Time travel and its paradoxical twists have always been popular tools for fiction to use as convenient foils in wrapping up loose threads or in creating new ways in which to create the same. The adventure game Timequest, from now-defunct developer Legend Entertainment, casts you as a time agent sent back to pivotal moments in history in order to correct subtle changes that another renegade agent had left behind. The Journeyman Project series had also explored the same approach, and in both, you could screw up things yourself by doing something such as walking down from a temple in your future-made time suit and then being worshipped as a god, thus ending the game. Darkest of Days is now coming out with its own brand of time traveling mischief in an action-packed FPS game.
Developer 8Monkey Labs might be something of an unknown, but the ambitious ideas behind their first game feel as if they should belong to a seasoned veteran. I was able to catch a glimpse of their work behind its time-twisted narrative at E3 and found myself wanting to dive right into the sci-fi inspired action.
Phantom EFX CEO Aaron Schurman, on hand to personally demonstrate the game, had the idea to create it for years, but as everyone knows, simply putting one together from scratch has its own challenges. Phantom EFX started out first as a successful maker of casino games and leveraged that experience into building what was shown off at E3. As the scope of the project grew, 8Monkey Labs was eventually formed, with Phantom EFX becoming the publisher, to focus on building the technology that would form the foundation of the game, and then piece together the game itself.
The heart of the game is 8Monkey Labs' proprietary Marmoset Engine, which powers the vast, set piece battles that the player will be driven through in order to survive and discover the conspiracy that is slowly changing history. The first battle that we were shown was the Battle of Little Bighorn, the infamous fight where General Custer had his last stand. As the camera panned over the vast landscape that slowly filled with angered Lakota and Cheyenne horsemen, I got the sense of massive scale that the game was aiming for as the view seamlessly dropped us into the boots of Alexander Morris, a doomed soldier on the hill.
Schurman made it clear that the player could run right out into the wilderness because there were apparently no boundaries, but the player would quickly die for obvious reasons, all of which were shooting arrows and wielding hatchets. I'm guessing that's how the game keeps the player from going too far out of bounds, but as I was to find out, there were other tricks that it would use within the logic of each battle. Finally, a scripted event drove an arrow through Morris' leg and downed him, but he could still fire and see the surviving soldiers in Custer's group start to thin out. Custer eventually fell after yelling for his men to keep fighting, and then that's when the twist hit the screen.
A distorted bubble appeared next to Morris, who was near death, where an individual suited in armor stepped out to drag him into the vortex. At that point, Schurman explained, Morris had been drafted into the secret organization set up to patrol and safeguard history. The organization works by finding people who are supposed to die or disappear at certain moments in history, such as the Battle of Little Big Horn, and take them right before the end in order to use them as convenient agents. It seems that another organization is out there, and instead of protecting history, they want to change it for their own means by having certain key people die instead of surviving. It's now up to you to save them.
There were a lot of questions swimming in my head at this point, as it sounded like your typical "time travel" narrative in which the player had to journey to different periods and gun his way to the end. There was a lot more to it than that in Darkest of Days, as Schurman explained, in order to set it apart from other titles that went only so far in that direction. Time travel and its consequences are a major driving theme throughout the game and within its gameplay, and one of those consequences took the form of key people that aren't meant to tie into the actual timeline.
Taking into account what every change in the past would cause in a "butterfly effect" approach would require something of godlike intelligence, but Darkest of Days appears to simplify this for the sake of remaining a fun game and not worry the player about whether or not he may have killed someone whose descendants invented the toaster. These individuals are lit up by a blue aura that the player can see, thanks to more future tech, to help in avoiding these potential messes. Accidents do happen in battle, though.
By killing someone who wasn't meant to die, it acts as a beacon to the enemy, who then figures out just when in time you are and sends an appropriate response ... that bears futuristic weapons instead of the pop gun you might be using. These are the Big Daddies of Darkest of Days, and Schurman pointed out that if you manage to kill one of these guys, you can pick up his weapon and then use it yourself.
Weapons that do not belong in any one era are one of the main draws of the title, and it was pointed out that if you decide to use a German assault rifle at the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War (or some other advanced weapon that simply didn't belong in a particular era), the AI will react to it in one way by running for its life because it's just too weird to deal with. Schurman had also taken this opportunity to clue us in on how you can be "too good" in pushing back the enemy. In the same battle, although you might be told to simply hold the line, you might actually be so good at doing so that you've pushed the enemy too far behind its own lines. At the end of the mission, your handlers will then let you know that you've accidentally wrecked a little of history and send you back to fix it, branching out the mission and possibly putting you on the other side of the conflict.
Weapons can also be modified to extreme levels thanks to your friends in the future, so that Springfield musket rifle that you might have picked up during Antietam can be modified into a rapid-firing super gun much later in the game. As for ammo, thanks again to future tech, you'll be able to keep feeding your modified weapon. Occasionally, you'll also be given futuristic weapons to work with, such as what we were shown in WWI.
Morris had to assassinate a particular officer and was given a high-tech sniper rifle. The rifle calculated windage, drift and all of that other fun stuff for us, creating a leading reticle to indicate where we should fire in order to hit our target, which was shown off with physics to throw the victim back from the shot. As far the story is concerned, the other agent with whom the main character was working said that a self-destruct mechanism within the weapon would ensure that it wouldn't alter history if it stayed behind.
The historical settings that the game will be taking place in range across the Civil War, both World Wars, Little Big Horn and Pompeii, with weapons available in each one. The Marmoset Engine looks up to the task in showing off massive areas that the player will be fighting across, and some scenes felt as if I were playing Total War from the perspective of one of the soldiers, thanks to its ability in handling hundreds of AI-driven enemies at once. In the Battle of Tannenberg, we were shown wave upon wave of Russian soldiers storming the trenches of the German forces, and as Schurman brought out the on-screen map, we were shown just how small that part of the map really was.
With the massive scope of the game, its arsenal, and its historically immersive, sci-fi time traveling story, Darkest of Days appears set to deliver a unique, sci-fi FPS experience for shooter fans on the Xbox 360 and PC.
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