Through the Darkest of Times
Developer: Paintbucket Games
Genre: Simulation, Strategy, Historical
Platform: Xbox One (also available on Steam, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Google Play, and the Apple App Store)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 13/08/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
The events of World War II are widely documented from the point of view of the allied forces. You don’t have to search too far to come across stories of the French resistance who fought against the Nazis. But what about those Germans who opposed Hitler’s regime? Through the Darkest of Times takes you on a journey through the build-up and key events of WWII from a German resistance group’s perspective. Sound interesting? Read on to find out more.
There are two game modes in Through the Darkest of Times: Resistance Mode and Story Mode. In both modes, you play as the leader of the resistance group. One of your first tasks is to customise your character. The game spans events from 1933 until the end of WWII and is split into four chapters. Two of these take place before the war and two during.
Gameplay is divided into turns where you plan your missions on a map of Berlin. The challenge is to try and make the best use of your resistance members’ skills whilst dealing with constantly depleting morale and the ever-present risk of arrest, injury or death. Each turn begins with newspaper headlines updating you on the key events from that week in history. Sometimes members of the group will bring issues to the weekly meeting and you may have to decide whether to pursue a particular course of action or even whether to kick a member out.
Every few turns, you play through a visual novel-style ‘historical event’. These are particularly poignant pieces of history made into stories involving your fictional group leader. You can choose how your character responds. However (to a certain extent) there is a set path through each of these events as they are based on real historical occurrences. Quite often, a mission will become available on the map when you finish the story.
History Speaks for Itself
Resistance Mode and Story Mode don’t really seem any different in practice. Although the descriptions in the game indicate otherwise. Perhaps Story Mode is a little easier. I think this is what the developers intended but I didn’t feel a marked difference between the two. There is an autosave feature in both modes. As far as I could tell it saves after each ‘turn’ or ‘week’. Initially, I began playing in Resistance Mode. Twice, when returning to play, I found that my save file would no longer load. I reported this to HandyGames who kindly responded and said that they were looking into the issue.
For me, the main attraction to Through the Darkest of Times was the historical content. I’m not a huge fan of strategy games. Whilst it hasn’t really endeared me to the genre, the game itself holds up well. I think this style of game was probably the most tactful way to deliver the inevitably harrowing and shocking truth of fighting the Nazi regime from the inside. The experience was immersive and at times breath-taking. Particularly when faced with the atrocious acts that the Nazis performed on Germans who did not fit the profile for their abhorrent idea of the ‘master race’.
Watching events unfold week by week gave some insight into how a nation could be duped by a leader with such foul ideas. Offering economic stability if you can only turn a blind eye to the suffering of those ‘other people’ who ‘aren’t like you’. Through the Darkest of Times really shows off the propaganda power wielded by the Nazis.
Preparing for the Wurst
The basic system for planning missions is quite easy to get your head around – although it does look quite daunting when you first see the mission planning screen. However, there is a tutorial at the very beginning to clear up any confusion. Certain members of your team are better at particular types of missions and over time, you can upgrade their skills. Completing different tasks triggers the appearance of more complex missions on the map. A constant undertaking throughout the game is making sure to keep finding new supporters and filling up the resistance coffers.
I found it annoying that part of the mission screen was often obscured by speech bubbles from members of my resistance group. One part of the map was always covered by mission information so that you couldn’t quite see all of the missions available in those areas. Sometimes, missions I had been working towards would become greyed out and no longer available. I couldn’t find an explanation as to why this happened. Perhaps they had a time limit, but I couldn’t see an obvious indication of this.
Achievements in Through the Darkest of Times will suit those who like a challenge. Some are given out for natural progression through the game i.e., completing chapters and historical events. More of them though, are awarded for how you play your mission campaign and for which operations you manage to play to fruition. These are achievements that I feel you really earn.
An Authentic Atmosphere
The music sets the tone brilliantly throughout Through the Darkest of Times. In chapters one and two you plan missions to the accompaniment of an upbeat tune that screams 1930s at the top of its voice. It makes you feel hopeful, as if your actions can have some impact. However, in chapters three and four the music takes a sombre turn as the events become ever more haunting. It has the effect of adding to the pressure you feel simply to survive each week and keep your resistance fighters out of prison.
There are no set missions to complete before finishing each chapter. Your experience is more about how you choose to act within the time allotted to you. Perhaps it’s down to my lack of expertise in this genre of game, but I can’t see how (without replaying Through the Darkest of Times) you’d be able to complete some of the more complex missions. It seems to me as if you need to do one run through to plan how to get the necessary resources and then a second run through to execute your plan efficiently.
However, as I’ve already mentioned, for me, the appeal was in experiencing the historical aspect of the game. I’m almost tempted to give some of the missions another go to see them through to the end. Yet, it feels as if it would trivialise the historical events to see them again (or perhaps rush past them) with my only preoccupation being to finish a fictional mission. From that perspective, Through the Darkest of Times feels like a ‘once through’ game.
For the overall experience, Through the Darkest of Times gets a thumbs up from me. If history has the power to enchant you and you are an empathetic soul, prepare to take an emotionally charged journey as you play through this evocative and harrowing account of life under the Nazi regime.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can buy Through the Darkest of Times for Xbox One from the Microsoft store.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.