Time travel is a fairly common theme in most science fiction stories. Aside from aliens and tales about the future, the ability to jump between time periods has been used in everything from adventures to dramas to even romance stories. It's a concept that people understand the basics of, even though it would take many scholastic degrees to fully understand all the ramifications of such a thing if it existed. Video games are no stranger to this idea with side-scrolling adventures, point-and-click adventures, third-person shooters and role-playing games all covering this subject matter. First-person shooters, however, haven't really dabbled in this idea which is quite surprising, considering how crowded the genre is right now. That now changes with Darkest of Days, a game with an interesting time travel premise; unfortunately, nothing else in the package follows suit.
You play as Alexander Morris, a soldier who just happens to be in Gen. Custer's regiment. On that fateful day at Little Bighorn, right when you should be dead, a large sphere appears and out comes a futuristic soldier to save you. When he ends up dying, you go inside the bubble and get transported to KronoteK, an organization committed to time travel and saving those who are missing from the time records. You become one of these soldiers tasked with this job while also trying to find the whereabouts of Dr. Koell, the inventor of the time travel devices you and the company are using.
Players always start off at KronoteK headquarters where they get to choose what time period and what mission they want to embark on. Each of the levels is wide open, though you will have to get to certain spots and complete certain tasks if you want to get out of the level. You will have to start out with weaponry of the given period, mostly rifles and handguns, but there will be some levels where you'll get better weaponry. This can range from submachine guns to automatic shotguns to laser-guided rocket launchers. To prevent you from wiping out humanity with your overpowered weaponry, there will be certain people who should survive the fighting. For these people, outlined with a blue aura, they have to be disabled with crippling shots or weapons called Chasrs, which will safely immobilize these individuals.
From a gameplay perspective, there are a few little things that Darkest of Days does poorly to drag down the overall quality of the title. One of those things is the AI of both your companions and your enemies. The AI fluctuates too much to be reliable one way or another; there will be times when the enemy will suddenly become smart and take cover and deliver accurate shots. The next minute, that same enemy will suddenly open fire on the barricade he's hiding from. Your companions also exhibit poor AI since they can often go up to enemies and fail to do anything until they get hit. This makes sneaking missions easier than they should be since you can come up to just about anyone and won't get a response until you attack first.
Another problem is with the levels themselves. Despite the fact that you're playing in open levels, they aren't really all that open. There will be a good number of invisible walls that will stop your progress to other areas of the map. These aren't walls made of rocks and thick forests but walls where you know you could move forward if you really wanted to. While this restriction makes you focus on the tasks that need to be completed, it makes the game feel more limiting. Finally, one of the appealing points of the game is to take modern weaponry back to ancient eras and fight off enemies with it. While the story does a good job of explaining why this is the case, it still doesn't take away that disappointing feeling of not being able to do this from the onset.
The controls are what one expects from this genre, but some interesting decisions make you question why they aren't any better. The standard movement and shooting mechanics with the analog sticks and triggers are still here and as responsive as in other titles. Sprinting and melee attacks are handled by the bumper buttons. The face buttons handle reloading of ammo, jumping, grenade throws, and activating mission and weapon terminals. There are a couple of things that make the controls sub-par. First, there is no way to vary the strength on grenade throws. Unless you aim for the ground, all of your throws will be very far and, depending on who you're aiming for, very off target. Second, melee seems to be very weak and very inaccurate. You might actually have to melee one opponent several times simply because some of your attacks fail to connect.
The graphics are stunning at first but begin to show flaws after extended periods of time. The environments look lush and expansive, but the trade-off is a bit of fade-in for distant objects and the use of lower-resolution textures on some of the objects you encounter, such as wagons and cabins. The same goes for the other soldiers you encounter in the field. At times, there can be soldiers as numerous as in the Dynasty Warriors games, but upon closer inspection, you'll see that this was accomplished by giving them lower polygon counts and average animation routines. Effects also participate in the trade-off process, with smoke looking great but fire looking like it came from games of the previous generation. The frame rate also drops to abysmal levels when more effects appear. Finally, the game exhibits areas of bad clipping, so don't be surprised if you're holed up in a house and can still get hit with gunfire because a soldier is hiding in the floors or has his gun sticking out through the walls.
The sound in Darkest of Days is mediocre all around. The music is fine for what it is; it helps set the mood for the time period you'll be fighting in, but it only seems to play in brief spurts. Most of the game is spent without a musical score playing at all. The voices aren't great, but they aren't terrible either. Your time traveling companion, Dexter, has a voice that comes off gruff but fits the character, while Mother seems emotionally misplaced. Even with the more pressing matters occurring in the plot, she sounds too cheerful. Your companions from the time period also don't help matters, especially the Civil War soldiers who all sound like they just want to read their lines and get the session over with. As for the sound effects, everything sounds fine. Gunshots and explosions come off clearly and really exploit the surround sound to the fullest. The only thing that sounds off would be the melee sounds which come off as just hollow thuds, instead of something meatier.
The concept behind Darkest of Days is a pretty original one, and the companies involved should be commended for trying something different with the crowded first-person shooter genre. Unfortunately, good concepts alone don't make for good games, and this is an example of what happens when you ignore every other aspect of the title. Mediocre graphics and sound coupled with very bad AI and some questionable controls quickly transform an enjoyable and unique experience into a tedious one. Unless you are really hard up to try something new or are hunting for some bizarre and morbidly humorous Achievements, it's best to leave this game alone.
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