Game Pile: Dark Void Zero

In videogames, there aren’t many things that gamers can do that really sets them apart. Most anything you’ve done, thousands of people have done, as well, better. The true bests at anything tend to not even notice it – pro-gaming Starcraft players have often been blindsided by players who genuinely didn’t realise how good they were. If you want to think of yourself as exceptional, you have to find some special thing to set yourself apart.

Like this:

Doom Master: Complete the Valley of Doom on Medium or Hard. 8.5% of players have this achievement.

Be The 8%

This is a Steam Achievement for Dark Void Zero. The Valley of Death, huh? Sounds like a real rough place, maybe it’s best to be careful in that place. I mean, only eight percent of players who played the game finished that level? What is it, is this the final level of the game? The hard mode or something?

This is the first level.

Oh, sure, plenty of people have finished, say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. About thirty-five percent of people who’ve played it, in fact, have finished it. Darksiders has had about nine percent of players finish it, and it’s just a bit of a slog. But Dark Void Zero?

Less than nine percent of players who have tried it have finished the first level.

They Shoot Up?!

Dark Void Zero is a 2D platform game that you could play on a SNES controller. There’s a wonderful feeling of realness to the controls, where there’s no context-sensitive guessing to determine what each button does. Up, down, left right, jump, shoot, and a map button – that’s your lot. It’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t feel like it was ported to the PC from a Playstation where some mad fool needed multiple control wheels to jam in every option the player was going to ignore.

There’s a tiny grace period in Rusty’s adventure. You’re given an opportunity to see your first enemy in a contained little trench, walking back and forth. He’s not going to leap out and get you, so you can walk up to the edge and look down at him – which I did.

Then he looked up at me and shot me in the face.

Embarassed – they can shoot up?! – I moved out of sight and waited for him to move away. I dropped down behind him ready to unload into his back and – oh goddamnit they can turn around too.

This really isn’t any way to translate that feeling. It wasn’t like the game was cheating or betraying me. I just had an expectation – enemies didn’t look up. Enemies had obvious weaknesses, flaws you could circumvent. You didn’t get enemies that could shoot up in a little indie game, and you certainly didn’t get them in the first stage.

Intensity And Focus

If I was going to compare Dark Void Zero to any other videogame, it’d be Castlevania. Everything is very deliberate; if you try to charge through the game, if you run, you’re probably going to get slaughtered, with dozens of things coming at you in a way to punish you if you have that kind of recklessness. I mean, who puts a mine at the bottom of a blank drop?

This is a game with a total of three levels, which has eaten fourteen hours of play time from me. When a game eats that much time, I typically can trace it back somewhere – plenty of turns in Long Live The Queen were spent nervously back-and-forthing, or double-checking charts or even taking notes. Not with Dark Void Zero. Pretty much every moment I played this game, I had a button held down and I was thinking hard about how I was going to try the next area.

This sort of experience isn’t common. Very few videogames call for a truly intense focus. Hell, some videogames explicitly discourage it. I’ve forgotten I was playing Far Cry 3, sitting in the background waiting for a sniper’s path to come back around while I sat in some bushes for an interminable hour or two. In Dark Void Zero, if that game was running, I was playing it, and I was trying my hardest to play it well.

There’s no saving in this game –there’s no way to preserve your success. When you finish a level, the game will start again on the next level, and that is 100% of your options for advancement. No halfway measures – it’s the whole first level or nothing. And if you lose all your lives? Oh well, sorry, game over.

When you strip away the game mechanics and examine the story, it’s all standard stuff. You play Rusty, heroic space adventurer working under the guidance of Nikola Tesla, Public Domain Authority Figure, in a daring space battle against some Space… Things? Look, I’m not going to lie to you, story is not the strong suit of this particular video game. No, what sets Dark Void Zero apart is not a narrative about human interactions. The story of Dark Void Zero is a more personal one, a narrative that uses the player as part of its storytelling device.

The moral of the story, however, is ‘You probably aren’t as good at videogames as you think you are.’

Of course it’s not for everyone. This is a three-level game with over fourteen hours of grinding, frustrating, tense play experience. While levels are huge and expansive, and the experience is definitely fun, if you don’t like gritting your teeth and demanding a tiny sprite bend itself to your whims over and over again, you will be irritated by this game. Nonetheless, I think it’s great, I enjoyed it a great deal, and I am proud to say I am one of the 8%.

Verdict

Dark Void Zero is available for digital purchase from Steam. I recommend buying a DS copy, though.

Buy it if:

  • You enjoyed classic platformers and want something substantially challenging to play.
  • You’re interested in how old videogames felt with modern conveniences.

Avoid it if:

  • You can’t manage precise, tight controls.
  • High-contrast colours like orange-and-blue make you uncomfortable.

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