The list of games that include time travel is mighty short, and the list of games that use the device effectively is even shorter. Off the top of my head, there’s Ocarina of Time, and . . . well, I told you the list was short. So it was a bit puzzling to learn that 8monkey Labs decided to use this complex and delicate plot device in their first “big” video-game release, Darkest of Days.
In Darkest of Days you play as Alexander Morris, a soldier fresh from Little Big Horn. Right after you get nailed with some feather-tipped arrows, KronoteK rushes in to “save” you. There's a catch, though: you then go to work for KronoteK, a futuristic research team with a time machine that tracks down soldiers on the point of death, abducts them, and forces them to spend the rest of their lives in the company’s employment. You’d think they’d give you a staggering futuristic arsenal, but no, they want to make sure you don’t stand out, so they doom you to a life reliving dangerous battles with substandard weaponry.
Darkest of Days recreates notable battles of times past. The player uses historically accurate weaponry in famous fights like the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Tannenberg. Sounds awesome, right? You must not have been listening: historically accurate weaponry. There’s a reason games don’t include scenes from the Civil War: the guns sucked. You’ll spend more time watching the achingly slow reload simulation than you will shooting, not to mention that your shots won’t fire straight. You can aim right at a guy and your unreliable bullets won’t hit their mark, just like a real American soldier in 1862. Having fun yet?
You’re purportedly fighting in these tedious battles for the sake of recording history (with a camera? It’s never clarified), and you are instructed not to change the past. For example, characters who you aren’t supposed to kill are illuminated with blue light; you can shoot them in the legs if you need to incapacitate them. However, you are also told that these missions are “emergencies” and that you have to “save” the battle and make sure it goes the right way. If you think about that directive for longer than one second, you’ll remember that all of the battles have already happened and there’s no real “emergency.” Eventually, some rogue agents who’ve obtained KronoteK technology show up and start interfering with your missions. Around this point, you might think you’re finally getting to the good part of the game, but you’d be wrong. I won’t spoil it for you except to say that the game’s denouement is as unsatisfying as its historically accurate artillery (seriously, whose idea was that? How did that one get past the brainstorming phase?).
Every FPS ever made displays a red crosshair when you’re aiming at an enemy, but not Darkest of Days. Both enemies and friendlies dress in dirtied, worn versions of their uniforms, making it almost impossible to tell who you’re supposed to be shooting at -- which is both realistic and completely unreasonable. Plus, the other fighters on the field glitch out, aim their guns wide off the mark, run the wrong way, and camp out in random areas. More attempts at realism, or just bad programming? You decide.
If Darkest of Days were a movie, you could invite all your friends over to lampoon the terrible voice acting and brain-destroying plot. Instead it’s a single-player video-game, so the experience is both expensive and too frustrating to laugh at.