E3: Dark Void preview gave us vertigo, but it's worth it

SCI FI Wire just checked out the demo for the new third-person shooter/flying game Dark Void at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Published by Capcom, the game was designed by Airtight Games.

"Those guys know how to do aerial combat and dogfights," explained Capcom senior director of communications Chris Kramer. "So what they did with Dark Void was to take the player out of the plane and make him fly." Airtight Games is behind the award-winning Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge.

In Dark Void, you are Will, a pilot who has crashed in the Bermuda Triangle and has crossed into a dimension called "The Void." Along with other humans, called the survivors, you must battle an alien race called the watchers.

The other survivors give Will a jet pack to use in the fight against the aliens. And, by the way, the jet pack has weapons. At first the jet pack helps you to jump a bit higher, but it keeps getting upgraded.

By halfway through the game, you're flying through the air with a full range of motion. "There's this great touch with the animation," Kramer said. "He's not an arrow. His hands move around a bit, and he's buffeted by the air. ... It's really intense."

The transition between ground-based combat and flight mode is seamless and simple to pick up. Will can fly about 300 miles an hour, which can make a bump into the wall a bit harrowing. But we were told that the developers were trying to improve on things that have been issues in the past with flying games, so now you have a second to recover instead of dying on impact. They've also tried to make the camera more stable.

I'll be honest here. I'm not a huge fan of flying games. They give me vertigo. But Dark Void seems to have a much more stable camera system than others I've seen. They've also got "vertical combat," which allows you to flip the camera upside down and play that way.

It's hard to explain and even harder to watch, but a blast to play. Here's what the demo showed us. You fly into a tall, skinny building that is hollow inside. There are platforms staggered all the way up. You can fly right side up, or hop from platform to platform while you pick off your enemies and dodge their fire. Or you can flip upside down and do it that way. The camera follows you as you go back and forth. After a while, you can't quite tell which way is up. I was advised to watch which direction the dead bodies fall.

The game also makes use of a "vertical cover" system, which lets you take cover either above or below any platform, making it less likely that the aliens are going to kick your ass.

You also get to "carjack" flying saucers. You get to rip pieces off, pull the alien driver out and beat him to death and then ride around on his saucer. Kind of an alien GTA. And we got to see a boss battle with a metal lizard creature. You shoot the joints to disable them, and this requires flying around, leaping onto the creature and holding on for dear life (which is accomplished by mashing a button). It is impossible to watch someone else do it without getting sick, but when you play it, you actually have a great sense of where you are.

The woman who gave the demo also mentioned that there will be a bunch of nods to sci-fi culture and confirmed that Nikola Tesla would be involved. Dark Void uses the Unreal 3 engine and will be released late this year for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the PC.

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