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Previews

Dark Void

I want to fly sky hiiiigh...

It's got jetpacks in. That probably makes Dark Void an instant sale for some people. And understandably so: there's something almost primal about the desire to dart around the sky with flames shooting out of your bum (or thereabouts).

Games, in general, just aren't up to jetpacks - the amount of freedom necessary to realise them creates a frightening number of variables for a developer to try and cater for. There's a reason why we don't get many jetpack games. So, Dark Void might be another over-the-top sci-fi shooter, but it's also taking a big risk.

Dark Void's original genesis was very different, says Capcom senior producer Morgan Grey. "Originally there was no jetpack. The idea was a run-and-gun game with the concept of getting off the X/Y axis. And the mechanism for that was a bionic-esque claw."

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Ah. Bionic Commando got there first, but fortunately an offhand suggestion by Dark Void's project lead caused the welcome jetpackery.

Initial suggestions that this third-person sci-fi shooter would be akin to Gears of War, due to a cover system that also incorporates hanging off ledges and shooting over them, are now being downplayed. "We knew we didn't want to be slow and plodding, and didn't want to the dour military thing. There's enough of those."

So instead, you get to kill evil aliens in high-speed style, gunning down or hijacking their UFOesque ships in the air, sniping power-armoured baddies on the ground, or a merry blend of both thanks to the instant-on style of the jetpack. "We're trying to have as few impediments to you being awesome as possible," promises Grey.

A few extra months on the development cycle - delayed from this Winter partly because of the same Great Fear that's seen a whole bunch of games slip to early 2009 - has given the game time to blur the lines between on-foot and on-jetpack combat, so the latter can now be employed as a tactical advantage even whilst you're shooting ground-bound dudes.

Blast over their heads and hit 'em in the back, soar off to a prime sniping spot well out of their range, or fleeing to clear skies from a tight spot. It's a real shame the multiplayer's been canned, as such sky-high stuntery against human opponents is a delectable prospect.

Still, the weight of enemy numbers is pretty intense, so you will be challenged despite the vast power strapped to your back. "We can be harsh on difficulty, but we're easy on the checkpoints" assures Grey.

The jetpack handles a lot of the hard work of movement for you - this is no flight sim - but you need to use it tactically to survive. "Screw easy games" is one of the otherwise avuncular Grey's personal creeds.

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Grey also promises the openly ludicrous backstory - you fall through the Bermuda Triangle into in an alien-ruled alternative universe, where a bunch of other humans, including Nicolai Tesla, are mounting a resistance - won't get in the way.

"The story is arguably the least crucial part of the game experience, however it's crucial in terms of it justifies what you're doing. But it's not very talky or cutsceney."

Phew, frankly, as we don't want Lost Planet all over again. This is coupled with an exaggerated look that's part 1920s derring-do and part slightly over-familiar silver'n'blue robo-stuff, with the birds-eye scale dolloping on extra spectacle.

But really, it's all about that jetpack. It needs to be super-super-super-fun to make Dark Void stand out amidst a glut of science-fictional action, especially given you won't always have access to it. So far, it looks like it's really nailed the full-3D movement necessary for such mid-air thrills, but we'll find out for sure in January.

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