January 9th, 2012 | By Richard Glenn
So, it’s come to this – another Source mod. I know what you’re thinking; Valve’s fabled gaming engine has been manipulated, addled and fiddled with more times that we’d care to keep count of, and most of its offshoot concoctions have been forgettable, unoriginal rush-jobs that only serve to accentuate Valve’s own creative mastery.
That’s why Void is such an eye-opener – a game-changer, if you will. Inspired in concept and functional in execution, this recent brainchild of a talented group of DigiPen students deserves the attention of the indie community and the gaming industry at large.
Like any academic project, however, it’s a work in progress and, as such, it’s not quite flawless.
Void’s prime selling point (yes, the game’s free, but work with me here) is its mechanic of time manipulation in a puzzle-solving context, all played from a first-person perspective. A simple click of the left mouse button allows players to unleash the powers of time physics, temporarily reverting a dilapidated interior environment to its former luscious glory.
But a mere gimmick this is not. Altering the game’s temporal fabric is vital as a means of in-game progression as it allows players to navigate around previously unassailable obstacles. For example, using the time manipulation power may reveal a subsequently demolished staircase or floor surface, or even a stretch of water that’s been removed since the collapse of the facility.
Efficiently backing up this focal point of the Void experience are the goggles with which the player character is equipped. These provide you with the ability to see into the past and scan for opportunities to reach the next stage of proceedings. There’s also a visual dynamic to this perk that grants a welcome opportunity to compare the bleak present-day surroundings with the once idyllic, picturesque wrappings of the past. Though this may be cosmetic and inessential to the smooth functioning of the game, it’s a nice touch nevertheless, and one that expands Void’s horizons of depth and thought provocation.
On the whole, the system is intuitive and easy to get to grips with, but a few teething problems are evident.
The first glaring concern comes with the somewhat unreliable and inaccurate aiming system, which can lead to a few sticky moments when attempting to reveal a desired section of the landscape. All too often, aiming the cursor at an area of the screen can be misleading and less than indicative of the region that ultimately ends up being influenced by your actions. While it’s certainly not an experience killer, it’s an issue that’s prominent enough to instigate more than a couple of moments of finger-snapping frustration.
Tighter movement controls would also not have gone amiss. Void suffers from occasional instances of finicky leaps of faith when you’re trying to jump from one area of a room to another, often resulting in your character falling into a chasm or, very occasionally, getting stuck in the environment. Once again, it doesn’t completely take the shine off the main premise of the game, but this particular stumbling block could really do with being addressed in future instalments.
Perhaps the biggest criticism one can level at Void is its jarringly short length. It’s unlikely to take you much more than half an hour to reach the ominous “To Be Continued…” screen at the game’s conclusion, meaning that anyone expecting a meaty odyssey in which to lose themselves for days on end are going to be more than a little peeved. In fairness, Void is a freely available game and, as such, is immune to the whole “value for money” mudslinging debacle, but its short-lived nature is what ends up arguably relegating it from the status of “game” to that of “tech demo”.
And, at the end of the day, a tech demo is almost certainly what Void ought to be taken as. Sure, it’s brief, understated and fleeting, but it’s impossible to deny that it could very well be part of a much bigger picture. Upon the game’s release, its developers jocularly claimed that its technology was likely to be used in a prospective sequel to the internationally beloved Portal series and, all joking aside, that might not be such an outlandish claim. Void is original and daring enough to manifest itself as an intellectual vision of significant relevance in the continuous evolution of the gaming medium, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a big-time developer trying its hand at implementing the game’s mechanics in a full-length retail product.
You can find out more information on Void and download it for free from the game’s official page, courtesy of DigiPen.