The old-fashioned jetpack doesn't make much sense as a way to get around. Physics, gravity and the limitations of the human physique - not to mention the potential threat of flaming buttocks - have all conspired against the technology, which sci-fi geeks have been craving since the 1920s.
So once again, it's up to video games to deliver on dreams deferred. And "Dark Void" (Capcom, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, US$59.99), with its free-roaming jetpack flight, held particular promise.
Alas, the result is far more earthbound than we had hoped.
Will Grey is a cargo pilot who, after an ill-considered detour into the Bermuda Triangle, crash-lands in an alternate universe called the Void. There, a small band of humans are fighting for survival against far more powerful aliens called the Watchers. There's one wild card: inventor Nikola Tesla, who's busy retrofitting Watcher tech for use by the humans.
Tesla's main contribution is the jetpack, which initially gives Will the ability to make vertical leaps like LeBron James. That leads to the niftiest innovation of "Dark Void": its vertical combat, which takes the find-cover-then-shoot style of "Gears of War" into the third dimension.
Eventually, Will is able to fly higher and farther, leading to some decent - although not entirely compelling - dogfights against UFOs. The jetpack controls are very easy to get the hang of, so even flight-sim neophytes will feel comfortable.
Unfortunately, the aerial action is broken up by ground-based fighting that's as generic as it comes. The Watchers' artificial intelligence is terrible, with most of the metallic monsters stuck to predictable attack patterns. It can take a lot of ammo to kill a Watcher - although, bizarrely enough, a single punch is often enough to take one down.
And despite the intriguing setup, there aren't many surprises in the story. There are frequent reminders of Sony's "Uncharted 2," from its jungle setting to its saucy female sidekick. But in every aspect - the graphics, the dialogue, the level design - "Dark Void" feels like a pale imitation. Even Nolan North, who contributed such lively voice work as Nathan Drake in "U2," sounds bored here playing Will.
Occasionally, "Dark Void" delivers on its premise. The aerial battles are lively, and some of the boss battles are challenging. But it only lasts six to eight hours, and just when it starts to get interesting, it's over. Two stars out of four.
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