First impressions are very important. My first impression of Capcom's Dark Void at E3 last month basically amounted to "meh". I wandered by the demo machine, saw what looked like a standard third-person shooter, and then moved on. Had I stayed, I might have discovered that there is a lot more to Dark Void than initially meets the eye. Developed by Airtight Games, a company formed from the core Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge dev team, Dark Void takes standard TPS duck and cover mechanics to a new plateau, located atop a sheer cliff side that you'll have to climb in order to get there, but the game really excels when you aren't touching the ground at all.
Dark Void is the story of a cargo pilot who crashes into the Bermuda Triangle, discovering the secret of the mysterious disappearances that famously define the area - trans-dimensional aliens. They've been using humans as slave labour, and it's up to your character to join up with the renegade Survivors to overthrow their alien overlords and get everyone back home.
Like I said, at first glimpse the game is a standard third-person shooter. You can run and gun, duck and cover, or get up close and personal with melee attacks. Certain enemies can be taken down with special moves initiated with a button press, while other situations find you waggling your thumbsticks to escape the grasp of the robotic alien Watchers. Early build framerate chugging aside, the game just doesn't look all that impressive when looking at just the TPS bits.
So how does Dark Void set itself apart from the other run-of-the-mill shooters? It totally gets you high.
The vertical cover system in Dark Void allows you to climb sheer surfaces to get to higher elevations, but instead of tossing in a ladder like your average shooter, you actually cling to rock faces, take cover beneath overhangs, and jump upwards from outcropping to outcropping, fighting enemies all the while. Effectively the game takes duck and cover gameplay and tilts it upward.
Jumping and grabbing hold of a wall shifts the game perspective,maintaining the third-person view, only now you're looking up. From here you can fire at descending enemies, jump to higher hand-holds, and if the enemies get close you can always grab them and pull them off balance, sending them falling to their death.
At first it seems like a really innovative feature, the more I think about it the more I realise that it's pretty much the standard third-person gameplay with limited range of movement and a few different throwing moves mixed in. The whole climbing sequence feels a bit gimmicky to me.
So where does Dark Void excel? Airtight Games shows its pedigree when your protagonist straps on his jet pack and takes to the skies, battling enemies first with his fists, later with weapons. In the demo build I played you started off with no weapons at all, just a guy who happens to be flying, but latching onto one of the enemy UFOs initiates a mini-game of sorts that soon has you in control of the flying saucer, as well as its awesome aresenal of weapons.
Even at this early stage the jet pack portions of the game controlled intuitively. I had no problems guiding my rocketeer to his objectives. If Sega's Iron Man had featured similar flight controls it would still be alive today. The same can be said for the UFO controls - Airtight knows how to make flying fun.
My only worry is that the rest of the game will serve as merely generic filler between exciting flying missions, but it's still far too early to tell. Perhaps once the framerate is kicked and the code is vigorously polished I will be as blown away with the TPS segments as I was the jet pack segment. We'll just have to wait and see.