Time manipulation is old hat when it comes to shooters, but time travel is still fair game. Darkest of Days tries to capitalize on this vacuum with an adventure that spans some of the most dramatic moments in human history. Is it a journey worth taking, or should this experience be stricken from the books?
The story kicks off at the Battle of Little Bighorn during the American Civil War. You play as Alexander Morris, a Union soldier whose role in the battle is cut short by Indian cavalry. Right before you catch a tomahawk to the head, strange men come and whisk you away. Congratulations. You're now part of the time police.
You soon learn that, thanks to messy paper shuffling on the part of the Union army, you're essentially MIA as far as the history books go. This makes you a perfect candidate for KronoteK, a corporation from the future founded by the guy who invented time travel. As a KronoteK agent, you'll span the ages in an effort to preserve history. This often means shooting people from the past with weapons from the future. Lucky for you, this fact often seems lost on your victims.
The story is more or less absurd. You're supposed to find Dr. Koell, the inventor of time travel, but when you do, he acts deranged and senile for no reason. Meanwhile, the sinister lady who's giving you orders on the computer screen in your headquarters in the future sees her role just fizzle out at the end. The ending is a cliffhanger, which, chances are, will never be resolved. The one high point is your partner Dexter, a 9/11 firefighter whose past was scrubbed from history just like yours. He's actually voiced well, and all things considered, serves as the story's sole shred of believability.
Darkest of Days mostly takes place during two eras: the American Civil War, and World War I Germany. You'll spend one lengthy sequence in World War II, and endure the laborious endgame set in ancient Pompeii during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. There's no multiplayer to speak of, and apart from letting you choose from two or three missions to take on, the proceedings are strictly linear.
Missions usually involve tracking down historical VIPs by embedding yourself in their units and making sure they don't die. In practice, so long as you don't die yourself, your charges will be fairly safe. The environments tend toward the wide-open, and you typically run from battle to battle as your partner Dexter barks orders to drive home the imperative nature of your quest. The main problem is that in spite of their openness, the environments are built to contain you on an arbitrary critical path.
Often, the most logical path from point A to B will be blocked off by an invisible wall. When you're merely trying to reach your next objective, this is little more than an annoyance; it's easy enough to just backtrack, and figure out where the game wants you to go. But when you're under fire, this leads to many a death. It doesn't help that the map system is tremendously onerous. When you need to figure out where to go, your character, literally pulls out a map in real time, Far Cry 2-style. It's an odd design choice and an increasingly puzzling one when you consider the game's context. KronoteK is able to zip you through time and arm you with devastatingly powerful weapons, but they won't give to a wrist-mounted PDA that works as a mini-map?
Darkest of Days is a trim, straightforward package, clocking in at around 10 to 12 hours from start to finish. There isn't much in the way of bonuses, apart from a mildly amusing hidden level that you can unlock if you stand in the right place during the ending sequence. For a game that's nearly full price, its feature set definitely comes up short.
If there's one thing that Darkest of Days gets right, it's the way that it communicates that old fashioned rifles can be plenty deadly, even when you're armed to the teeth with futuristic weaponry. You'll be using this comparatively primitive stuff most of the time, and it can be interesting to experience of the mechanics of a muzzle-loaded musket, given that shooters set before World War II are few and far between. There's even a sequence where the game flips the script, and puts you up against a Civil War dude strapped with a future era assault rifle. But ultimately, the cool moments in Darkest of Days are fleeting.
The game ends up running into most of the problems that can foil a shooter. The AI is usually utterly dumb, often times taking several long seconds before it notices you're there. Enemies will stand still as you lay into them with your awkward melee attacks, and sometimes even take a few shots to the body before turning around and returning fire. It's bad.
Technical problems are also prevalent, and they frequently overwhelm the game experience. In some battles, you'll be up against large numbers of enemies-several dozens, at least. During these, though, the game starts to chug badly, bordering on unplayable. This issue isn't reserved for big firefights, either; the game will turn into a slideshow at the oddest moments.
In all, Darkest of Days is a mess. The scant exciting moments do not redeem it.
Darkest of Days suffers from a barebones presentation that often looks downright ugly. The animations look puppet-like during odd moments, the particle effects look cheap and crude, and the environments rough and repetitive. This game will not turn any heads.
The music is ultimately forgettable, and most of the voice acting falls flat, with the exception of Dexter, whose performance actually has some heart.
There's really no reason to bother with Darkest of Days, especially with a price tag that approaches full retail. There are a few moments that might be memorable, but you can live without experiencing them. If given an opportunity to embark on this journey through time, do yourself a favor and step away from the portal.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.
Source: Phantom EFX