…I’ve kidnapped my colleague Adam Fleet’s review format. I’m a fan, what can I say. As for Darkest of Days…
…an episode of Quantum Leap that keeps freezing up on your TV. You play as Alexander Morris, a soldier fighting in General Custer’s army during the Battle of Little Big Horn. Just as you’re about to bite the arrow, a man from the future whisks you away to…the future. There you learn that an organization known as KronoteK has developed time travel technology with the intent of researching and protecting history. KronoteK has recruited you to locate and rescue Dr. Rainier Kroell, the “Father of Time,” who has gone missing. KronoteK aren’t the only time travelers, however. A mysterious group known as the Opposition is also on the hunt for Kroell, and they’re convinced they’re the good guys here, which would make you part of the bad guys. Drama. The ensuing journey takes you back to such times as the Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War, the Battle of Tannenberg during World War I and a German P.O.W. camp in World War II, culminating in a trip to Pompeii in 79 AD, just as Mt. Vesuvius is on the cusp of its most destructive eruption ever. Good times.
The premise. Time travel is a tricky concept but the developer, 8monkey Labs, pulls it off pretty well. True, you must be willing to take a leap of faith alongside our protagonist – seeing as he answers this time traveling call of duty like it was his destiny, no questions asked. At times you’ll have to make due with weapons specific to the time period you’re in, like single shot rifles during the Battle of Antietam, but when KronoteK gives you the thumbs up to use weapons of the future, your narcissistic urges will be fulfilled as you mow down hundreds of soldiers. And strangely, not a single soldier on the battlefield seems to be fazed by this. Yeah, you’ll want to check your brain at the door on that one, along with the paper map Morris pulls out on the fly whenever you need to find your way to the next objective. Seriously, with all the high-tech weaponry at your disposal, would it kill KronoteK to provide you with some sort of advanced GPS device? Apparently so, though I don’t actually mind the lifting of the real-time map from Far Cry 2, nor the Gears of War like reloading mechanism.
In an interesting twist, some of the soldiers from the different historical time periods are deemed off limits by KronoteK, too significant to future events to be killed. These individuals are tagged with a blue aura out on the battlefield. As such, KronoteK provides you with “chasers,” glowing marbles that, when thrown into a group of enemies, are attracted to and attach themselves to these VIP targets. You can then activate the “chasers” to concuss these individuals, or you can simply run up to them and introduce the butt end of your weapon to their chin. It’s all the same. The more of these VIPs you save from certain death, the more points you’ll be awarded at the end of each mission, points used to upgrade your two weapon classes – pistol and rifle – in terms of their reload speed, rate of fire, clip size and overall accuracy.
What Doesn’t Work
Where do I begin with this laundry list of technical miscues? For starters, Darkest of Days is far from a smooth ride. The frame rate drops constantly. It might be understandable if it only occurred during some of the more massive battles when hundreds of soldiers populate the battlefield at once, but that’s not the case. The engine gets the hiccups even when there are only one or two characters on screen. What else: the AI, both friendly but mostly enemy, leaves a lot to be desired, and hit detection issues are present too. Even though most of the levels appear to be quite open, invisible walls abound, impeding any sort of freedom you think you might have in terms of approaching combat or an objective from a path other than what the developers had designed. The frustration of dying due to any of these technical missteps is unfortunately magnified by the long loading times. The voice acting is weak. Other than Dexter, your partner in time, whose performance I could live with, the remaining voice cast fails to inspire. And that’s not all.
There are all kinds of glitches in the game. When you press the left trigger to zoom in with a weapon, there’s a chance you’ll get stuck in zoom mode. When you press the right trigger to fire a couple of rounds, you may not fire any at all, or you may end up emptying an entire clip as if the trigger were being held down. For a moment I actually thought my controller was broken so I switched to another one. No, it wasn’t the controller. Some of the odder glitches I came across: In one mission you’ll hijack a Zeppelin and use it to fight the enemy from the sky. If the Zeppelin takes too many hits, it crashes. I took too many hits a few times over, the last of which the Zeppelin didn’t actually crash but instead continued to float along. The screen glowed red, Dexter was caught in a voice loop screaming “Aaahhhh,” and together we became invincible for the remainder of the sequence. Not quite the way I planned to successfully pass that level, but okay. Later, while escaping the German P.O.W. camp, I got stuck along the outer edge of the map. Luckily I was still able to maneuver my way close enough to the checkpoint to complete the level otherwise I would have had to reload my last save game. Encountering this many glitches in a finished game is unacceptable and disappointing to say the least.
The Bottom Line
Interesting concept, poor execution. Unfinished even. Judging by the menus, I would say Darkest of Days was developed for the PC first and foremost, and then ported to the Xbox 360. Perhaps the PC version performs better, I can only speak for the Xbox 360 version. There is no multiplayer in Darkest of Days, nor do I believe it would have benefited from any. This is strictly a single player experience, a campaign that should last approximately 10 hours. Sadly, the sloppiness of it all will surely override most anyone’s desire to find out how this time traveling fantasy ends.