How would the Civil War have been different if you%26rsquo;d been there with a modern machine gun? I%26rsquo;ll tell you: It%26rsquo;d have been much more awesome. In Darkest of Days, you play as a 19th-century American soldier plucked out of his own time moments before becoming a casualty at General Custer%26rsquo;s Last Stand.
He%26rsquo;s then shanghaied into service for an organization of time travelers that specializes in maintaining the integrity of the timeline. His mission: to protect and extract certain important individuals who%26rsquo;ve been put in harm%26rsquo;s way by The Opposition, a time-traveling force that%26rsquo;s attempting to change the course of history. The twist: these interventions mostly occur during the Civil War Battle of Antietam and World War I%26rsquo;s Battle of Tannenberg - two of history%26rsquo;s bloodiest clashes.
DoD borrows more than a little from Call of Duty - like recharging health, scripted battles and legions of easily killed and dumb-as-clay-pigeon soldiers - but it also brings in a few ideas of its own. The main one is central to the plot: certain enemy troops, highlighted in blue, are meant to survive their war and therefore must be handled with non-lethal force to avoid tangling up the timeline. You can shoot them in the leg or the shoulder to bring them down alive, or toss a handful of marble-like devices called Chasers that track down and immobilize %26ldquo;survivors.%26rdquo; The presence of these enemies means you can%26rsquo;t just go for headshots or grenade everything in sight; you have to think a little more during combat. I wish they were a little more consistent, though, because sometimes you%26rsquo;ll go through most of a level without seeing a single survivor. I know the casualty rates in these conflicts were high, but not that high.
The majority of the levels are typical corridor shooter rail-rides, but DoD keeps things lively with open areas where you can choose the order you want to tackle objectives, turret defense segments, zeppelin rides, sniper missions (with an awesome high-tech sniper rifle) and more. There were a few problems like frustrating invisible walls and the inability to jump over waist-high wooden fences, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed most missions.
For about two-thirds of the game you%26rsquo;ll be armed with period weapons like the Civil War-era one-shot Springfield muskets, Henry repeating rifles and Colt revolvers, or WWI-era German Gewehr and Russian Nagant rifles, and Lugar and Mauser pistols. Every shot counts with these relics, since frequent reloading turns you into a sitting duck, making the game play differently from your typical run-and-gunner.
Getting accustomed to slow-firing weapons also has the bonus effect of making you feel like a total badass when the game hands you a futuristic assault rifle with auto-targeting and lets you loose on an entire formation of doomed-anyway Confederate soldiers. Most of the future weapons are great - and the last gun you get in particular, which I won%26rsquo;t spoil, is a viciously awesome weapon. It%26rsquo;s easy to go mad with power while wielding one; several times I ran into the open blasting away at the enemy only to find that a strong offense doesn%26rsquo;t necessarily eliminate the need for defense when vastly outnumbered and surrounded.
Which leads me to one of my chief criticisms. First, the difficulty is wildly inconsistent in places. While I was able to smoothly sail through most areas without dying (unless I did something stupid and totally deserved it), in others I felt completely screwed over by huge numbers of enemy troops and a lack of cover. This would have made me extremely angry at the stupid checkpoint-only save system, except that it seems to save every couple of minutes, so I never had to replay very far to get back to the trouble spots. As it is, I%26rsquo;m just a little angry at the stupid checkpoint-only saves.
Another quibble: the graphics seem stuck in a time warp, lagging behind most big-budget shooters by a generation or two, particularly in the character model department. On the other hand, the large, cinematic environments often do a fantastic job of making you feel like part of a bigger historical battle, especially when dozens of soldiers crowd the screen at once and the air is thick with bullets and smoke.
Would Darkest of Days have benefited from another $10 million worth of development time for polishing and voice work improvements? Absolutely. But it makes the most of what it%26rsquo;s got, and it%26rsquo;s worth every penny of its modest asking price.
PC Gamer scores games on a percentage scale, which is rounded to the closest whole number to determine the GamesRadar score.
PCG Final Verdict: 80% (good)
Sep 16, 2009