Darkest of Days was released for the PC and Xbox 360 on September 8, 2009. This FPS was developed by 8monkey Labs and published by Phantom EFX. Labs is a small development company of which Days was their first project. Reviews had not been very kind to Darkest of Days for a variety of reasons. How do we feel about it?
The story in this game puts you in the boots of Alexander Morris, a soldier at the 1876 Battle of Little BigHorn. Just before he is about to get a tomahawk to the head, a mysterious glowing blue orb brings the arrival of a man from the future. This mysterious man beckons Morris towards the portal, and is promptly killed by the Indians. With no chance for survival, Morris naturally heads into the portal.
The portal leads him to the KronteK labs in the far future. Morris learns of Mother, a supercomputer that controls time travel and is the creation of the father of time travel, one Rainier Koell. Koell has gone missing from the 22nd century; finding him is one of your missions. Before this, you train with fellow agent, Dexter, as a means of catching your 19th century weapons skills up to date with the more advanced weapons that you'll be employing during your first mission: to the battles of Antietam during the American Civil War or Tannenberg in World War I. Then the game begins in earnest.
The graphics in Darkest of Days have been endlessly compared to similar genre fare as being especially weak and out of date. This is one of the most egregious errors that a game reviewer can make. It is unfair to compare one game to another, especially when you have to consider production budgets, game genres, and the game's intention. Comparing Darkest of Days to a game like Halo ODST as a basis for giving a low score graphically is disingenuous, but sadly not atypical.
That reality aside, Darkest of Days does a good job at rendering several different periods of history. At Antietam, you will never think you are in the Revolutionary War. The weapons are period specific and possess the necessary details. I like the reloading animation of the Springfield musket (have to take your time reloading!) While the game does reuse the same enemy sprites, you'll often be too mowing down enemies with futuristic weapons to notice. The moment in which Morris gets to mow down dozens of traitorous Confederates with an AR-55 was a deeply satisfying experience, both visually and dramatically.
Given the use of future weapons, one would expect them to pack a punch, and they do. From cannons that seem to call down orbital bombardments to automatic shotguns, I'm glad to know that the future is well capable of destruction.
When it comes to the negative aspects of the graphics, yes, there are tons of invisible walls. To me, these walls have always served a necessary purpose. A game world must be contained if the developer's vision calls for it. Frankly it makes quite a bit of sense in Darkest of Days; you wouldn't want to just be able to march right into an enemy camp accidently, would you? Especially considering your archaic weapons and the whole purpose of your presence on these historic battlefields...
The graphics also suffer from pop up and a short draw distance, with trees, graphics, and similar popping up at an uncomfortably close distance. This could be seen as a weakness, but it is hardly game breaking. Hey, remember how Grand Theft Auto:Vice City on PS2 had this problem in spades yet somehow its visuals were highly praised? Hmm, I wonder why...
Enough about graphics, let's move on to sound and music. The music in FPS often takes center stage as a way to accompany the often over-the-top action. Darkest of Days has such sequences, but still feels grounded in reality in the context of the time periods you are present in (for the most part...) Thusly, the music is pretty subtle and low-key for most of the game. Nothing really bad, it just didn't stand out. The best music was probably the march through the cornfield at Antietam. Very epic sounding!
Gameplay follows the standard of first person shooters. You play as a disembodied hand moving around a background on your way to accomplish certain tasks, most of which involve shooting enemies and occasionally preventing allies from getting killed. Darkest of Days plays pretty much like every FPS ever made. If you played one before, this game will be familiar to you.
The biggest innovation in the ubiquitous FPS weapons system is the necessity to subdue, rather than kill, certain historical individuals. To this end, Morris is equipped with little bombs called Chasers. These devices seek out the blue auras and incapacitate them. If you accidently kill them, you will lose out on upgrade points used to improve weapon accuracy, clip size, reloading speed and suchlike. If you kill too many of the blues, you'll get some surprise visitors!
The map system could be improved, due to the necessity of getting to certain parts of the battlefield for mission goals and it not always being straightforward. You can view the map via the back button; the problem is that it is full screen and can be difficult to decipher, especially if you are trying to find out if enemies are nearby. Let's have a mini map next time, ok?
Challenge is Darkest of Days is fairly easy. Much like recent innovations, Days uses a regenerating health meter. Simply moving away from the action for a few seconds is enough to restore Morris to full health. I certainly find it preferable to constantly quick saving in these games. Health packs in FPS should remain a multi player only affair, as it adds strategy to the combat.
Replay value is limited, due to the lack of weapons per campaign and some stubborn linearity. If I play this game again, it will be mostly for the story.
In summation, Darkest of Days is an above average game with a few technical problems that prevent it for being better. With a larger budget and more time, I'll be interested to see what developers could do with a sequel. To me, if a game can keep your attention throughout, it cannot be a bad game. Darkest of Days kept my attention.
- Ugly Bob