Darkest Hour is the newest mod for the game Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 which was released in 2006 and provided a realistic and intense World War Two multiplayer game on the PC. The original was not exactly what you would call “pick up and play”, it was unforgivably hardcore; one shot was enough to kill you 90% of the time, there was no ammo counter on screen meaning you had to keep track of how many bullets were left in your magazine. Also, there were no crosshairs, and no radar to pin point where your enemies had hidden themselves as they sniped you into oblivion.
For those that persevered through the first few hours of unflinching punishment, the true depth of the game appeared, it was rewarding in a way unlike any other experience because it took genuine skill and hard graft to accomplish anything. The developers had taken a lot of time making the game appear realistic; bullets dropped over distance so you had to adjust your aim to suit, and there was no way of being healed after you got shot, so instead you were careful with your movement, dashing from spots of cover and going prone to present yourself as less of a target. At the same time, a dedicated team had worked on keeping things historically accurate, which really helped to enrich the experience. Darkest Hour has not changed this formula in any major way, and instead focuses on allowing you to experience Red Orchestra action on a new front.
Whereas Red Orchestra was set on the eastern European front of WW2 and included battles like Stalingrad, Darkest Hour lets you fight through battles that occurred on the Western front from 1944 onward, including The Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, and Operation Market Garden. Also, you finally get a chance to play as US or British forces (the British voice acting is absolutely hilarious).
It’s simple to join a match; after you find a server, you are first presented with a choice to join the Axis or the Allies, as with the original game you then need to pick a class, with roles ranging from the simple rifleman or tank crew all the way up to commanders who are responsible for providing orders and directing the flow of battle. Because the game focuses on realism, it’s actually required to have a number of people working in unison in order to control some of the bigger vehicles, which really puts an emphasis on teamwork. After you’ve picked your class, you simply click “connect” and you’re off.
As mentioned earlier there is a steep learning curve, and considering that most people who download Darkest Hour will already be Red Orchestra veterans, you will die a lot. Weapon recoil is also a lot stronger than in games like Call of Duty, and if you try to fire from the hip, you will find it impossible to hit anything more than a few metres away. Even when you do die, the respawn rate is mercifully fast, and the maps are set out so that even if you have been killed, you’ll never have to wait too long to get back into the action. Eventually you’ll realise that using your weapons’ iron sights is the only way to be truly accurate, and before you know it, you’ll be on an even footing with everyone else.
The new vehicles and weapons include some favourites from other big WW2 titles, so this time around you’ll get to use the Thompson and the Garand, as well as control Sherman tanks and the powerful King Tiger Tank. Whilst not being too major a departure from the armoury featured in the previous title, each of the new additions have their own unique characteristics. You also get the chance to participate in parachute drops, which doesn’t add a great amount to the gameplay, but is amusing nonetheless.
The realistic approach to combat allows you to engage the enemy at all sorts of ranges. Sometimes, as a tank gunner, you will be blasting enemy armour to smithereens from hundreds of metres away. In other instances, you will be fighting a pitched hand to hand battle through a village using bayonets and submachine guns. It’s nice to get such variation, and it means that if you get tired of playing one role, you can easily switch to something that feels a lot different, which will hopefully will enable you to help change the tide of a battle.
On release in 2006, Red Orchestra looked fairly decent even though the character and vehicle models are passable at best. The maps are large and filled with detail, the textures are fairly low in resolution, and the grey nature of the environments doesn’t exactly make for eye candy. Some new effects have been added that do improve upon the original formula, like smoke and dynamic lighting,but even on its highest settings the games’ engine is showing its age. Despite it’s inability to impress the general public visually, it’s clear here that the focus wasn’t on making a pretty game, and Darkest Hour was never aiming to be that sort of title.
Considering Darkest Hour is a free mod, it has a lot of content and feels nicely polished. You can see that a lot of effort has gone into making sure that the new British and American units have all the correct gear and uniforms, and that everything feels authentic. It adds in some classic battles that fans of Red Orchestra are sure to enjoy, and it also might attract a few more players to it by finally including the Americans and the D-Day landings. If you are a fan of Red Orchestra, this simply adds more substance to what was already an accomplished shooter (and it’s free). If you don’t yet own Red Orchestra and are interested in a gritty realistic shooter that rewards genuine skill and tactical play, then you might be interested in picking it up, along with Darkest Hour.
It's a mod and therefore doesn't benefit from a new engine, but it does what it needs to do.
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Intense brutal combat, with lots of variation. Steep learning curve.
Some funny lines to be heard, especially from the British forces, the guns all sound authentic.
As long as the servers last people will be around to play it, the problem is that someone might take the idea and produce a more polished version.
A title that is not for everyone, but those who can immerse themselves in it will find it unlike anything else.