I’ve always enjoyed learning about World War II growing up. First in elementary school history class, to seeing Saving Private Ryan for the first time. This interest led me to play my first FPS video game on the subject, Medal of Honor: Frontline. I’ve always had a decent enough understanding of how devastating the war was. I can’t begin to imagine the hardship people across the world faced at the hands of the Nazis. Through The Darkest Of Times taught me more than I knew before about the slow, agonizing rise of Hitler’s power. The experience gave me a grim perspective on the day to day life that people endured while trying to survive and fight back.
Through The Darkest Of Times puts the player in the role of a resistance leader, attempting to do whatever it takes to combat the rise of Hitler. Your team will take the fight to the streets, acting in secret to try and prevent the deaths of many.
The strategy game begins with putting you in a bar the night of Hitler becoming chancellor of Germany. After creating your character, you sit among your colleagues around a table with a large map. This is where your day to day mission planning takes place between the storytelling. First, there’s an update on current events and what your colleagues feel about current political situations. You then have the option to respond from a multi-choice style dialogue that is similar to most RPGs. Being a strategy game, a decent amount of your responses will decide how your fellow survivors feel. This has an impact on how long they’ll support you and how strong day to day morale is.
Morale plays an important role in the game and if you lose it completely, then it’s game over. This is where the primary strategic gameplay happens, completing tasks and missions, making tough decisions, and planning ahead. All of these are vital to keeping your morale up each day. Utilizing specific character skill sets from each member of your team, you’ll gather supplies, hand out leaflets, and recruit new members using the city map.
Each mission will require a different set of skills to complete successfully. Recruiting new members from a group of middle-class workers will be best completed by a team member with a working-class background. Therefore, sending a teacher to do the talking could be harmful. A character with a low strength rating wouldn’t do well in a physical altercation. Depending on the character’s attributes, the higher the risk of the mission, the more of a chance there is to lose supplies or get arrested. In turn, this negatively affects morale.
One of my favorite things about Through The Darkest Of Times is how much information it teaches in real-time. After completing missions, you move onto the next day. You’re presented with a news screen containing several newspapers with headlines and information from history as real events unfolded. These can be as major as the SS and SA forming the secret police force, to Hitler talking with the various generals. Learning these facts gave me a deeper connection to the characters and their issues, more so than I thought I could have had.
Through The Darkest Of Times carries the player’s interest with larger story missions. These are based on crucial historical moments, like the Reichstag being set on fire. These lead to serious dialogue options where the player must choose between select options. To become angry, blend in, or run from the situation, among others. These choices can have a lasting impact throughout the game as you can gain or lose members, supplies, and morale.
Larger story missions throughout the four main chapters of the game taught me a lot and kept me invested, but some of the daily, short stories between the characters became a bit predictable. A member of your team will have a spouse who joins the Nazis or a team member will become pregnant and need to resign. Team members will even fight with each other and decide to quit over political differences. This adds to the strategic element, yet causes the game to drag on quite a bit between missions and major story events.
Dark, Yet Charming
All of these elements are presented in a neat, easy to navigate user interface. I found the text, news, and city map easy to read. Assigning characters to missions and clicking through inventory items is simple to understand, thanks in part to various tutorials as you proceed. I never found it hard to understand what to do next or what my goals should be.
The game has a very unique, charming art style. A hand-drawn, black and white aesthetic with bits of color adds emphasis on the drama and despair throughout the eight hours or so of gameplay. Through The Darkest Of Times never becomes overly violent or graphic, which is due in part to its cartoon-like art style.
The cut scenes and main story arcs are visually exciting, with a noir type feel. This adds emphasis on the seriousness of each situation the main character finds themself in and creates a sense of urgency to complete each task correctly day by day. The only downfall is that the days can become repetitive as you progress between major story moments.
The factual accuracy and attention to historical detail in Through The Darkest Of Times is impressive. It engages the player and teaches through ought, with the main hook being the storytelling. From an actual gaming perspective though, I found the actual gameplay to become stale over time. Missions and character development becomes a bit repetitive. There’s a decent enough amount of challenge in the decision making, but not so much that kept me wanting to return for more after a playthrough.
Through The Darkest Of Times is a game that everyone should play at least once. Learning more about history is important in my opinion and we shouldn’t forget about the impact that the events told, had on the world. Its detailed storytelling is something that I wish would have been available to me in high school, either as an in-class curriculum or as a tool to use for writing one of my many history assignments. As for returning to it for a second playthrough, I might opt out to watch a classic World War II-era movie instead.
Purchase Through the Darkest of Times on Xbox here.
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