There are some situations in life that require thoughtful internal deliberation in order to form sound decisions. Then again, there are mundane, fanciful and otherwise useless scenarios for which you've spent years holding steadfast to predetermined conclusions. As an example, I'm prepared for the day when a genie's lamp exudes itself from a forlorn sand dune, with three selfish and entirely nerdy wishes: endless wealth, a working lightsaber, and a jet pack. A fair number of games have tried to satiate these dreams through the ether drip of virtual reality, but none have done so successfully.
Focusing specifically on the plethora of titles that list a jet pack as a playable accessory, in most cases its institution equates to little more than a vehicle used to reach out-of-reach hideaways with short spurts of exhaust. Formed in 2004 and comprised of a core group from the acclaimed Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Airtight Games and Capcom's Dark Void finally delivers in jet pack action with an experience that's less real-world engineering, and more Rocketeer fantasy. Without worry of fuel gauges and with the option for forward propulsion or hovering in place, Dark Void sets itself up as the predominant rocket pack game; but it's when it reaches beyond being just a flight simulator that it loses its draw.
Unfortunately the brilliance and novelty of Airtight's debut is smothered by its forced third-person action. A standard mix of upgradeable weaponry, a cover system, and a few specialized mechanics end up defining a game that otherwise positions itself apart as would-be contender of others in its genre. Dark Void may be an entertaining example of period-based science-fiction—introducing an alien race into World War II far more effectively than Indiana Jones—but whether you're battling the Watchers' foot soldiers or shooting down their UFOs, nothing else in the game recaptures the same joy as when you fire up Nikola Tesla's jet pack for the first time.
Transitioning between running on the ground to buzzing over head is seamless, and a tireless thrill even if it peaks when Will first steps from Tesla's workshop into the Void, free falling from a towering rock face. The weightlessness doesn't last long, however, as once you start the engines Will momentarily flails, gains an aerodynamic flying position, and boosts between objectives. As his pants ripple in the open air, you truly feel like you're flying, free from any enclosed contraption. At any time this sequence can be replayed in large, open sections of the game world, but a barren landscape leaves little to enjoy visually as you do so.
No doubt the Void is meant to feel like a lifeless, limbo environment, and it does, but the endless amount of drab cliffs swallowed by a floor of gray clouds becomes increasingly boring as you progress through the game. Airtight tries to break the monotony with enclosed areas of play, but these sections relegate you to a simple shooter with passable enemy AI. The much lauded vertical combat seems more like a technical marvel for any aspiring programmer or designer, as I'm sure the process for making it possible is less tried than the standard horizontal action, but since a TV screen is only displayed in two dimensions, the effect turns into a three-button mini-game: (1) move to cover, (2) aim, and (3) shoot. Repeat.
If you stick with the game after its slow opening and past an infuriatingly tedious escort level, you'll be pressed to find much more than the sheer novelty of playing around with the jet pack exciting. Aeriel combat extends beyond a pair of cannons affixed to your pack as you can overtake enemy UFOs in short quick-time events, but they too become repetitive after the first encounter. Not to mention, there's a complete lack of boss battles, save for the final level. In fact, Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary with his fitting soundtrack of tribal rhythms set to digital effects is, perhaps, the only thing that holds the whole experience together. Even then, the non-interactive environments and menial graphical detail do little to suck you in.
While we appreciate the work Airtight has done in actually giving players a fully-fledged rocket pack to play around with, there's little else to entice them back for multiple playthroughs. Dark Void ends up a mediocre package despite housing such promising fiction—even if we wish the story of the Watchers, the Void, and even Will would have been fleshed out with more than texts found in-game. The idea of an alien race fostering and perpetuating humanity, only to be overthrown in revolt, is intriguing, but stopping their re-invasion of Earth only gets in the way of an awesome jet pack simulator.
To be fair, I now get to rethink my third wish.
What would your three wishes be? If you had a jet pack, what would you do with it? Let's compare notes on Twitter @Gamers_Hell