Dark Void's distinctive blend of third-person action and jetpack-propelled aerial warfare make it an attractive prospect. Jetpacks are cool, after all, and Airtight Games' title looks set to turn the jetpack into a means of destroying some serious robotic booty. Whether he's in the air, on the ground, or aboard a high-tech UFO, protagonist Will has serious firepower to ensure that humanity's resistance doesn't crumble under the grip of the ancient Watchers, an alien group seeking your destruction.
In an updated hands-on with this much-anticipated (and delayed) Capcom game, we sat down to tackle the opening section. Will, a cargo pilot whose unfortunate delivery to the Bermuda Triangle leaves him stranded in a world known as The Void, is joining the resistance against the aforementioned robotic nation. Curiosity gets the better of him, as he straps himself into a dangerous new invention: the jetpack. Early banter between Will and his human peers indicates that the dialogue isn't taking itself too seriously, and after a brief introduction, we were urged to take our first flight, which acts as a basic tutorial.
Launching yourself off the first mountain and watching Will struggle with the jetpack's power serves as an interesting way to start Dark Void. It's apparent that the pilot needs assistance during his first journey through the skies, as his body quivers and shakes under the rocket-boosted clout of his new transport. After a few seconds, and once you've successfully overcome the first rush of speed, Will gets his balance back, allowing you to identify the first objective. The Watchers have placed communication towers throughout The Void's endless valleys, providing a set of harmless foes that present target practice for the airborne hero. The targets are close together, offering the chance to wipe them all out in one run if you plan your route. The jetpack's shoulder-mounted machine guns are adequately powered and have good range for taking out targets that are in the distance. As an introduction to your weaponry it's brief, but Dark Void quickly ups the ante to ensure that all your newfound explosive muscle isn't going to waste.
Once the communication towers have been dismantled, the Watchers quickly take action. As we learnt how to pull off sharp turns in the air, an impromptu assault came into effect. We were faced with a set of UFOs that matched the speed and agility of the jetpack, meaning that the fight was suddenly equal. By leading the UFOs between a corridor of mountains, and then utilising the jetpack's instant 360-degree spin, we suddenly turned the tables. Where earlier the Watchers had been chasing, they now fell into our line of fire. The sheer number of opponents meant that the battle wasn't over quickly, but the jetpack's ability to instantly change direction provides a nimbleness that leaves enemies at a disadvantage.
After most opponents were eliminated, the feeling of being outnumbered quickly disappeared. The ability to hover offers Will enough stability to slow down and take aim without being caught napping. You can get on the move again instantly with a burst of speed, a manoeuvre that becomes useful when you lock on to enemies. When targeting opponents, the camera zooms out slightly and provides a cinematic view of the aerial battlefield. Dark Void isn't pushing the envelope in terms of visuals, but watching Will tackle the robotic forces midflight is undoubtedly impressive.
If you get close enough to an enemy UFO, it's possible to board it. By grabbing hold of and ripping out the shield's control panel, you will unearth a robotic driver. After wiping it out, you're free to commandeer the ship, but beware, the Watcher pilot will fight back. As you hammer B to unhinge the control panel, you'll be shadowed by the UFO's main weapon. This is where you have to lure its reticle to another part of the circular ship. Once it begins charging an ultra-powerful beam to take you down, you have the opportunity to run back round to the control panel. Fighting in the skies offers some of the most fun at this stage.
That's not to say getting back down to Earth isn't any fun. You can opt to dive-bomb your enemies and sharply come to a halt, or hover above them while unleashing a barrage of fire. Dark Void allows you to play to your strengths: if you are skilled enough to stay airborne, then there is no need to land until you are forced inside. If you prefer to take cover and engage on foot, that's possible too. The cover system works adequately, but poking out behind cover, it's disappointing to see some clunky AI. If you're lucky, enemies will charge your position, but more often than not, the mechanical goons will sit tight, even without ducking down for a few seconds. This is sure to be ironed out before the game is released in January, but right now, Dark Void's ground combat doesn't work quite as well as we'd like.
Our main task after taking out the towers was to sabotage the last remaining communication control panel, which was hidden inside a guarded Watcher base. Once an opponent has been dispatched, the option to pick up and use enemy weapons is available, which is beneficial since Will's human arsenal is lacking in the early stages. Two plasma guns can be found in this level; one is a machine gun and the other is reminiscent of a grenade launcher. The latter weapon packs immense power, blowing robotic rivals away with one well-placed shot and leaving the rest shaking in their metal boots. Alongside the Mass Effect-style android enemies, Dark Void has some more interesting monsters that will try to wipe you out. Since the Watchers' base is full of long, isolated corridors, seeing a nonrobotic extraterrestrial type comes as quite a shock. An alien-like creature slithered across the floor with haste, and it was great to take on a beast that was threatened by our presence and defending its territory. Melee combat was unresponsive against the Watcher grunts, as our opponents would often stand waiting to receive a right hook, but the speed of the amphibian-type beasts meant timing needed to be spot on.
From what we've seen, Dark Void is shaping up well. The jetpack is definitely going to be key to the game's success, as its ability in the air has already shown itself to create captivating battles that require forward thinking to prevail. However, there are some rough edges that need to be smoothed out, most notably the ground combat. Set to explode into stores everywhere on January 22, 2010, Dark Void looks ready to combat the onslaught of AAA releases in the first quarter of 2010.