The demo for Iron Man was really fun. Flying around in Tony Stark's custom-made suit seemed to work fairly well, the suit itself looked cool, and it appeared as though SEGA had really captured the feel of being the Armored Avenger. The ability to go from running on the ground to flying in the sky seemed like a perfect combination, but, sadly, this wasn't the case. In fact, it turned out to be a terrible game, and did little more than give gamers a taste of potential. The controls didn't work too well, and while Tony's suit looked good, nothing else did. SEGA understood that the way to make an Iron Man game was to blend together a shooter with a flying game, giving players the ability to control a character that could fight in the air and do battle on the ground, and that the trick was constantly shifting between the two. At the time, they just couldn't figure out the mechanics of either, and nothing turned out as it should have. Now, a year and a half later, Airtight Games' Dark Void has finally been released, looking to fill the void left by Iron Man's failure, although toting the same prospective gameplay. The difference, however, was in the developer, as Airtight brought Xbox fans Crimson Skies, making them seemingly perfect for perfecting what SEGA failed to deliver.
Dark Void follows William Grey (voiced by Nolan North), a pilot during the early 1940s. To Will's surprise, he's commissioned to fly his ex-girlfriend on a routine mission over the Bermuda triangle. While quipping about rumors that the area has seen its fair share of mystery, the "routine" part of that statement is thrown out the window. His instruments go crazy, he makes a very silly face, and the plane crashes into a jungle. As it turns out, this tropical area isn't anywhere near where he was going, and is, in actuality, a parallel universe called "The Void." Before long, he and his estranged lover are pushed into an ongoing conflict between other survivors (dressed like Hellghast from Killzone if they were good guys) and the Watchers (an alien race that would have a hard time looking more like Mass Effect's Geth). While dealing with this obvious problem, they're both also working together to search for a way back to Earth, all the while unraveling mysterious about The Void, the Watchers, and how Nikola Tesla factors into any of it. In the early sections of the game, it means walking around and fighting robotic-looking enemies with weapons found on the ground. Later in the game... it means the same thing.
While it starts off full to the brim with potential, Dark Void slowly falls apart. Running around the same few environments and fighting enemies using a handful of weapons becomes boring fast, and while things obviously get much more varied when William is given a jetpack by Nikola Tesla, even that fails to live up to its potential. This is, in a large part, due to a lack of focus on the part of the developers. They had the right idea when they thought of blending together a third-person shooter with an airborne fighter. That concept hasn't been done well yet, and when it happens in Dark Void, it's generally done fairly well. The inclusion of vertical cover, which uses the jetpack to allow William to stick to cover jutting out from walls, adds to this as well. Strangely, few instances actually use these different elements together, instead opting for long sections of each, broken up by missions.
Full levels will take place in the sky, which grows tiring due to mediocre controls and a lack of enemy variety. Others are mostly stuck to the ground, with brief intervals where William will need to ascend or descend using vertical cover. Neither of these are any fun on their own. What is fun is when Airtight mixes them together, having the player jump between the game's three key mechanics, which work together seamlessly. It's there that the potential of Dark Void begins, and, sadly, ends. Times where the player is actually allowed to do this are few, and a bulk of the game, instead, tries to be something else. In this case, that something else isn't very fun. In order to succeed, Dark Void needed to be unique. It needed to make gamers forget that other games existed, and do things on its own without attempting to emulate anything else. After the tenth time players need to execute the same exact quick-time event, they'll likely realize that Airtight Games apparently didn't feel comfortable being unique, and decided to follow suit with other shooters. This mistake was their undoing, and ruins any chance the game had at being entertaining.
It doesn't help that the story, which also feels as though it could have been unique, doesn't go anywhere. Plot twists lack meaning due to a poorly told narrative, loose ends aren’t tied up in a way that ever feels fulfilling, and missed opportunities for strong storytelling are replaced with loosely disguised rip-offs from other games and movies. Not only that, but every plot reveal that feels as though it might be interesting is spoiled by tool-tips during loading screens before they actually come up, so expect to constantly have things revealed a few checkpoints too early, which might be one of the strangest issues I've ever encountered in a game. Beyond that, the pacing is all over the place, and while there are a few exhilarating sections, most of this action game ends up being utterly dull. Considering it isn’t that long to begin with, that says a lot. Luckily, the score, composed by Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary, is wonderful, so it has that going for it. It doesn't make the story any better, but it makes it more tolerable.
All of the pieces are there for a successful game, and while there are flaws in the controls and visuals, none of the problems are really all that troubling. It's just that... the game isn't very fun, and the fault is based on the levels themselves, not the mechanics of play. With some changes, a sequel could easily improve upon the original without changing too much of the core game, like rebuilding a house out of the same materials. In a way, it's the opposite of Iron Man, with a strong core but no real focus. The only area where SEGA succeeded was in realizing that the game had to blend together the different elements, not keep them apart. Where Airtight failed was not realizing that very fact. In the end, it's worth playing Dark Void, though expectations should be kept very low, and it's not worth picking up at full price by any means.