Dark Future: Blood Red States — A run-based, tactical, vehicular combat spectacle

In the 2023 of Dark Future: Blood Red States, the post-war cultural revolution never took place in the United States, bombs fell and society was changed forever. Gangs of maniacs and raiders patrol the unclaimed wastes between cities in weapon-strapped death machines. Only a few bounty hunters, brave (or stupid, depending on who you ask) enough to head out and face them down, persist, running supplies and errands from safezone to safezone.

Dark Future: Blood Red States is Auroch Digital’s PC reboot of 1988’s Dark Future board game from Games Workshop. The original title was a clever effort with memorable mechanics; players placed down road-map tiles and each moved their car pieces along to dodge objects and gun down other vehicles — a survival death race. Books long outlasted the game’s print runs, beefing out the alternative universe with plenty of backstory.

While Auroch have worked with non-Warhammer IPs from Games Workshop (Chainsaw Warrior) before, the general structure of those games were easy to maintain. Chainsaw Warrior and Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of the Night were originally Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style gamebooks, a format that converts well at the same pace. Dark Future, however, is in spirit a tactical board game which converts expert reflexes and superhuman timing into a turn-based system which retained the intensity.

Dark Future: Blood Red States uses clever systems to translate the board game into a run-based game; something more FTL: Faster Than Light than Full Auto.

Unexpectedly, the first big change is that you don’t steer the car. Instead, you do everything through an extensive, pixel-meets-teletext styled UI. There are buttons for changing lanes, going into reverse or activating abilities — as well as a clickable speedometer to adjust your target speed. Most importantly, though, each weapon you load out with has its own options, be that a turret to rotate and lock on or pipe bombs to be ejected.

This might sound a little bit chaotic and unmanageable when played at normal speed — it probably would be on later levels. This is why Auroch have built the entire game so you can run it at speeds much slower than real-time. Everything in-engine, from physics to individual bullets from your gatling guns, is optimised for slow-mo first — meaning you don’t get any crazy physics hoo-haa, or at least as far as I saw while playing during my visit to the team at the Bristol Game Hub.

Slowed down, even when there are multiple enemies bearing down on you, Dark Future is extremely fun. And as you defeat enemies, or land clever hits on them, it feels fantastic — reminiscent of Burnout’s takedown camera — as enemies launch into the air in slow motion. Within a few minutes of playing I’d managed to use pipe bombs to launch two enemies into the air, one spiralling off a cliff edge after crossing paths, mid-air with the other. The other continued along, above the road, my laser locked on, delivering enough damage to ruin its chances of returning to the fight.

Dark Future plays out through runs: short ten-minute missions where you gun your way down roads to collect bounties and remove local threats. This feels exceptionally well paced already. What we’ve not seen much of yet, however, is the game’s meta. Missions, through campaigns, will be told through emails — and there’ll be plenty of extra, universe-setting narrative delivered through this interface.

Weapon variety seems promising, that said. While the turret — and any explosives you take — will be your best friends, there’s a variety of weapons you can bolt on to fixed mountings on the car. This is important to your attack and defence strategies: put two deadly weapons on the front of your car and you’ll be constantly maneuvering to try to get behind your foes. Latch close-range weapons to the rear and it’ll be a battle to get the back of your car close to your enemy’s nose.

Dark Future: Blood Red States currently has a provisional, PC release window down as 2019. You can wishlist it on Steam.

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