Today I was busy. I fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn and lived to tell the tale. Later I brought an SMG to the Battle of Antietam and taught those lousy Rebels a lesson. Afterward, I rained down hell upon Russia’s enemies with a laser-guided rocket launcher then I stole a zeppelin from the Germans in World War I.
Today I made history thanks to Darkest of Days.
Darkest of Days is an upcoming first-person shooter from 8monkey Labs and Phantom EFX. In Darkest of Days, players get to take part of the world’s bloodiest battles from the point of view of a time traveler trying to keep the correct flow of history. If the proper flow of history is disturbed, then Michael J. Fox loses his fingers and can’t play Johnny B. Goode for his mom. Wait… no… that’s not right.
Without giving away too much of the storyline, you visit 5 different time periods. In each period you visit, you have the goal to find and protect a specific person in order to keep history in proper order. Your mission comes first. Everyone else be damned. Along the way, you encounter a few soldiers who also must not be harmed. You can pick them out of the crowds with your augmented vision as they glow blue against the otherwise smoky-gray or brown backgrounds. In order make sure they survive the conflict you can either shoot them in the leg and wound them Terminator 2-style, or you can use your Chasers—marble-sized weapons from the future that only you can see—to find them and knock them out.
If you kill too many essential historic figures, time freezes and angry soldiers from the future pop out of bubbles to kick your ass. So… try not to do that.
What I loved:
Darkest of Days definitely takes a bold step and recreates history’s relatively untouched videogame environments. The American Civil War, World War I, Custard’s Last Stand and more are all dutifully paid homage to in their own way. These historic conflicts are all fertile with videogame material, but have never been done right by any major development studio. Fighting in the Battle of Antietam was incredibly cool.
The environments are all expertly crafted and are definitely Darkest of Days finest features. The rolling, bloody hills and destroyed forests all make you feel like you’re really there. What’s even better, the world is semi-open, so you can flank your enemy from the side if the route is available to you. The paths are not as pre-defined as they are in the Call of Duty series. But it’s not as open as Crysis or Crysis: Warhead either. It’s a healthy mix of the two.
It blends high-powered super weapons from the future with period weapons perfectly. When you use your rifle in the Civil War, you’ll need to reload as quickly as possible. You then have to seek out your enemy through the smoke of everyone’s muskets firing off at once in close proximity. It can be like an ultra-realistic history reenactment one moment, and the next moment it can be a geek’s dream come true by handing you a rocket launcher… or better. The gun models are all built very well.
The number of soldiers on a large field at any given time can be staggering and sometimes it’s just you vs. all of them. What do you do when you have battalion of Rebels chasing you on horseback all screaming for your blood? You run.
The death sequences in the game are also done very well. When you kill an enemy soldier, they don’t go through a dramatic “Aaaaughh!!” dying sequence. They don’t grab their pistol at the last moment of their lives and seek revenge against their slayer. They drop very realistically like a ton of bricks.
What I didn’t love:
Darkest of Days is by no means perfect. In the pre-release version I was able to play, there were some issues with the game. The character models aren’t the most realistic available. They fall somewhere between the quality of character models in Call of Duty 1 and Call of Duty 4. That’s somewhat understandable considering how many people are on the field at any given time, but when you get up close and personal with your partner, you want to back away a bit.
The AI could use some improvement. Most of the time it isn’t apparent, but occasionally the enemy will retreat en masse. A few times I’ve encountered a single soldier who would break from his retreating friends and run right toward me without taking a single shot. He’d then run past me in which he’d either be gunned down by my fellow squad mates, or he’d suddenly remember which way he was supposed to run and then turn around and follow his friends. Then I’d shoot him square in the back.
Reloading can be a bit of a pain. Darkest of Days uses a timed quick reload system similar to Gears of War. If you miss the specified quick reload window, you go through an animation of un-jamming your gun or banging the clip into place. When the sequence is over, you still can’t fire. You need to wait for the reload image on screen to disappear. If you try to fire before it goes away, you have to wait even longer. Nine times out of 10, I just waited for the reload to happen on its own. Waiting a fraction of a second to me is much better than waiting what feels like forever before you can fire again.
The pre-release PC build also had some camera skipping issues when trying to look around, but it wasn’t a consistent problem. Some levels it was more prevalent than others. Some levels it would start with the problem and not finish with it.
The good news is, there is still some time for some of these bugs to be banged out before public release on September 8th for PC and Xbox 360. Look for a full review from Elder-Geek.com shortly thereafter!
Darkest of Days definitely deserves kudos for trying something new. They aren’t rehashing the same old space marine / World War II first person shooter. The guns and environments clearly have had a caring hand put into their modeling and detail because they’re beautiful. The AI is a little lacking, but that seems to be compensated with the sheer number of enemies on the playing field. Darkest of Days won’t be for everyone, but history fans will probably love it. And anyone who ever wanted to take an automatic shotgun to ancient history with them, can do so.
Now can someone make me a videogame where I’m a vampire with a lightsaber and a steam powered motorcycle up against the British forces in the American Revolution? I would love that.