Where did it all go wrong? When it first made an appearance, Dark Void looked to have it all - an interesting premise, a cool retro sci-fi style, a winning combination of gunplay and aerobatics, a dashing hero, romance and lots of derring-do. The finished product is no disaster, but it is a damp squib. Dark Void is the sort of game that elicits not exhilaration or excitement, but a shrug, a frown, the occasional smile and the odd moment of contempt. I'm not suggesting that it's the worst game you can buy, but it's hard to imagine anyone investing £40 in it and not feeling disappointed.
Perhaps it would have been better if Dark Void has stuck closer to its original roots: the classic adventure serial of the 30s and 40s. Think Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Undersea Kingdom (with Ray "Crash" Corrigan) and most of all the "Rocket Man" cycle. It's the same inspiration behind Indiana Jones and, more recently, Uncharted, and it doesn't take much to see the link between Dark Void and the 1991 film The Rocketeer. Here our man with the jet-propelled backpack is a Nathan Drake-style rogue who has crash-landed with his secret agent ex in the Bermuda Triangle. Before long our guaranteed to be re-united twosome find themselves battling an alien menace in a mysterious void between worlds.
One problem with Dark Void is that it doesn't quite know what it is. For the first hour or so it's an uninspired riff on Gears of War with a touch of Uncharted, the main twist being the introduction of a vertical cover system based around ledges and platforms rather than walls and doorways. This actually works well, and it's easy to pull off high-speed leaps and drops from platform to platform and ledge to ledge. However, with the opening section over, Dark Void goes beyond the conventional third-person shooter by throwing in elements of an old-fashioned arcade combat flight sim, with our hero swooping around with his jetpack battling flying saucers and crawling mobile tanks.
The mix never properly coheres, and it's not as if either part feels fully realised. The third-person shooter bits are hamstrung by dull robotic enemies, poor AI, unexciting weapons and poorly staged set-pieces. The early levels make the duller sections of Army of Two: The 40th Day look like a masterclass in level design, and even the later ones don't really give you anything you haven't had a million times before. The action picks up slightly when the maps open up. Suddenly you can use your flying abilities to out-flank the enemy or take a high sniping position. Sadly, the action more often takes place in more confined spaces, spoiling the very thing that might have made the game feel really special.
The flying bits are generally better, but not amazingly so. Rarely are your missions new or engaging enough to alleviate the sense of boredom that drips in as you play. Fast moving alien craft make for some frantic dogfighting, but your foes don't show much grasp of tactics, and there's too much of an emphasis on cheap Quick Time Event sequences to finish the invaders off. Dull, dull, dull.
Somewhere you can see the skeleton of an interesting back story and an attempt to create the sort of character-driven, action and romance storyline that made Uncharted and its sequel so fantastic. Dark Void even goes to the length of using Drake's actor, Nolan North, for the hero's voicework. Unfortunately, the effort backfires. The second-rate lip-synching, animation and cutscene direction only seem worse when you make the comparison.
Graphically and artistically, the theme of mediocrity continues. The Unreal Engine 3 powered visuals are perfectly competent, but the flat-looking jungles, pseudo-Mayan ruins and repetitive canyon scenery give you less spectacular variations of locations you've seen many times before. Your alien foes, meanwhile, are about as generic as such things get; spindly robotic creatures with only a few troop variations.
The game reaches a low in the confines of an alien prison facility, where you're reminded of similar settings in games like Halo, Prey and Resistance 2, and left wondering how Dark Void's team fell so short of inspiration. If you're going to make a game with the feel of an old-fashioned adventure serial, why not look there? More ray-guns, retro robots and old-school sci-fi nonsense would have made Capcom's game more interesting and distinctive.
Let's not be too harsh. After a shockingly poor start Dark Void blossoms into a mildly interesting game, and it puts out just enough in the way of hooks, in terms of the storyline or new and upgradable weapons, that you might just muster up the will to make it to the game's end. But - think about it - does mildly interesting still do it for you? Wouldn't you rather have a game that knocks your socks off and drops your jaw on the floor? Had Dark Void turned up in, say, 2006 we'd probably hand out a cautious recommendation, but in 2010, with Gears of War, Halo 3, Modern Warfare and Uncharted 2 behind us, there's just no room for a game that's just, well, sort of okay. Save your money - there are brighter prospects just around the corner.