|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: 8monkey Labs||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Phantom EFX||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 8, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Short on Execution
by Jonathan Marx
Darkest of Days takes players on a ride through some of history's most violent moments. Though the game sports a wonderful concept and a lot of interesting gameplay elements, the ultimate execution of the title is decidedly unpolished. Also, there simply isn't a lot of content to keep players gaming for very long - all you'll get is a single-player campaign with limited replayability. The result is a game that never comes close its potential.
The most intriguing element of Darkest of Days is its concept. Players take on the role of Alexander Morris, a member of Custer's 7th Cavalry at The Battle of Little Bighorn. Just before getting pierced by an arrow and scalped, Morris is inexplicably saved by a radiation suit-wearing man who pops out of a large, liquid-like bubble that appears out of nowhere. As it turns out, Morris never had his unit transfer paperwork processed in Washington D.C., showing up in the historical record as MIA rather than KIA. This made him the perfect target for Kronotek - a megacorp from the future that has mastered time travel - in order to use him as a pawn to enforce temporal stability. As such, players will hop around the world and through time, fighting in some of the bloodiest battles of history to ensure the safety of the future.
While leaping through time to pump large pieces of lead into unsuspecting predecessors is a lot of fun, the narrative itself has Mack truck gaps in it - the whole premise of travelling back in time to maintain the true course of history is ludicrous. Regardless, the team at 8monkey Labs did put an emphasis on historical accuracy when depicting the battles and environments. The massive, open settings where you'll fight it out are reminiscent of the actual battlefields. Also, the same political machinations surrounding the real events influence those in the game. The developers even went so far as to include interesting historical facts interspersed with game tips during loading screens. The historical accuracy and perspective definitely helps players get into the game.
The large, historically accurate environments also serve to let the player tackle the game how they want to. It was nice to be able to come at enemy positions from almost any angle, allowing me to form my own strategy. In that way, the game sort of feels like an entry in DICE's Battlefield series. This is especially true when tens of allies and enemies face off in large-scale combat. Moreover, rather than entirely railroading you, players, to a certain degree, can constantly bop between different battles and time periods as they see fit. As the story progresses, more and more settings - from Antietam and Frankenau to Pompeii and Tannenberg - become available.
Unfortunately, this flexibility and open nature isn't taken far enough. For starters, though maps are very large, you'll constantly run into fence lines, cliffs, ravines, riverbeds, locked buildings, and outright invisible walls that curtail exploration. In other words, maps play a lot smaller than they look. Likewise, the game provides you with a very strict set of mission objectives you must follow in order to progress to the next chapter. Rather than giving you a bunch of tasks that need to be completed in any order, you essentially just follow your map to the next glowing objective. This quickly feels tremendously constraining - you'll find yourself rushing through each chapter rather than exploring and experiencing the game.
Making matters much worse, this game has an extremely unpolished look and feel. The visuals are plagued by extensive framerate issues, the characters all look very fuzzy and lack detail, blood splatters are low-poly, and the abundant onscreen allies and enemies lose their realism because they all animate identically. The only bright spots to be found in terms of graphics are the lighting and water effects - light and shadows cascading through the trees are impressive, and the water shimmers and reflects quite realistically. Sounds are better, but they are by no means great. The background music nicely complements the action, but the voice over work is much spottier. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the low-brow comments made by Dexter (your mission partner), Mother (the enigmatic, stand-in leader of Kronotek) is one of the dullest characters ever portrayed. Sound effects are also quite amateurish - the pop of time orbs opening and the incessant "woo, woo, woos" from Jeffrey Osborne I mean Indians are crude and grating.