get the hang of the unique transportation, he’s sucked into another dimension known as “The Void.”
It’s in this parallel dimension that players will come to appreciate the versatility of the rocket-powered propulsion device. Dark Void does a good job of easing players into the role of a high-flying human fighter jet. You begin by using the pack to boost and hover short distances, and even cling upside down onto ledges.
This is where the “vertical cover” element comes into play. You boost from platform to platform, clutching to the bottom of them while firing at enemies above. Gameplay changes significantly, as your own standard grenades become deadly without being properly cooked, and fallen enemies become plummeting masses of steel.
Hovering in the jetpack becomes an option later on, adding a whole new layer to gameplay. Basic shoot-and-cover gunfights instantly become aerial flanking affairs. Did that enemy you had a bead on leap behind a fallen pillar for cover? Take to the air and reign down a clip full of death-from-above on him. Tossing grenades into crowds of baddies becomes infinitely easier when utilizing a bird’s eye view. Additionally, if you’re the subject of too many plasma blasts, feel free to blast up and away until your health regenerates.
What’s the next logical step after learning how to hover above your enemies? Blasting through the sky like a rocket, of course. Airtight Games developed the polished Xbox air combat game Crimson Skies after all, and they’ll be damned if their sky-fighting skills are going to go to waste. You’ll boost through the sky while laying down high-caliber machinegun fire on the Watchers’ spacecraft (appropriately referred to as “Hubcaps”). At this point aiming switches from the right analog stick to the left requiring a little on-the-fly adjustment. Will can also perform aerial acrobatics to evade enemy fire and even hijack enemy craft.
True appreciation of the jetpack’s full on proficiency comes from the ability to do it anytime, anywhere. If you’re in a canyon with enemies hunkered down in underground ruins, you’re free to approach the situation however you like. You can jump down into the crevice and take them out in ground combat, hover above and take sniper potshots, or rocket toward the heavens only to descend on them with deadly, strafing machinegun fire.
Each weapon I collected in the game was upgradable. Attributes like accuracy, damage and recoil can be enhanced by spending orbs collected from fallen foes or discovered in the environment. Will’s jetpack can also be augmented by unlocking upgrades such as higher-caliber bullets. In no time I was flying around in a jet pack shooting a machine gun with explosive bullets at robots with glowing alien slugs in them.
What Dark Void lacks in presentation, it makes up in sheer scale. No one will be crying over the detail on an enemy’s weapon when they’re flying hundreds of feet firing down on them. Dark Void is by no means an ugly game, but the fact that the level of graphical fidelity present remains without long texture load times is testament to quality development.
Freedom of playstyle is definitely an aspect that Dark Void has on lockdown. I had the ability to tackle every objective from the angle of my choosing, yet never felt overpowered. Gamers with a lust for flight and fight should keep their eyes on Airtight Games’ Dark Void, due January 12.