As Silly Game premises go Dark Void takes some beating. It's the tale of a pilot called Will (no relation) who accidentally careers through the Bermuda Triangle and enters a parallel dimension. Here he meets Nikola Tesla (real-world Serbian physicist and electrics boffin, who invented the radio, the AC electricity motor, and the eponymous Tesla coil) who presents him with a kickass smokebillowing jetpack and points him in the direction of the Watchers - a bunch of miniature robot-controlling ne'er-do-wells that have enslaved the resident humanity in the style of Stargate. That's right - gritty realism has finally come back to PC gaming. Well, maybe not. But at least the jetpacks have come home to roost.
"The Tribes franchise serves as a great model to follow. We're big fans," explains beret-wearing senior producer Morgan Gray. "Tribes was fantastic, and the series was fantastic. So the columns, shafts and the architecture of Dark Void are directly inspired by those sorts of games. Then when we added the ability to fly, which is beyond what Tribes does, we started to look towards games like our own Crimson Skies.
"There are really few game models that are similar to Dark Void in terms of the entirety of the experience, but there is a similarity to Tribes in how you cans have a ground-combat based game take to the skies and bring that death from above."
Al Much of Dark Void is spent swooping through Grand Canyon-esque surroundings - blasting UFOs, knocking out ground emplacement guns, and leaping on shiny discs with every intention of playing a metal-ripping mini-game that'll end tip with you in command of the alien craft. Get onto terra firma and affairs switch into a third-person shooter, with a strong emphasis on danger far above and far below. If you're at the bottom of a huge vertical shaft, for example, you can even hang from the ledge you're standing beneath and fire upwards in a neckstraining variation on the ever-familiar Gears of War cover system.
What's more, if you're one of the few who played Tribes: Vengeance you'll be reminded of how the shared design mentality of creating a game-space in which foes aren't restricted by gravity pays off with some hugely imaginative, and vertigo inducing, alien chambers. Your jetpack can be still be used to spurt yourself around the scenery despite your feet being largely grounded in these sections and, if you'll forgive the deeper regression to PC gaming past, occasional "Which way is up?" Descent moments can crop up what with the non-gravity adhering architecture.
"With jetpack games the player can zoom and zip around at will, so level design techniques of days gone by don't apply any more," picks up Gray. "One of the things that's been great about doing the jetpacks in Dark Void is finding ways to take the traditional setups, say you going into a hallway and suddenly along come three bad guys out of a closet, and finding the aerial counterpart. It's a new grammar that we're exploring..."
Coming out of aerial space closets won't be your average bad guy grunts either, but instead highly manoeuvrable creations, piloted by Watchers, that are reminiscent of the swarming, swinging and slinky 'bots in the I, Robot movie. They're great fun to watch as they power down ledges towards you, and are accompanied by a full cast of whiptailed hover beasts and some Watcher Knights that pepper you with rockets and machine gun fire before turning into UFOs and chasing you into the sky.
Beyond the interesting gameplay dynamics there's a lot of tinkering that needs doing with Dark Voids engine. It's great that Will looks rather fragile and delicate when zooming through canyons with his clothes rippling, but markedly less fun when he connects with a surface and is greeted by our friend insta-death. Likewise, although arguably a sensation of floatiness is required in a game like this, the third-person combat currently lacks weight and could do with some added pep.
Despite its preposterous setup though, there's a heady aroma of gameplay goodness going into Dark Void- but even the most yappy of exuberant optimists would be able to see the potential for things to go all fubar. However, in an era bereft of Tribes, Dark Voids undeniable imaginative flair cannot be ignored - so keep watching the skies.
Planes Aren't Sexy
But men called Will are. Especially when they can fly
There's a place for flight sims, but increasingly games publishers seem to believe that place is in an obese middle-aged man's bedroom. And who wants to make games for people like him? Dark Void is another jazzed-up flight combat game with go-faster stripes - like Crimson Skies. Compare this to the recent Blazing Angels series being upgraded with electronic bells and whistles, and the appearance of a somewhat flashier Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. and you've got yourself a trend.
"What we're trying with Dark Void is to provide all that you want from flying," explains senior producer Morgan Gray. "The seat of your pants, daredevil, barnstorming man who's barely in control of his jetpack stuff - and none of the flight simmy complicated aspects."
Flight sims might not be dead, but it's evident what sort of game makes the most money.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode