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Micro-Verdict: Dark Void Impressions

We were planning to do a Wot I Think for Airtight Game's retro-sci-fi shooter. Except none of us could bring ourselves to bear persisting with it. So, in lieu of a proper review, we all got together and had a chin wag about what we made of it. And made jokes, as is our wont.

Kieron: Okay - as we start, can I just check something. Is this the company which Kim Swift has left Valve to join?
Alec: Yes.
Kieron: Crikey. Kim.
Alec: My palm keeps trying to stick itself to my face. I'm not sure why.
Alec: None of us have played much of it yet, right? Clearly, because it was just too thrilling to bear, and we all needed a lie down afterwards.
Kieron: I admit, I have trouble believing I'm ever going to be able to go back to it. It was just that much
Alec: My brain exploded in delight after about that long too, so I can never play it again.
Kieron: I'd just killed the first big baddy thingy. Well, it wasn't that big. The scaraby-thing.
John: I got about an hour and a bit in... Right, so what were people's first impressions?
Kieron: Oh, Capcom. I love you and your very long cut-scenes.
John: Blimey, they were boring cutscenes too. I think at one point the camera drifted through a stationary scene for 30 seconds.
Alec: My first impressions were that someone had played Uncharted and, shortly afterwards, that when they'd been told to design a jetpack, for some reason they'd heard "broken scooter"
John: Yes - it's very odd. An opening scene of your jet pack presumably in full effect, where you have to not fight some blue spaceships.
Kieron: I died in the opening scene when I flew into a wall at high speed and then had to do that whole boring tutorial again.
Alec: I interviewed one of the devs a while back, who said story had been a secondary concern to the combat design et al.
Kieron: I think story wasn't the only secondary concern
Alec: Which immediately made me worry it was a Mirror's Edge situation... though I had at least hoped that meant they'd have got the jetpackery absolutely right. They really hadn't.
Kieron: Okay - probably worth doing a quick paragraph on the game before we go any further. It's a retro-30s/40s setting ala Crimson Skies. You play a dude with a jetpack. It's a third-person shooter. Sometimes you fly about. Sometimes you run about. Sometimes you do sort of both. It's quite Gears of Wars, in terms of liking its cover. It differs from Gears of War, because occasionally you do the cover-thing vertically. As in, you're going down a wall, or up a wall. And hiding behind a ledge. Right - that should be enough. You get it. It's not rocket-pack science.

They have jet packs too. The basts..

Alec: It's A Capcom Shooter - there's definitely some Lost Planet in there.
John: It seemed very Halo 3.
John: The following scenes shooting the baddie robots seemed fine to me. I began to wonder if the complaints were overblown but then I fell off my first cliff and had to run around again. And then it seemed to enter a loop for about half an hour. It doesn't seem to have anything interesting to say before it gives you your jetpack.
Alec: I like the way it sort of lets you jump onto bits of level you're not supposed to jump onto. And then makes you very slowly slide back down to the ground.
Kieron: That amused me. When it wants you to be able to go up a wall, you go to a pre-defined ledge. Except often you just have something higher than you, and you can't use it to get up. It just isn't very good at coherency.
Alec: Yeah, they seem conscious that invisible walls are bad, so they've just made everything very narrow and slippy instead
John: Oh boy, the untouchable crates on the dangly boat.
Kieron: Oh, let's do the Dangly boat
Oh, that tesla. He gets around.
John: Well, let's go in order... .You get given your jetpack.
Kieron: I stress a jetpack
John: And this lets you kind of hover, must mostly drift downwards. It's not The Rocketeer, firing off into the sky.
Alec: This being a pack that you put on your back, in order that you might jet through the skies. The jetpack can be ugrpaded later, it's worth stressing... but I don't know to what extent
John: Presumably to the point where you can fly about, cornering like an ocean liner, as with the beginning of the game.
Alec: As A Taste Of What's To Come, it's hilariously ill-judged
Kieron: Yeah - use the joypad. It's better
John: I did!
Kieron: However, we're getting distracted
John: Right, so you hover about, flying up suddenly if the surface above allows a button press, shoot 800 million of the identical enemies, and then reach the dangly boat.
Kieron: This level consists of a ship, hanging off a cliff. So this is vertical.
John: As a platform level, it would be a great idea.
Kieron: Fantastic
Kieron: You're making your way up, and bits are falling off. Tension! Excitements! But... if you fall off... you can activate your jetpack. And just float down
John: Float gently down to safety.
Kieron: Until you hit the bottom of the skybox, where you die.
Alec: WHA...
Kieron: YES!
Kieron: I actually found a ledge to stand on. And sat there for ages, trying to work a way up. There wasn't one, so I jumped to my death again
John: Heh, yes, one time I explored a ledge next to a cliff, and stood on it for one second, then was politely informed I had failed the mission.
Alec: I'd love to see their jetpack design document...

1) Have guns
2) Have jet animation.

Any other business? No? Great! It's a lock!
Kieron: Maybe they started googling up pictures of the British 90s Gladiator and got distracted?
The vertical combat, shown horizontally. It's the future, probably.
Kieron: Anyway - the other thing about that level, was that it highlighted how the vertical combat thing didn't quite work. While abstractly it's exciting, in practice, you end up with both you and the people you're fighting on the same bit of cover. Since most platforms are quite thin, It basically looks like a Naked-gun esque gun-fight, with two people on either side of a bin, trying to shoot at one another. And if enemies are too far to the left or the right on the vertical climb, they're not very good at realising they should shoot at you
Alec: I like to think of that as a metaphor for the game itself; something that knows what it's supposed to do, but not how to do it
John: Indeed, by the time you and the enemies are clinging onto ledges, you're basically playing horizontally again anyway.
Kieron: Yeah. There is that.
Alec: They tried to dial down the important of vertical cover in the marketing. At one point it was the settling point, before someone presumably pointed out that being able to shoot up as well as left just isn't that exciting.
John: The other thing that made me sad, especially during the perfectly decent Find Cover, Shoot Enemy sequences, was how many bullets the basic enemy took to bring down. It was entire clips, sometimes more, Which made me feel powerless.
Kieron: Headshots made it a bit better, but it was a bit... fluffy The robots were odd - how they were introduced as breaking some guy's neck mercilessly... and then they're just metal goons who don't even give good barks when you're fighting them.
Alec: yeah, I tried to get close to them to make them break my neck. Instead they just did this sort of half-hearted riverdance at me and shot my ear a bit.
Kieron: Regarding the marketing... well, the marketing speak seems hilarious. You seen the wikipedia page? This bit...

"The game also features "tactical freedom", which is different ways of achieving the same goal. For instance, in the game, the player must take down an Archon, a large robotic enemy manned by a Watcher. The first way to take it down is by shooting its leg joints, rendering the giant incapacitated. Once this is done, the player must climb onto the Archon's tail, triggering a mini-game, and fight the Watcher that's controlling it. A different way of accomplishing all this is by hijacking an enemy UFO and blasting the Archon with the ship's cannons until it explodes."

Christ. Deus Ex eat your heart out.

Alec: So, waittaminnit: I could shoot its legs OR I could shoot it until it explodes? My brain can't handle that kind of choice.
John: I'm frightened.
Kieron: We live in the future Warren Spector dreamed of. We must retire, and give up our mantles to a next generation of smarter, faster gamers
Alec: The legs... or until it explodes. Man!

Spoilers: You can shoot its legs... or shoot it in the head until it explodes.

John: So no, I don't feel like going back to find out if it improves.
Kieron: Me neither. I deleted it for HD space after my time with it.
John: I thought I was going to. I thought it was fine for a bit, but then it just irritated me and then I switched it off.
Alec: To be honest - I don't think it's apocalyptically awful. If I wasn't about to play Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 and AvP and and and over the coming weeks, I'm sure I could survive a few nights with it without too much mental scarring. But what kept flickering across my mind was "why?". There was just no purpose to it. It didn't seem to have will or enthusiasm even for its own gimmicks. I don't understand why it's been made.
Kieron: Hmm. I suspect I may dislike it more than you two. I wouldn't say apocalyptically awful, but it's pretty damn awful. From the time with it, worse than Lost Planet. It's 3/10 to Lost Planet's 5/10. Though you did think Lost Planet was a 7/10, so maybe 5/10 is right for you.
Alec: Lost Planet at least looked nice. I wouldn't recognise a screenshot of this if the jetpack wasn't in it
Alec: My hope is that they've just made a theoretically super-commercial quickie to help fund something more interesting, and that's why a major Valve alumni's joined this otherwise troubling studio. But it could be they just waved an enormous cheque.
John: I'd say 5/10.... we're giving it a score!
Alec: I think it's 215 Geralds out of Dave.
John: Fair enough. Also, none of us played it for more than an hour.
Kieron: Actually, I played for 2.3 hours
Alec: I'm sure you were alt-tabbed and whining at me about it for some of that time though
John: 1.4 hours for me.
Kieron: Pah.

RPS Verdict: We haven't played it long enough to give a verdict. None of us want to. That's probably a verdict in and of itself, eh?

Dave Tosser says: I quite liked it actually. In fact real jetpacks only last around 3 minutes before running out of fuel, so I found the crippling limitations on flight quite satisfying. And occasionally you can't do things for no reason in real life. It's a metaphor for humanity. And money is nice. I... where am I? Why are my hands red? What's that flashing blue light?

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