Even in 2020 I still get people mentioning to me that video games are just about shooting people and having sex with aliens. Needless to say that I roll my eyes, tut and reel off games like The Last of Us, Papers, Please and 1979 Revolution: Black Friday – games that deal with the human spirit in terrible situations and how they cope, or don’t, in those circumstances. Through the Darkest of Times is another game that I can add to that list; one that comes under the category of experiences that tackle social injustice in a real historical context. Let’s go back in time to 1930’s Germany.
There aren’t many games that explore the beginning of Nazi Germany in 1933 and then head right on through the Second World War, but this game does and it gives the player a terrifying perspective on how a country changed so quickly. Through the Darkest of Times is a historical resistance strategy game, one in which you play as the leader of a small band of resistance fighters going up against the rise of the Nazi party who have just got into power. The story puts you at the heart of how the evil regime solidified its power, and how it persuaded many to follows its ideals.
You are placed in charge of a small group of resistance fighters whose job is to fight against the Nazi machine in any way you can. Your main tasks are to gain followers and recruit like-minded folk to your cause, taking their money to help the activities of the group. Your journey goes all the way through to the aftermath of the Second World War in 1946, taken from a Berliner’s perspective and covering all major events. You can’t change the outcome of the war or how history turned out, but what the game does is give you a chance to try and make little changes based on real resistance events, all in the hope that it will make an impact in helping the disadvantaged from the Nazi regime.
Each turn of the game covers a week in that year. You start the day with the latest real headline from the date and are then presented with the members of your resistance, all eagerly waiting for you to tell them what mission to go on next. You are presented with a map of Berlin, left with several missions you can examine, before sending the operatives onward. For example, there might be a mission where you have to go to a local pub and collect donations. This could well be defined as low risk and can be performed by just one member of the resistance. The mission overview will also suggest what traits will be better for the objective ahead. It is here where the resistance come into play as each character has several traits such as compassion, strength, secrecy, and propaganda. It’s up to you to match the best people for the best jobs. You see, when one does head off on a job, they might encounter suspicion from a witness or police. They can then choose to carry on and enforce the trouble, hide, or run away. If they are seen then there is a chance of being arrested further down the line, and even killed.
The missions range from the basic to much more complicated setups which have a chain of objectives attached to each other. You may need to buy some paint so you can start to slap slogans on a wall damning the Nazis, or you might wish to gather some intel in one mission, talk to the maid of a SS officer in another mission, before breaking into the officer’s house in the final mission. These chains are much higher risk affairs, but the rewards of disturbing the machine are higher.
You can upgrade members over time, adding points to increase the tactical opportunities. But you’ll also need to be aware that folk will die, or leave, and it’s up to you to recruit new ones if you can. It’s a testimony to the emotion of the game that you grow to know members well over time, and when they die it feels like an utter hammer blow.
The whole thing is pretty deep in fact, as throughout you get hit with story events that appear like an animated cutscene, along with narrative that has been based on real historical events – stuff like the Hindenburg first flight or the Olympic Games of 1936. Whatever it is, it puts you at the center of that tale, before working through multiple dialogue trees. Credit goes out to the developers as they are always very affecting.
Through the Darkest of Times has an outstanding hand-drawn quality to all the work: the characters, maps, and menus. There is a distinct feeling of a board game delivered about it in its tone and there have been times when I’ve been reminded of that old game, “Colditz”. The story sequences stand out visually as the most impressive, yet the most haunting, with everything beautifully drawn and shaded. The graphical style works superbly during the game. Audio-wise it employs some period music that manages to set the mood and feeling of the 1930s. There is a darker underscore at work that is pitched perfectly throughout the story sequences, and this is accompanied by some lovely little touches in effects, like a warning sound that sends a shiver down the spine when you are spotted on a mission.
I have been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work on offer with Through the Darkest of Times on Xbox One. It takes you on an unforgettable journey through the eyes of those Berliners who didn’t like what was happening to their country, desperate for change and the world to see the truth. It may not be for all but it’s important that games like this are made, and applause must go to the developers for giving a different viewpoint of the Second World War and fascism to the Xbox market.