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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Darkest of Days.

Transcript Edit

Some of you are now asking yourself "What the hell is Darkest of Days?", or "Has Yahtzee been fucked over by release dates again?", or "Will alternative energy sources ever be sustainable?", or "What is the capital of Botswana?", or "Why do nice girls hate me?" To answer those questions in no particular order: No, self-esteem issues, a little bit, an independent first-person shooter available on Steam and Xbox 360, and Gabarone. As for why I'm reviewing Darkest of Days, well would you believe it's because it's the first shooter I've encountered in years whose premise alone made me intrigued enough to buy it rather than give me another reason to curse the existence of Halo and the ever-growing train of soporific bastard children that scamper about its legs, pistol whipping and fucking each other? I just thought it would be nice to play a current-gen FPS and actually be trying to like it for a change.

You begin the game as arrow fodder in General Custer's army at the Battle of Little Bighorn where you go through what is known as in RPG circles as a "supposed to lose" fight. But seconds before whoopy, arrow-filled death you are teleported to an agency in the far future which appears to consist of one room and about three guys. Apparently, you are now free to act as a time-travelling secret agent because the authorities of your time put you down as an M.I.A., and considering how every member of a given army in this game is totally identical, that's probably an easy mistake to make. Time travel is common in the future and as with virtually everything else in the world the tourists are spoiling it for every one else. You're informed that your new job is to clean up after time-altering miscreants by infiltrating the armies of various historical battles and ensuring that things happen the way they were supposed to happen. Like Timecop, but without the gratuitous naked bum scene. And your character's strangely okay with this for someone who's been freshly ripped from the 19th century, although he is a silent protagonist, so his new future bosses could just be mistaking compliance for absolute dumbfounded terror.

When you're dealing with time travel it's important to establish who's rules are in play. Is this 12 Monkeys rules where you can't change shit? Or Back to the Future rules where you can change shit, but the timeline is kind of easy-going about it? Or Terminator rules where you can change shit, but maybe you can't change shit and then you make a god-awful TV series and Christian Bale yells at someone? When history gets changed in Darkest of Days there's apparently enough leeway for you to pick it up on your future periscope and dispatch some armed agents to sort everything out with their magic time-fixing bullets. And even if they cock it up, they can sort it out with more violence further down the line; as long as the losers lose and the winners win it doesn't seem to matter. It's an appealingly slap-dash approach to time policing, like a plumber who works with duct tape and string.

At the start your colleague makes clear the importance of sticking to dodgy period weapons, but for reasons unclear to me he sometimes hands you an assault rifle and advises that history can probably survive you going peanut banana sandwich crazy for a few minutes. And if you honestly don't see the appeal of mowing down the entire Confederate army with an aim-assisted automatic space gun then you should probably take a long, hard look at what you're doing with your life.

The perplexingly named 8monkey Labs made a big thing of their obsessive historical accuracy and original graphics engine. The first one isn't my department, I guess the Civil War uniforms are accurate as far as I know, but they may have all been dressed up as Klingons and they would've been accurate as far as I know. I am fairly certain, however, that the Union army didn't consist entirely of clones who transform into goose-stepping paper cutouts if they get more than fifty yards away from you, which brings me to the graphics engine. It's like they took the kind of thing the Total War games used for its real-time battle things and dropped you right in the middle of it, with huge, open maps and massive numbers of NPCs all doing coordinated exercise routines with their seven hundred twin brothers. It is nice to see something like this used for fun rather than some dry RTS that appeals to middle managers who can no longer tell the difference between fun and Microsoft Access. It looks fine if you don't examine too closely and overlook the fact that moving over terrain feels like you're riding a fucking hoverboard.

The gameplay is a string of disappointments, lifting me up and knocking me down over and over again like it's playing Guess Who with my heart. It makes itself out as a Crysis style shooter where you can go anywhere on the map and pick your own method to meet the objective and for that reason it is going to hell for lying. Your objectives are always a strictly linear path, often with waypoints marked out in case you suffer panic attacks if you aren't being steered around by the fucking nose every second of the day. And any attempt to defy fate by fleeing over the hills of freedom (which I feel would be a quite appropriate act of role-play considering the circumstances) will be met by bouncing painfully off one of the many invisible walls that infest the terrain. I suppose a visible one would have been historically inaccurate, would it? And as for choosing your own method, your choices are pistol, or rifle, or turning off the game to punch yourself in the stomach. It's occasionally suggested that you use stealth, but there is none. It's the old FarCry problem of enemies instantly spotting you up a tree two miles away. Human beings had much keener vision the days before the Virtual Boy ruined everyone's eyesight, so I hope you like shooting because they certainly do!

I'm forced to admit that the only thing that sets "D-est of Ds" apart is that premise I liked so much, and it doesn't even handle that very well. From a promising starting point of having all history's battles to fight in, you just go back and forth between the American Civil War and the Russian front in World War I. I can think of some way darker days than that. The Dark Ages for a start. And taking on fully-armoured medieval knights with a microwave gun would've been a whole new kind of entertainment. The story is complex and intriguing, but stick with it to the ending and it'll all be fully explained by a single monologue from a guy standing in an empty room. That's it. And it's not even a denouement, because the old "To Be Continued" card gets pulled, which I'd usually jump all over with crampons and a backpack full of dumbbells, but since this is the studio's debut title, I guess if they want to ensure that they've still got a job next week, that's fair enough. And I would actually like to see it continued because there's a lot of potential on display. I'd like to see another one with more time periods to go to, better storytelling, more flexible objectives, and while I'm fantasizing I'd also like a flying cat that dispenses harps.

AddendaEdit

Visitor from a distant future: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I don't really think 8monkey Labs consists entirely of children, but given the name I wouldn't be surprised

I would settle for a cat on water skies that dispenses string


ScreenshotsEdit

Darkest of Days 1

Your new job is to clean up after time-altering miscreants by infiltrating the armies of various historical battles

Darkest of Days 2

The perplexingly named 8monkey Labs

Darkest of Days 3

While I'm fantasizing I'd also like a flying cat that dispenses harps

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
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2009
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Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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2010
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Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
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2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
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Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
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2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
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2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5

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