Void War Review (PC)

The first offering by independent game studio Rampant Games, Void War is a tribute to old style dog fighting games, but set in the depths of space and with much cooler weaponry. Even for someone who, like me, isn't a big fan of air combat games, Void War is a fun foray into something new, a downloadable independent game that has nothing to do with matching three pictures of the same kind of...whatever we're matching now. Iím a little late on the bandwagon for this game, which was released initially in 2004, but rumor has it (confirmed by the developer) that an updated version is on its way which may address some of the things that bugged me. Doesnít mean Iím not going to mention them anyway.

Blue bobble of explody goodness!
Stay on target!!!

I admit my first concern on downloading Void War was the fact that I struggle with most avionic controls. I expect my ups to be ups and my downs to be downs, and when the grass that's under my plane suddenly is above my plane I tend to panic, shortly followed by crashing. The combination of the controls and the setting of Void War neatly took care of that concern. The setting is space, so up and down is all rather relative. There's no nasty ground to reach up and eat me, though fly into enough space stations or planets and you've got a problem anyway. As far as the controls it's a combination of mouse control and keyboard. The part I love is that the mouse control is as simple as scrolling across the screen. Where goes my mouse pointer - there goes my ship, no reverse controls up down mumbo jump, just follow the pointer. Click to shoot, and there is a lot of shooting involved, press the space bar for missiles and other weapons and you've pretty much got the basics down.

The game is full of pick ups for better weapons and shields, and the gravity wells make for a great way to coast past the enemy faster than he can react. I managed to do this a couple times without getting vertigo, so with more practice I might not suck at it. This reminds me...the AI controlled ships are NOT your standard drone, these guys can shoot and use the same array of special weapons you can. They are fast and nasty, though still with enough learning curve that I didnít despair and I found out quick that using the environment to play peek-a-boo helps increase your life expectancy.

The storyline of Void War is hackneyed and over done and initially I was bugged by this until one of the dialogue lines revealed that hackneyed, over done and tongue in cheek was exactly what the developers were going through. Once I got that into my head the whole grizzled war veteran, who has to spell out the background of the universe details for us, on search for missing war hero girlfriend across uncharted space became rather funny. The nice thing about the story is that it gives a spark of flavor and personality to encounters that still boil down to the same result of Ďblow the other guy up before he blows you upí. Often this is a Ėthey- blow you up. The AI has no problem with multiple bad guys versus you. Youíre the hero, suck it up.

While the tongue in cheek nature of the dialog doesnít but me anymore, I do, however, have a complaint about how long the dialogue stays on screen. Iím a fast reader, and the wait time is programmed for someone that reads slower than I do or has more patience. You can skip over the dialogue if itís your second or third time through with the escape key, but I found I wanted to read it, just not so slowly. Hitting enter or the down key is just a finger workout and doesnít scroll any faster.

Graphically Void War is an interesting contrast in styles, and at moments feels a little hodgepodge. The graphic requirements are not going to strain most systems in order to be running at full speed ahead, but they seem to fit with the feel of the game and its hat tip to classic arcade style games. The graphic artwork for our hero Lance Dawson, as well as the other Ďcharactersí, is a penciled drawing style on a white background and caught my attention, and not in a good way, every time he appeared on the screen. The ships themselves are a bit blocky in a few cases, but I liked that each had a unique design in both look and response. I always knew what I was fighting before it blew me up. The space background environment had some very nice moments, nice to look at without being distracting. The space city is pretty dang cool too. I particularly like the uses of light and light flares that show up in the game, which give the feel of really having all the vasty reaches of space to fly in even if the gravity barrier is gonna bounce me back into the arena anyway.

Shielding will only help you so long
Cover artÖI never look that good in the game

I liked the music and sound effects in Void War for the most part. There are a couple of variations in theme with the music, which work well with what youíre doing whether itís working dialogue or dogfighting. I liked the martial theme enough to leave it playing while vacuuming my computer room, which says something, since most game music thatís just left to play gets boring after about the second time through. At a couple of points I lost the music entirely during the dogfights. I never was able to figure out why and almost as quickly as I realized all I was hearing was the pounding of blaster fire the music kicked back in. Speaking of blasters, the effects for the weaponry fit nicely with the various styles of weapons and werenít either too loud or soft against the music. Like any good sound effect I didnít particularly notice they were there until I thought about it, but I didnít notice that they were there which would have been a problem.

As mentioned, the gameplay for Void War is pretty straight forward. There are no puzzles to deal with or buildings to burrow through. This is a straight up first person to explode looses space shooter and doesnít make much pretense at being anything else. The controls require use of both the mouse and the keyboard. The mouse controls your direction and blasters, the keyboard velocity, special weapons and missiles. There are three camera views you can switch between. First person, third person and a rear view. I never used the rear view myself and found the first person disorienting, but the third worked well in being able to both see what was coming and respond to it. Most of the time. The problem, though, with the camera view is that you have to change it at the start of each level if you donít like the default. This bugged me as some of the levels start with a literal bang and while I was trying to get my view fixed the enemy was pounding my shields to hamburger. I mentioned this problem to the developer who promises that itís fixed in the new release, which will make me much happier.

My favorite part of the game play has to be the special weapons, ship abilities and the pick ups. Every ship has its pros and cons in speed, handling and special abilities. My personal favorite is the Nighthawk with a hyperspace teleport out of danger, though I hate it when the computer AI is doing the same thing to me. The pick ups are located through out the level and I even caught myself getting distracted from the fire fight just to swoop around and collect those tantalizing blue bobbles full of explody goodness. One of the cool things about the special weapons and abilities is that theyíre designed to be useful and to add a very unique aspect to the game but, in the end, the majority of my kills were still head to head blast outs, which was exhilarating, even when I was the one in pieces.

Void War won the Game Tunnel multiplayer game of the year award taking that dog fight versus the computer to versus other humans with style. My biggest multiplayer complaint is finding folks to play with as there doesnít really seem to be a specific community for finding other Void Warriors, as the game refers to them.

And this is when you know youíre in trouble
I love it when that happens!!!

At the end of the day Void War does provide the bang for the buck that I was looking for when I downloaded it, though I was glad not to be paying a $40-50 price tag. There is a very nice replayability to the game as each encounter is different and there are six different player class ships and three difficulties to play through with each. Now if I can just figure out what that alien really wants?

Top Gaming Moment:
The first time that I was the exploder instead of the explodee I think I scared my fish with the hollering. Itís so fun to see the pieces go flying!