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Darkest of Days is a fairly standard FPS. If you want a quick comparison, then think of mixing Call of Duty 1 and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. This includes the faults. The unique concepts for Darkest of Days are the use of time travel and some truly large battles.
The basics are close to the roots of the genre. You move around various battlefields and kill a bunch of people for most of the missions. There unfortunately isn't much in the way of tactics though. It's usually a matter of firing accurately from behind a rock or tree. This manages to stay pretty interesting though, thanks to the pure variety of weaponry. You usually have to stick to period weapons, except for rare occasions when things are already pretty far gone. This means that you are able to drastically change your gameplay depending on the time. Civil War fighting requires sticking close to allies due to your slow firing musket and inaccurate pistols. WWI battles become an effort in surviving trench massacres, and everything else is a chance to use really cool weapons. For example, You'll get to use a long distance flamethrower and a laser-guided rapid fire grenade launcher. So the basic mechanics don't get too old.
The other cool thing is the sheer size of the battles. There were fights involving at least 100 soldiers. You are really in a war and you really feel outnumbered at times. It's hard to tell whether this is true scripting or just a good illusion, but they deserve some respect for pulling it off either way. They throw in some cool missions and challenges too when you're not just in a big battle. There's a prison break, a few vehicle defense missions, a sniping mission, and even a few where you fight on each side of a battle.
There are some faults though. They are also faults that most FPS games have eradicated by now. There are some horrible clipping issues. You can run right through soldiers which is a little absurd for this day and age. The AI itself is also severely lacking at times. The sheer number of soldiers manages to offset this a bit, but it is still jarring to see soldiers standing around in a confused daze. Any skilled gamer should have no problem breezing through most of the enemies. Ultimately, it feels like a game that would have come out a few years ago in these regards.
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I figure that the story deserves a bit of a mention. When I first heard time travel, I had to assume that they were planning to have time travelling Nazis trying to assassinate Winston Churchill's mother. They get a big bonus for actually keeping a simple story. You spend the entire game basically fighting to protect 2 random guys who have mysteriously been put into danger. One guy was moved from a desk job to the frontlines of Antietem. The other was a Russian soldier who was suddenly transferred to a the Russian 2nd Army right before it gets massacred. You just need to protect them for the sake of preserving history. No complex or pretentious explanations about butterflies and echoes.
The challenge comes in the form of some odd opposition forces that can also time travel. I won't ruin the plot twists, but I will say that they are far from shocking for anyone who's seen a few movies. Another big problem is that a huge part of the backstory is just revealed as exposition at the end of the game. It's a bit of a cheap way to end it. I understand that it was basically setting up the sequel, but that still isn't much of an excuse. Some more hints would have been appreciated.
Besides the main story, there is a surprising deal of characterization for your handler and partner, Dexter. They actually handled him surprisingly well. The voice actor did a good job and the lines are fairly funny. Nothing award winning, but there's some good cynical humor and some quick quips. It works really well and earns it a 4.
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The graphics were not that good. I'd again relate it to the first Call of Duty or one of the old Medal of Honor games. It's not bad, it just should be much better. It's a little hard to cover everything, but the general feeling is that there just wasn't much detail put into the settings. The trees are barely there. The models are absurdly repetitive to the point of seeing multiple twins at a small meeting. Everything external just looks mediocre at best and awful at its worst. One of the worst offenders seems to be the junk in the air. There are bits of ash, snow, or leaves in the air depending on the battle. It seems like they take up a lot of processing power and deliver very little effect. Just an annoyance. There aren't many cool animations either. It's odd though, that the weapons are absolutely beautiful. They are incredibly detailed, realistic, and polished. That earns it a 2.
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This is one of the few titles that I have to rate low on the system requirements chart. It just needs so much machine for so little. It requires a 2.0 GHz processor, a 128 MB video card, and 768 MB of RAM. That's a severe underestimate though. I was my XPS with a 2.6 GHz dual processor, 3 gigs of RAM, and an Nvidia 8700M GT card. I was able to run it at what I'd call upper medium level. The details were at high and the resolution was at 1920 x 1200. I had to set the PhsyX to low, turn off AA, and disable Ambient Occulsion.
Even with all of this done, I still suffered severe lag in a few parts near the end. The final battle was almost a slideshow until I turned detail down to medium. I actually wonder if there might be a memory leak. That's about the only explanation I could have for this game being so demanding. I know my machine is starting to feel its age, and I know that Darkest of Days featured large battles. That said, it just seemed really demanding for the mediocre graphics and weak AI.
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I'll note that this one isn't a true thumbs up. I think that it could certainly be a lot better. I also think that the $39 pricetag is almost too much. The discount price of $35 was about right for this one. It's an odd game. It's a budget title that isn't really a bad game. It has bad graphics and little overall polish, but a decent story and good characters. The gameplay should be repetitive and boring, but it manages to stay interesting.
The one thing that really summed up my experience was the late middle of the game. I started to feel a bit bored of having to do the same basic objectives again and again. Shortly after that, it mixed things up with sniper missions and a prison break. In hindsight, I realized that earlier the game was broken up by hijacking a zeppelin. Long missions are broken up by having little mini-missions. You'll have to enter a Union firing line and send out volleys. You'll receive a superweapon to devastate an enemy attack. These are the things that kept it fun and interesting. They just seem to have a good handle on the pacing. It just sorta works and makes this a good game.
On the whole, it's a solid 8-10 hours of gameplay. The story isn't bad, the characters are interesting, and the graphics are at least bearable. There's also a demo available of one of the more active missions. This should give you a good taste of the gameplay in an average mission. $39 is a little much, but it's a fun experience to tide you over during this year's video game drought. It's at least something to kill time until the next Call of Duty returns along with the rest of the Thanksgiving lineup.