Summary: 8monkey Labs time-shifting shooter, Darkest of Days, lets you experience the Civil War, both world wars, and more in an effort to save history as we know it. To up the immersion factor, the game also sports PhysX effects. Is the final product as cool as the concept though? Read vandy's take in today's review!
The first mainstream game developed by 8monkey Labs, Darkest of Days allows you to participate in some of the (surprise!) darkest days in American history. The game opens with the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where you get to fend off scores of Native American warriors at Custerís last stand. Just after Custer is slain and moments before you are sure to share his fate, a large spherical portal appears Terminator-style, from which an oddly dressed person beckons you to come with him if you want to live.
You are Alexander Morris, an infantryman from 1876 who is now MIA and presumed deceased. You wake up a couple hundred years in the future in the custody of the organization that saved your life. KronoTekís founder invented time travel, which is being used primarily for researching past mysteries and preserving history as it happened the first time. You find out from Mother, an unidentified second-in-command, that the good doctor has gone missing; nobody knows where or when he is. On top that, unexplained phenomenon have been occurring in the timeline and have the potential to completely change the present if left uncorrected. As it turns out, your unique condition in the historical record makes you a perfect candidate for top secret operations throughout a period of time spanning millennia. Are you up to the challenge?
I had a bad feeling about this game when I first started playing. Iíve played a lot of games in my time, I know the signs of a clunker, and this one was throwing up red flags all over the place. However, I wound up playing all the way through, so read on to find out whether or not Darkest of Days floats or sinks!
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. Itís 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 isÖ itís just another of the many mysteries of this gameís 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.
I wouldíve 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.
8monkeyís 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.
Despite what the box blurb may lead you to believe, Darkest of Days is a very linear shooter. Sure, you fight on open fields instead of through tight corridors (most of the time), but fences, cliffs, and invisible walls are always making sure you follow the path the developers want you to. You can jump surprisingly high and far, but if you arenít meant to cross that 2-foot rock wall, you wonít be able to. Rail sequences arenít uncommon, not only on vehicles, but in line infantry formations, too. I have nothing against such elements when used sparingly, in fact it can be fun to just focus on hitting targets. Probably my favorite part of the Battle of Antietam was the automated marching through the cornfield to come face-to-face with about 100 constantly reinfored Confederates. Can you say ďshooting gallery?Ē
Pertaining to the gameís storyline, or whatever resemblances thereof, most of the missions you take on are of an escorting nature. You have to find your man, highlighted with an orange glow, and then protect him while making your way to a safe area for extraction. Fortunately, it doesnít seem that the VIPs can be harmed, which makes it easier because you only have to worry about keeping yourself alive. Speaking of which, there are some situations that initially led me to believe that I would be literally keeping myself alive, as in traveling back in time to provide covering fire for my past self. To my dismay, this was not the case. You see, some missions are revisited with a different point of view, whether to aid yourself in escaping from prison or to lend aid to the Germans when you had previously kicked their butt a little too hard on the side of the Russians. Remember, preserving history is KronoTekís number one priority!
Darkest of Daysí control scheme could have been a whole lot better. Making good use of cover is very important in this game, which makes the omission of leaning all the more outrageous. Movement speed can be problematic, as you will likely find yourself moving too quickly by default. This can be directly attributed to poor translation from gamepad to keyboard. With no analog stick to govern how fast youíre going, it is difficult to strafe and shoot while aiming down the sights of your gun. Combined with the inability to lean, shooting from behind cover becomes a very dangerous game of ďHow lightly can you tap A and D?Ē
I also have a theory that somebody on their staff suggested it might be easier to use PhysX effects to cover the environment in smoke and debris rather than make it look better on its own. But Iím not shallow, as long as itís not an eye-sore, I donít need fancy schmancy graphics in order to enjoy a game. The visuals areÖ sufficient. Although, sometimes the draw distance is not, which occasionally causes some objects (including enemy NPCs) to pop in and out of view.
The problem with the PhysX objects is that they donít really blend in that well with the environment. Maybe itís just because Iím not used to a bunch of leaves blowing around, or it might be that they need to fine tune the textures and shaders that are used. If youíre wondering why many of the images I took while playing seem to be a bit bare, itís because the in-game screenshot function doesnít pick up any of the PhysX-enabled objects for some reason! I had to go back with FRAPS to snag a few from the benchmark to show you what it looks like when youíre playing, even though they embellish the amount of effects a tad for the demo. On another note, I experienced a strange glitch in one of the Civil War levels where the fog and wind debris disappeared and reappeared randomly when looking in different directions. It only happened once though, so itís not a huge deal.
It looks great, but other than largely obscuring your view of the surrounding area, it has little effect on gameplay. Debris does not pile up into dynamic obstacles or cover; it merely disappears after a few seconds, its point of origin undamaged. Wagons, fences, trees, hay stacksÖ none of them break apart, no matter how much you shoot them.
The first time I shot an enemy in the head and was rewarded with not only a shower of blood, but actual gibs hitting the ground around him, I thought it was so awesome. Upon further inspection, though, his head was still intact as he lay on the ground. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed. Even SiN Episodes: Emergence, a Source engine game from 3 years ago that very much lacked the capabilities PhysX offers, had heads that actually exploded!
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 2.93GHz
All tests were run with the following settings:
- 1680x1050 resolution
- Very High detail
- 2x AA, 8x AF
- Ambient Occlusion ON
Low PhysX Settings
With no extra physics load on the GPU, the numbers are at their highest here. A large improvement is seen when upgrading from the 8800 GTS to the GTX 275, as expected. There is no real difference when adding the 8800 GTS as a dedicated PPU, since the Low setting has no hardware accelerated physics.
Medium PhysX Settings
This is where the grease hits the fire. Frame rates slow to a crawl when PhysX is run on the CPU versus GPU. Surprisingly enough, running the GeForce 8800 GTS as a dedicated PhysX processor alongside the GTX 275 only netted a 14% performance gain over the baseline 8800 GTS PhysX results with the GTS handling graphics and PhysX duties.
High PhysX Settings
Similar deviations are seen between the three setups, as all suffer another large decrease due to the increased load that the High PhysX setting provides. As I mentioned earlier, this benchmark test really lays the effects on thick, and performance is better during actual gameplay.
Civil War setting. The Civil War missions are fresh, fun, and fitting of the game engineís capabilities.
Sounds and the way they are mixed are just dreadful.
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