In the last two decades, hundreds of first person shooters have been released, but among those you’d be hard pressed to find one that takes place during the American Civil War or World War I. It therefore comes as quite a shock to hear that developer 8monkey Labs has not only created a game that tackles one of those wars, but both in the same package.
Not only that, they also include a campaign for World War II, as well as one that takes place during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii in 79AD. How can Darkest of Days include all of these different time periods in one game you might ask? Time travel of course! What you should really be asking yourself is whether or not you actually want to travel back in time to experience these wars first hand.
To help answer that question and to find out more about this new title, hit the jump.
Darkest of Days puts you in the shoes of a soldier in General Custer’s army named Alexander Morris. When the game begins, you find yourself fighting for your life as Custer makes his last stand against a horde of angry Indians who are ready to send you to an early grave. As you are about to say your final goodbyes, a strange portal in space opens up and a futuristic soldier steps out, telling you to come with him. The next thing you know, you are being whisked away to the future to work for a time traveling company called Kronotek, who researches and protects history.
Recently the creator of time travel, Dr. Koell, has gone missing and several anomalies in the time stream have suddenly started popping up. Koell’s second in command, known as “Mother”, has determined that you would be the best candidate to travel back through time to fix all of these anomalies and find the good doctor. After a quick tutorial level, where you learn how to use many of the game’s weapons, you are tasked with traveling back to the Civil War to save a Union soldier named Joseph Welsh, and then to World War I to save a Russian Army Officer named Petrovich.
Helping you out along the way is Dexter, a 9/11 firefighter who was saved from death by Kronotek right before one of the towers came crashing down on him. He gives you your mission briefings before every encounter and comes along to give you orders and assist in firefights. Along the way, you end up bumping into a rival time traveling company known as The Opposition, who appears to be working against you as you try to set history right. Their intentions are a mystery you must figure out as the game progresses.
As soon as Darkest of Days begins, you immediately learn why no other developers have attempted to create a game that takes place during the Civil War or WWI. Simply put, the weapons during those eras are not fun to use.
While you might be time traveling from the future, you do not typically get to bring any futuristic weapons back with you, forcing you to use the time period’s specific ones, like muskets and revolvers. The problem is that many of these are very inaccurate and slow to reload, just like their real life counterparts, which doesn’t really translate to a fun time.
When it’s you against twenty confederate soldiers, things can get a little frustrating when you’re trying to use a single-shot musket. What’s even worse is that there is an active reload system, similar to Gears of War, so if you don’t push the correct button at the specified moment, your five second reload becomes an eight second reload.
Most of the time you find yourself using the weaker revolver, because it can at least fire off six quick rounds. The weapons during the WWI campaign are a little better as they fire more rounds more quickly, but they still aren’t that fun to wield.
Along the way there are over 20 weapons to choose from, but they all fall into the same three boring categories. You have rifles, pistols, and the occasional shot gun, all of which can be upgraded. You also get to use some stationary weapons, like cannons and mounted machine guns, but these sequences are rare. The only real fun weapons available are the futuristic rifle and shotgun. Since these are very overpowered, the game balances this out by throwing waves upon waves of enemies at you. Your unmatched firepower doesn’t really even up the odds though, as the enemy AI have some of the best aiming skills I’ve ever encountered in a game.
Unfortunately, the highly accurate aim is about the only positive attribute the enemy AI has. In general, the enemies are extremely stupid and never really seem to know what they are doing. Half of the time they poorly attempt to hide behind cover, while the rest of the time, they run straight at you in the open, just asking to be picked off from a distance. The other problem with the enemy AI is that they seem to be scripted to begin attacking you at specific points on the map.
This means that if you discover a group of enemies who are on their way to a designated location, they won’t stop to attack you. They will just keep running, completely oblivious to your existence.
Besides the poor enemy AI, the game has plenty of other glitches, which really detract from the experience. First of all, there are invisible walls everywhere, which hinder your progress and force you down a specific path. This is confusing because most of the levels appear to be huge wide open spaces, which lead you to believe you can take any path you want. You quickly discover this is all an illusion, as the invisible walls are used to steer you down very specific paths.
Not only that, but you are also not allowed to go into any water sources. All lakes and ponds in the game have invisible barriers around them. Apparently time traveling soldiers from the future can’t swim. There are also lots of little places in each map where you can get stuck for no reason. On multiple occasions I had to reload a map because I got caught in one of these buggy locations.
Another problem with the game is that the difficulty swings back and forth from extremely easy to very hard. During many of the large battles, you are so insignificant to the fight that your contribution means almost nothing at all. You can just sit back and watch the battle continue on without you. There is even an achievement for beating any level without killing anyone.
Then, there are times when it’s just you against 20 enemies, and all you have is one small rock to hide behind for cover and a one shot, slow to reload musket. The game is full of situations like these, neither of which are fun at all. While the first 80% of the game is completely consumed by the Civil War and WWI campaigns, things finally get moving near the end when you get to travel to WWII and Pompeii.
One of the things that makes these levels more interesting is the fact that you finally get a hold of some weapons that are actually fun to use. The missions themselves are also more fun to play, thanks to the developers mixing things up a bit and introducing some new story and gameplay elements. Unfortunately this is all too little, too late, and doesn’t really save the experience from failing to be enjoyable.
The visuals in Darkest of Days are also a huge disappointment. To put it bluntly, it looks like the developers used the original Half-Life 1 engine to create this game. You might think I’m joking, but the sad truth is, I’m not. The game is simply ugly to look at.
Apparently 8monkey Labs created their own graphical engine, called the Marmoset engine, so that they could display 300 characters on the screen at once. Unfortunately, in order to put this many enemies on the screen at the same time, they had to dial the graphics way back.
This is the year 2009, where Valve has managed to use the 5-year old Half-Life 2 engine to display hundreds of zombies on screen at once, all with high levels of detail and visual flair. I therefore have an extremely hard time understanding why the visuals in Darkest of Days have to be so excruciatingly bad, especially when it’s running on the powerful Xbox360.
What’s even more confusing is that the game can’t keep a constant frame rate, dropping to below 20fps on many occasions. Not only are the visuals hideous, but the way all of the enemies and objects move throughout the environment is also horrendous. There is absolutely no fluidity to their movement at all, so it’s like watching an army of robots fight a battle.
If the visuals fall flat on their face, the audio fall even further. The soundtrack is forgettable at best and the voice acting is painful to listen to. I honestly hope I never have to hear another confederate soldier yell out “let’s get them yanks”, ever again. There is also a lot of German and Russian in the game, and from what I can tell, it’s all authentic, but there are no subtitles: so unless you can speak the language, you have no idea what anyone is saying.
Once you finish the eight to ten hour single player campaign, there is absolutely no reason to keep playing Darkest of Days. There is no multiplayer to speak of, and the game doesn’t offer any reason to go back and play the single player story again. In all honestly, I don’t think you should even attempt to play this title at all. The gameplay isn’t fun, the story is half-baked, the visuals are 10 years old, and the audio sounds like a screeching chalkboard.
While the developers had very lofty goals going in, the end result is one of the worst FPS games ever created. My recommendation is that you steer clear of this one and just let it fade away as a failed attempt to recreate the Civil War and WWI experience.
While the game attempts to be historically accurate, the developer probably should have spent more time on the graphics engine, which has some of the worst visuals seen in any FPS in a decade.
|How does our scoring system work?|
The game is simply not fun to play, thanks mainly to a load out of realistic weapons from the Civil War and WWI, which are slow to fire and reload. The difficulty level is also sporadic, varying from really easy to extremely hard.
The voice acting is painful to the ears and the soundtrack is forgettable at best.
The single player campaign gives you no reason to play through it again, assuming you even finish it the first time, and there is no multiplayer mode.
Darkest of Days is not only a game about time travel, it physically manages to transport the player 10 years into the past by delivering a gameplay experience that might have been acceptable a decade ago, but by today's standards, seriously falls short. Your money would be wiser spent on anything else.