Version tested: Xbox 360
Anyone who remembers The Rocketeer has probably noticed something a bit familiar about Dark Void. I can't imagine that even the most indignant of Capcom executives would deny that the graphic novel and film's visual cues have been echoed somewhat in their "vertical cover shooter". Everything from the pack itself to the leather jacket and natty helmet has been a clear influence on the design of game's main character, and the Boy's Own Adventure ethos is firmly in place.
On playing, however, the clearest inspiration that emerges is Uncharted - which is no great surprise given that Dark Void is really a third-person cover-action game wearing a new dress. Main character Will is very much the pseudo-Drake, all hangdog aphorisms and last-gasp ledge grabs. Voiced by the ubiquitous Nolan North, he spends the first level looking for ruins in a jungle with his ex-girlfriend, professes to be no action hero even whilst taking down four enemies with one bullet, and sports a Lampard-esque range of practical-casual couture. The imitation is so blatant that it's a bit embarrassing.
Sadly, pithy asides and poor fashion choices are about as close as Dark Void gets to Naughty Dog's adventuring crown, as the game's selection of promising ideas fail to gel into anything substantial.
One thing which Uncharted doesn't have is a jetpack, and developer Airtight Games has done a decent job of evoking the feeling of reckless speed and manoeuvrability which you'd imagine might come from putting the business end of a F-111 in a rucksack and strapping it on. Being able to fire up the boosters from anywhere, standing, falling or hovering, means that there's a seamless fluidity to the switch between ambulation and rocketry. The open environments which form about half of the game's levels really facilitate this sort of tactical freedom - Will is never more than a double tap away from Mach 2, and swan diving from a ledge into free-fall before swooping up into a .45-calibre-spewing parabola is a thrill which never really gets old.
Control of the pack is simple enough, and probably considerably easier than conventional physics and bone density would allow, with boost and brake controls complementing a limited range of emergency evasion techniques. Dogfighting isn't easy, but usually offers a sensible level of challenge, made simpler if you can manage to get close enough to an enemy craft to latch on for an attempted hi-jack.
These take the form of button-prompt QTEs, spiced up with a bit of turret-fire avoidance. Functional rather than ground-breaking, they get a little repetitive in longer engagements, and there's no variation whatsoever in the takedown animations which are the end result of any successful attempt. This means that every time you swoop heroically onto an alien craft whipping past at 400mph, rip open its control surfaces and beat the pilot to death with his own weapon, it feels exactly the same, and not the exciting feat of derring-do it so clearly should be. This menial, lacklustre experience is a constant curse in Dark Void, as epic aerial encounters quickly become routine, suffering the death of a thousand identical cuts.
Several of the game's boss battles take place mid-air too, and they offer a slight change of pace - with one larger Watcher craft requiring classic Capcom piecemeal destruction. This also means switching over to hover mode and landing yourself carefully on the deck of a ship to pull it apart bit by bit. This is an interesting way to emphasise the heroism of the vulnerable, un-armoured protagonist and his plucky assault on the forces of evil - the fly biting the tiger - but it's an exception which starkly highlights the tedious norm.