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Joystiq impressions: Dark Void (Xbox 360)

Justin McElroy

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There was a lot of excitement around the booths at Captivate 08, but you could tell there was something different about Dark Void. It was the one game you could bring up and everyone present was quick to agree: They wanted to play it. Like, now. What could engender this sort of enthusiasm? Read on.

You've probably picked up a few nuggets about the game already, in spite of its criminally forgettable title. It's developed by Airtight Games, made up of some of the team who brought you Crimson Skies. If your memory still hasn't been jogged: It's the one with the jet pack.

It's that pack that is the key to the game's appeal, but it's far from a one-trick pony. More than a gimmick, the jet pack is a prism through which Airtight has looked through and found a new way of seeing the third-person action game.

Gallery: Dark Void | 50 Photos

In a 20-minute demo we watched (more than a few times, actually) central character Will, a 1930s pilot who flew into the Bermuda Triangle, began like most other action stars (save for a metallic helmet and a wicked miniature chain gun). But it didn't take long to see what sets him apart: vertical cover combat.

But let's back up a bit. We're told that though Airtight thought they wer on the right track with Dark Void, they knew they didn't have it early on. It wasn't until designer Jose Perez happened upon the idea of vertical cover combat that the game really came into its own.

Here's the basic idea: Will uses his jet pack to reach a ledge which he can then hide behind from enemies above him. He can then leapfrog up from ledge to ledge, just like Marcus Fenix roadie-runs from barricade to barricade. It's not just a different perspective though, as there are several crucial differences. For one, there's a small matter of keeping your grip. A shot from a foe can send you scrambling for the "X" button, which you must pound to stay on the ledge. Also, it's infinitely more satisfying to see a bested foe tumble down past you than for them just to slump over behind a wall.

It's all sold by the animations. Robots (which we're told actually have organic insides) flail wildly when they're blasted by the chain gun's bullets, and there's a real sense of peril whenever you have to fight for your grip. Even though we're told the game's still a year out, it already looks really polished.

The perspective isn't the only thing changing: The combat will also evolve as Will goes through the game. Every weapon will be able to be upgraded throughout the game, as will the rest of his items, from his helmet to jet pack.

We get to see one of the pack's upgrades during the demo, the one that takes it from hover pack to jet pack. Though we were already intrigued by the combat, we were completely swept away by the flight. As the pack fires, Will swings his arms and legs, and within a few moments, he's able to strike a balance between control and his own momentum. If there's ever been a more visceral example of wingless flight in a game, we don't know about it.

The best, we soon learn, is yet to come, as Will powers into a passing flying saucer. Clinging to the side, he circles the craft in an attempt to avoid a large rotating canon in the center. When he gets a spare second, our hero pries some wiring from the craft, revealing the creature piloting it. When Will reaches in to battle the pilot for control of the craft, a golden sunbeam between the rocks hits him just the right way, and the effect is nothing short of spectacular.

We know, we know. We're being awfully glowing for a preview where we didn't even lay a hand on the game. But the fact is that with all of the beloved returning franchises at Captivate 08, the one that we couldn't get out of our head was this brand new offering, which, considering the history and pedigree of some of the other titles there, is a very large compliment indeed.

Dark Void, Resident Evil 5, Bionic Commando and Spyborgs: check out all our coverage from Capcom's Captivate 08 event!

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