Most kids in the world have dreamt about having a jetpack, and who can blame them? The jetpack is that special kind of science-fiction gadget that exists so close to the realm of reality that you can believe you'll own one someday. Jetpacks exist in the modern world, but they're more theoretical concepts than the free-flying gadgets popularized by science fiction. It should be no surprise that the jetpack is also a favorite of video game heroes. From Mega Man and Mario to Duke Nukem and C.J., the jetpack is a pretty common video game tool, but there aren't many games built around it. It's usually a small power-up for limited flight or a late-game ability. Capcom's Dark Void takes a bit of a different approach to the concept of a jetpack by making it the main focus of the game, turning the traditional third-person shooter gameplay into something a lot more vertical.
Dark Void stars an unfortunate pilot by the name of Will who crash-lands in the Bermuda Triangle. Rather than dying, Will is teleported to another dimension, where he encounters a group of "lost" humans called Survivors. They're struggling to battle a mysterious race of aliens known as the Watchers, and Will must help the Survivors defeat the Watchers if he wants to find his way home. Fortunately, the Survivors have some help on their side in the form of clever scientists who can retrofit Watcher technology. In a move straight out of "The Rocketeer," Will ends up donning a mask and a super-jetpack as he sets out to stop the Watchers and save the humans trapped in the Triangle.
The most notable feature in Dark Void is the signature rocket pack, and what we saw of it was pretty impressive. The first level in the E3 demo took place in a tremendous wide-open canyon, where a series of shield generators kept the protagonist from escaping. Naturally, Will had to fly around the canyon from generator to generator to shut them off. The jetpack was a breeze to control; you take off at the push of a button and fly around pretty freely. It took a few moments to get the hang of the flight controls, but once we did, there didn't seem to be any particular limitations on our flight in this section.
The player could pause to hover in mid-air or use a boost to rocket around faster but with less control. You could even fight while flying, either by hovering in mid-air and firing accurately at your target, or by shooting while boosting around. It seemed more damaging to opponent to fire while flying, although it was much harder to hit enemies this way. There are even special aerial maneuvers, like a barrel roll, which you can use to avoid enemy gunfire. It's worth noting that the full jetpack abilities won't be available in every area in the game. In our brief demo, we saw a few places where Will was limited to more of a hover pack instead. It still gave him significantly more upward mobility than most third-person shooter protagonists, but nowhere near the freedom we got in the wide-open canyon.
After flying around for a bit, we got inside one of the generators. In the cramped corridors, Dark Void functioned a lot more like a traditional third-person shooter. Players have access to a number of traditional weapons and can use them, often while ducking behind cover to avoid counter-fire. It seemed pretty basic — until we got further into the generator. The real twist comes when you leave the cramped corridors and enter a large vertical area. Dark Void introduces what the developers called the "vertical cover" mechanic. What that means is that thanks to your jetpack, you can take cover basically anywhere.
Platforming is mostly context-sensitive, with the player simply pointing at the location he wants to jump to and pressing a button, which causes the jetpack to boost the player toward his goal. This allows you to take cover on the underside of a floating platform just as easily as you would behind some boxes. It's actually a very disorienting procedure, with the game camera twisting to match the player's new viewing angle. It can be tough to figure out where enemy fire is coming from when you're not entirely sure which direction is up, so boosting around wildly is a good way to put yourself at greater risk. However, careful positioning can give you a major advantage over enemies.
It certainly looks like the game is going to lend itself to some interesting mechanics, as the vertical cover system allows you to approach traditional third-person shooter combat from very different angles. In addition to the usual collection of shooter weapons, like machine guns and rocket launchers, it looks like your jetpack will be upgradeable to give you access to new weapons and abilities as the game progresses.Dark Void is shaping up to be a rather interesting twist on the third-person shooter genre. The basic shooter gameplay feels very familiar, but once the jetpack is involved, everything changes. The jetpack allows you to move and shoot in ways that you normally can't, not even in grappling hook-focused games like Capcom's other titles, Bionic Commando and Lost Planet. Even in the confined indoors, it looks like you'll be able to approach combat in interesting and unique ways. The real selling point, however, is the fun and satisfaction of flying around with a jetpack. The free-flight controls are smooth and easy to learn, and once you've got the hang of them, you're the master of the air. Assuming everything comes together smoothly, Dark Void is shaping up to be The Rocketeer video game that we never got, and a unique and fun third-person shooter to boot.
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