The animation is excellent: Will, in leather aviation jacket and no-nonsense boots, is every bit the matinee idol, and he flails and kicks his way through the sky in a charismatic manner, bringing a grizzled physicality to flying. Meanwhile, the focus on relatively close-quarters fighting means you won't be shooting at distant dots all the time: Foo Fighters get up in your grill, buzzing you violently, before twisting away from your gunfire.
Expiring in a flash of blue flame, you can also hijack nearby UFOs (those last five words serve as a rather efficient reminder of why videogames are the best thing ever) via a QTE, to provide a bit of extra armour and firepower. Or maybe, in another echo of Crimson Skies, you might choose to drop onto the hulking Ark itself, to chew through enemies more thoroughly with AA guns.
But air combat is only really half the deal here. With the UFOs dispatched, we zip down to street level for a fight through the narrow alleyways of a supply camp. Screaming out of the sky to land seamlessly in the middle of a ground war shows the flexibility of Airtight's design: while you can run and gun and stop and pop in the manner of Gears of War, Dark Void would really prefer if you didn't.
Each level is happy to provide plenty of cover for you to snap to, but the game really comes alive when you remember that you're still strapped into a jetpack you can fire up whenever the mood strikes you, whether you use it to hover above the battlefield to circumvent enemy cover, set about strafing and dive-bombing any nearby Watchers, or even loft yourself up to a distant peak to play sniper for a while.
Wherever you end up, there always seems to be plenty of options, and the environment, which initially appears composed of little but thin air and craggy wallpaper, reveals a lot of secrets as you poke around: exquisite encounters lurking in mazy little supply depots, hidden chambers bitten deep into the rock, where you could simply get shot in the nuts for your trouble, but you might also find a handy piece of kit, such as the experimental Hyper Coil - not, alas, a counter-factual contraceptive, but rather a gun that fires lightning (which, I guess, would probably do the trick, actually, but at a fairly extreme price).
Last stop is a baby boss battle against Archons - giant gecko-like mechs with elaborate metal spines and laser cannons for mouths - and, again, you have a fair degree of scope in choosing how to take them down, from weak spots to target, QTEs to fiddle your way through, or a simple sustained barrage from the Hyper Coil (still funny).
It's a surprisingly tough battle: Will's leather jacket doesn't allow him to take too many direct hits, in a move that forces you either into acrobatics or lateral thinking, and as he succumbs to another round of plasma fire, Gray admits to me, rather frantically, that he's promised someone back in the US 100 dollars every time he dies demoing the game (trip total so far: just shy of a grand).
It's a thin slice of the wider game. Beyond canyon runs and bosses, Dark Void also comes with vertical combat, with Will hopping from one cliff ledge to the next (and covered in our last hands-on), a faddish RPG-lite upgrade system that sees you collecting tech points to power weapons and armour through three levels, and it even has good old Nolan North, the busiest man in digital show business after his performances in Uncharted and Assassin's Creed sequels, on vocal duties.
North's increasingly hard to avoid - Shadow Complex's astonishingly dire script proved that, even if you're going to have a witty and charismatic actor on board, you'll still have to give him the odd interesting thing to say - but his casting might just be a masterstroke here, with his smart, folksy brand of heroism a perfect match for Capcom's throwback adventure.
And, despite the presence of cover systems, big guns, and that peculiar Unreal Engine sheen, Dark Void remains an unusual prospect: an inventive leftfield genre piece with a lovely splash of jet-age charm. Rather than gamble its ideas on a bland presentation that will, at best, offend nobody, Airtight's opted to craft something that could potentially drive a certain portion of the gaming crowd absolutely wild with delight.
Dark Void is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 15th January 2010.