The usual FPS methodologies apply to Darkest of Days – you see bad guys, you shoot them, rinse and repeat. You pick weapons and ammo up off of dead bodies, hide behind cover to reload, and then jump back out to let loose some more lead. There are a couple of gimmicks that spice things up a bit. For instance, when you reload, a progress bar encircles your crosshair with a small green region in its path. If you press R or LMB with the bar inside the highlighted area, you will finish reloading faster than normal Gears of War style. If you miss, though, your gun will jam and you will be penalized by having to wait a bit longer before you can shoot again.
It can be a boon in tight spots, especially when using a musket, but be careful not to jump the gun. There is also a serious glitch that you can exploit to make gunplay quite a bit easier: Switching weapons does not interrupt the process of reloading! You can fire one rifle, start reloading, switch to your second rifle, fire that one, and switch back to the first, which should have a new round loaded by then. It’s a little tricky and mostly unnecessary, but it will double your rate of fire in a pinch.
Another thing to watch out for is a blue aura surrounding some of the enemies you encounter. You are told in the extremely trite tutorial that these soldiers are supposed to survive, as if they are somehow essential to preserving history. You never know how or why that is… it’s just another of the many mysteries of this game’s story. Avoid killing them and you are rewarded with points you can spend upgrading your weapons, which I suppose is reason enough to do so. You can shoot them in the arm or leg to disable them, or use these little gizmos called chasers, which you throw in the general direction of a blue aura.
A chaser will seek out one of these VIPs, distracting them in the process, and then knocks them out with a zap. Meanwhile, friendly soldiers will slay blues just like anyone else, with no apparent repercussions. However, if you get sloppy and kill three of them in one level, you will be paid a visit by what are called the Opposition, another group of time traveling keepers of time. It seems you create a disturbance in the Force, as it were, which they detect and swoop in to put a stop to. If you wanted, I suppose you could purposely lure them to you in order to commandeer their futuristic weaponry.
On the topic of hi-tech fire sticks, one of the aspects of this game I enjoyed most was using modern and future weapons in historical settings. When you are tasked with single-handedly repelling a Confederate counter attack at Antietam, your fellow agent Dexter hands you an assault rifle! The AR-55, with its reflex sight and default magazine size of 40 rounds, cuts through rebel scum as easily as it does the corn stalks they hide behind.
I would’ve liked to see or hear some reaction to this juxtaposition, perhaps exclamations of terror or confusion from other soldiers directed at the destructive force I wielded, but no such thing occurs. Similarly outrageous and enjoyable are a laser guided rocket-grenade launcher and a sniper rifle that automatically creates a digital target that leads your quarry from several hundred meters away.
8monkey’s proprietary Marmoset engine was built specifically to allow rendering of very large numbers of NPCs at one time. This makes for some appropriately epic battles with up to several hundred combatants going at it all at once. Unfortunately, it is slightly obvious that compromises had to be made in terms of the qualities the NPCs display. Animations are awfully simplistic and have virtually no variation, as becomes abundantly clear when you sit through the benchmark test more than a few times. The AI is similarly bland, compelling them to employ not much more than the basest of strategies, like seeking cover and broad flanking. More often than not, enemies will haphazardly rush toward you or your allies, forsaking their firearm for a melee attack.
An overall deficiency of tactics makes sense for the Civil War, but to see Nazis or time-traveling super soldiers behaving similarly is quite a shame.