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Cover based jet-pack action is the battle cry of Dark Void, but to muted response. Intriguing world navigation ultimately failed to aid Dark Void's critical reception, perhaps due to its poor combat and creepy character design.
When I was five I went on vacation with my family. One night we went for dinner, and I ordered strawberries for dessert. As they arrived a performer began to mingle with the diners to entertain the kids. With a silver mask he robotically moved through the tables. I was terrified.
Crying, I left with my Mum in toe, leaving my dessert and Dad behind. Now I know the performer was probably just a student earning some money over the summer, but the lack of humanity his masked face and erratic movements conveyed was the stuff of nightmares. So too are the characters of Dark Void.
Dark Void may well disprove the idea of the 'uncanny valley', a theory that suggests an abstracted virtual character will elicit no empathy from the viewer, but as characters become more life like they encourage greater emotions from the audience. The 'valley' part of the analogy suggests that as you approach a truly realistic character subtle flaws become unnerving, and compassion falls precipitously. By this token Dark Void's stylised character models should encourage empathy, and yet to me they constantly convey a sense of cold lifelessness.
Over-sized eyes, and jerky, almost insect like movements ensured that I never felt any emotional investment in the characters.
Usually I would applaud the gumption shown in taking a unique stylised approach. In the current gaming climate it's a bold move to side with a cartoony art style for a game aimed at the adult market. Unfortunately Dark Void's unnatural appearance proved creepy, reminding me more of a terrifying ventriloquists' dummy than a protagonist to be empathised with. Over-sized eyes, and jerky, almost insect like movements ensured that I never felt any emotional investment in the characters.
Luckily it isn't long before the game begins to hide many of the problems encountered during the early stages. Masking my protagonist went some way to distracting me from the horrors of his visage, and the addition of a jet-pack adds fluidity and grace to movements in the air that seem stilted when on the ground.
The addition of flight to proceedings is, of course, more integral to the game than just making me feel more comfortable about my avatar. Vertical landscapes to ascend and freeform dog-fighting both serve to separate Dark Void from a host of other recent cover based shooters. The flight mechanic worked well once I became accustomed to it and created an interesting flow through the levels. Combining the unique world traversal with an intelligent camera produces a sense of speed and height that lends a distinct feel to each environment.
While everything looks and feels like it should be work, there is always something slightly off making the whole experience feel wrong.
With such satisfying movement through the world it is a shame that the combat felt so lacklustre. Ineffectual gunplay left me constantly frustrated as I unloaded entire clips in to my resilient robotic enemies. It is something I would probably have been able to overlook had it not been for its prevalence through out the game. Had there been a heavier focus on exploring the world then things could have been very different, as it was I spent my time wishing that I was able to break from the route set for me by the level designers. With such versatility of movement at my disposal every invisible boundary as I soared through the air, or funnelled path as I fought my way forward left me saddened for what could have been.
Dark Void's disturbingly 'not-quite-right' characters make a good allegory for my entire experience with the game. While everything looks and feels like it should be work, there is always something slightly off making the whole experience feel wrong. Be it the rigid path I had to follow despite my manoeuvrability, the ineffectual combat or the unnatural characters, it never felt like the Dark Void reached full stride.
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