Darkest of Days Review

8monkey Labs’ Darkest of Days was quite an ambitious project, aiming to use time travel to place players in a number of historical settings, each with a unique feel. The concept is intriguing, but the execution in Darkest of Days falls short of its potential amid control, AI, and other gameplay issues. It can’t equal the standards set by modern top tier shooters, but it is still a fairly solid and different first-person shooter experience that is worth checking out for those who are interested in a more historically accurate, slower-paced, free-roaming game of war.

Darkest of Days is about an organization called KronoteK, formed after the invention of time travel to ensure that history is not tampered with, and if it is, that the integrity of time is quickly restored. The player assumes the role of Alexander Morris, a soldier from the ill-fated Battle of Little Big Horn, rescued from certain death to become an agent of KronoteK and do its Quantum Leap-esque hands-on work. I found it strange that the fictional organization would select someone who they’d have to send forward through time to fight with increasingly advanced weaponry, and even stranger that he had absolutely no resistance to doing so, marching merrily into the Battle of Antietam. Darkest of Days covers the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and Roman eras, bouncing players from one time period to another throughout the story.

Darkest of Days

Players should know, right up front, that Darkest of Days is visually inferior to most of what they’ve seen from the first-person shooter genre this generation. Low quality textures, flat foliage, aliasing, screen tearing, pop-in, and flicker are all served up in generous helpings, and when large numbers of soldiers or effects are on the screen at once, frame rate dips become frequent, affecting players’ aim and movement. Additionally, the game suffers from lengthy load times, even when installed on the Xbox 360 hard drive, as well as a dark, dingy color palette. In general, there is a low-budget, last-gen look about Darkest of Days. Gamers who are unable to look past these flaws will simply not be able to enjoy this game; despite what it does well, the weak technical foundation will leave many dissatisfied with the experience as a whole. If you are this type of gamer, then you should consider passing it up.

Darkest of Days does do some things very well. The designers clearly aimed to create an authentic atmosphere, and from the tactics employed by the AI (when it works), to the maps plotting out the wide-open levels, to the weapons available in each time period, the ambiance definitely feels right. There are a number of “period weapons” in the game, such as the single-shot Springfield musket from the Civil War era or the “Broomhandle” c96 of the WWI era. There is something extremely satisfying about using a musket or 19th-century revolver sidearm. Iron-sighting targets makes the weapons feel very tangible, and the smoke effects from older weapons realistically obscure players’ vision. These weapons are limited in their capabilities, but are not realistic to the point of being just no fun to use (in fact, they may very well be too accurate). They do, however, force an approach more closely approximating what one might do if they were actually in battle; rather than invincibly running and gunning through the enemy lines, players will have to use caution, cover, and fellow soldiers in order to be successful. Often, taking up a position and holding it is the best strategy until it is safe to move forward. Players who enjoy quietly picking off enemies with a rifle will have an especially good time moving through many of the game’s scenarios because of this. Additionally, a few advanced weapons are thrown in intermittently to give players the upper hand, and using them to saw through the battlefield is immensely empowering.

8monkey Labs wanted players to feel as though they were on these battlefields, in very dangerous situations. The game succeeds in making war a deadly place to be. Taking a more realistic approach to gunfights, only a few shots are necessary to put down an enemy, but similar rules apply to Morris, and rash players will see the “restart from last save” option (luckily, the game autosaves frequently) many, many times. Players are forced to make critical choices throughout the game, although these choices are never explicitly spelled out. Observing the battlefield and considering the current situation, the player will see that he or she is almost always presented with varying options: Do I fight this group of soldiers or do I back off and wait for them to pass? Do I follow the road or do I cut across that field? Do I hole up in a house and ride out an attack or do I hide in the trees along the perimeter? Do I rush out into no-man’s-land, or do I man a gun emplacement? These decisions can mean the difference between survival and death, and playing out those decisions is very engaging as a result of the game’s atmosphere.

Darkest of Days

Although Darkest of Days is not a completely wide-open, go-anywhere game, it gives a good illusion of being so. The player is directed only by objective locations marked on the map, but getting there is up to them. It is a point-to-point, progressive mission structure, but without boundaries… except for the invisible walls. Yes, this game is not only about time travel, but it seems to have travelled back through the generations of gaming to retrieve invisible walls for use in the modern day. A focused player may not run into more than one throughout the whole game, but they have a most jarring effect when they are discovered. Also breaking the sense of immersion the game struggles so valiantly to maintain is the on-again, off-again AI. Sometimes enemy and ally behaviors, movements, and formations make great sense, and even match tactics from the particular time period in question. At other times, soldiers from both sides of the conflict run about like chickens with their heads cut off, shoot in the wrong direction, or become completely oblivious to the player’s presence. Still more frustrating is that some enemies couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn, while others smoke Morris from what seems like 1000 yards away.

Other gameplay-hampering annoyances include the game’s controller setup and problems with combat. Darkest of Days‘ control scheme is uncustomizable, but the biggest problems are the hold-to-crouch left analog stick, and the hold-to-view-the-map Back button. The former is likely due to the fact that the game was developed for the PC, where holding a button to crouch is more natural and helpful in battle, but holding a clicked-in left stick while still trying to move effectively — or worse yet, stay still — is arduous to say the least. As for holding a button to look at the map, especially the awkwardly-placed Back button — that’s just ridiculous. A pace-quickening active reload system has been implemented in this game, much like the Gears of War franchise. This is a welcome addition, especially considering the reload rates of some of the earlier period guns. Unfortunately, all of its bugs have not been worked out. Whenever Morris reloads, a circular meter indicates his progress. If the player presses X for a second time when the meter reaches a highlighted section, the remainder of the reload animation will be expedited, if the timing is off, the gun will jam and take even longer to be ready. Sometimes, the system just doesn’t work. Coming out of a scoped view, for example, reloads have a tendency to auto-fail, and on occasion, the game will register a clear miss as a successful active reload. *sigh*

There is no question that Darkest of Days is flawed. From technical issues, to controls, to AI, it could benefit from a great deal of refinement. The story and concept behind the game, however, are interesting, and the time periods and battlefield situations are carefully crafted and can be very immersive. It may be a tough sell, but there is a market for Darkest of Days, and that market will get a surprising amount of enjoyment out of this game… even if others should simply avoid it like the plague.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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