Monday, September 28, 2009

Demo Monday: Darkest of Days

darkest of days INDEED Before now, if you came up to me and asked me “is there a game where I could play in the Civil War, but instead of having a bayonet I could use an assault rifle” I would tell you “um I don’t know.”

But I wouldn’t say that now.

Now I would say, “it doesn’t have to be any good, does it?”

Because I have found the game that lets you do just that – anyone looking to mow down Roman legionaries with a high-powered shotgun need look no further than 8monkey Labs’ and Phantom EFX’s Darkest of Days. While the premise is awesome in a “wow a thirteen-year-old would think this premise is really awesome” kind of way, the execution is deeply, bitterly flawed, flawed in a way that makes you wish you could go back in time and mow yourself down with futuristic weaponry so you could prevent you from ever playing the game in the first place.

You play as Alexander Morris, a soldier rescued by time travelling guys from Custer’s Last Stand. Morris is unique in many different ways – for one, he takes the whole time jumping thing pretty well in stride. He doesn’t ask any questions or get developed in any meaningful way at all. He’s just another stiff doing what His Benefactors tell him to do – no difference between him and a handful of space marines, to be sure.

Also, he jumps as though his legs are filled with helium.

From here, you and your foul-mouthed guide Dexter are dumped into historical scenarios and forced to save People of Interest from some other time travelling dudes who are fucking with the time continuum. Like most time travelling stories it is innately implausible, ridiculous and paradoxical all at once, but unlike some it doesn’t entertain you enough to ignore or forgive these things of it.

This demo in particular dumps you down into the Battle of Antietam, which is described as “messier than an orangutan’s afterbirth.” Before we proceed, read that sentence again – a paid writer came up with that line, and then a similarly compensated voice actor uttered it, and then it was put into a game on which you and I are expected to spend additional money. No wonder our economy’s such a fucking mess.

My first impressions – the game looks like shit, runs like shit. Graphics are somewhere between the first Half Life game (1998) and the first Call of Duty game (2003), which should tell you something about how crude it looks in 2009. Though there is an impressive number of enemies on the screen at once, they frequently run right by you without shooting, or ignore you as you flank them. If my period weapon fired at a rate of more than once per minute, there’d be no challenge to the thing at all.

And that’s the game’s other problem. Well, I mean, one of its other problems. Its “modern weapons in Olden Times” premise is hampered by the fact that you’re playing with boring, slow, stupid period weapons 80% of the time. I was given one assault rifle during the entire Battle of Antietam, and five minutes later when it was out of ammo I was back to clumsily poking guys in the face with my bayonet. Lame.

And its other problem was that, at least in the demo, I was pitted against some foes who I felt decidedly bad about killing, whether it be in the Civil War when brother was pitted against brother, or at Custer’s Last Stand where I was mowing down ululating Injuns to whom my ancestors gave smallpox in exchange for land and possessions. Say what you will about Nazis in videogames, but at least eighty years of propaganda and popular culture have taught me that they are Remorselessly Evil People who I can kill without feeling bad.

Games like Darkest of Days are both good and bad from my perspective. The good thing is that I get a quick, easy, entertaining post that I don’t have to feel bad about writing. This game sucks, unequivocally. The bad thing is that shit like this seriously undermines the medium in the eyes of anyone who might try to take it seriously – I can sell to my girlfriend the theory that Scribblenauts is forwarding video games creatively and artistically, but playing a game like Darkest of Days in front of her made her react alternatively with laughter and horror.

I dunno, guys, you made a game, but it doesn’t sound to me like it’s going to appeal to anyone, not with its ass-ugly graphics, boring gameplay and laughable script. If you want to drop a first-person shooter into the middle of September, you’d damn sure better make something that anyone anywhere will want to buy.

8monkey Labs’ and Phantom EFX’s Darkest of Days is currently available for $49.99 for the Xbox 360 and $39.99 for the PC. Played single-player Xbox demo to completion.