Through the Darkest of Times offers a glimpse into a grim and bleak moment in history, but despite the hardships its message shines through brightly.
Through the Darkest of Times calls itself a “historical resistance strategy game”, letting players lead the resistance in Third Reich Berlin with the aim of weakening the regime’s hold of Germany and to win supporters who oppose the dictatorship. This will see players plotting missions, gaining resources and recruiting new members; all while avoiding being caught by the Gestapo.
Developers Paintbucket Games have created a unique experience, one that left me feeling both accomplished, yet somehow exhausted, after my time playing. But it’s an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.
Through the Darkest of Times wastes no time letting you know what you’re in for.
As soon as I started I was met with a cutscene that instantly set the tone of the game, one that made it very clear that it wasn’t going to be a cheerful endeavour; before taking me to the main menu. It’s during these first few moments that I was drawn to the interesting use of colour, or rather lack of colour in the artwork. Nearly the whole game uses very little colour for most of its art, with thick lines and a slightly muddy finish, only using small amounts for very select parts of items or people such as the swastika or blood. Of course, this may sound rather drab and dull, but this lack of colour fits perfectly with the game’s setting; adding both depth and weight to its already tense atmosphere with the different shades of black, grey and white.
Normally when starting a new game and being shown a character creator, it would be a huge plus in my books; but unfortunately, this time it was a little underwhelming. The game doesn’t let you pick your name or traits yourself, with the only way to change them being to randomize your character, thereby changing the gender as well as these aspects until getting a combination you want; It just ends up making character creation a bit too clunky for no real reason other than to have you spend more time than needed trying to create a character you want.
Where Through the Darkest of Times really shines is in its strategy-focused gameplay. Players control of up to five resistance fighters, each offering different stats and traits that can be used to accomplish a selection of missions. These vary from simple smaller tasks such as collecting donations to fund your activities to more extreme measures like causing prison breaks, with items and money often playing a key part in their success or availability.
These various items can be used in an assortment of different ways, saved for larger-scale missions that require a lot of resources like paper or paint or used sparingly, like the intel papers to increase mission outcome, sometimes at the cost of increased or decreased difficulty. While it’s a rather simple mechanic, this addition of managing resources adds tremendous depth to how I handled missions, weighing up my chances of success as well as if the risks outweighed the rewards. It makes mission choices more impactful, as I tried to maximize my time and resources.
With each passing week managing your members becomes more difficult as they are seen and gain more heat, making missions they undertake riskier and more likely to end with fewer rewards or worse outcomes — such as members being injured, arrested or killed.
Members of your group come with all manner of political beliefs and religious views that can change how effective your resistance members are during missions, or when talking to certain groups of people. Though adding to the layered ways that gameplay can be affected, its most effective use is during the conversations with other members while you plan missions, having them disagree or suspect each other of being a snitch — a few difficult choices with members being lost or thrown out occurred — all while trying to keep the groups best interests in mind.
These mechanics help create a unique blend of tension and uncertainty, one that does an excellent job alongside the artwork of reinforcing the serious and difficult themes throughout the game. Having to watch some of the truly upsetting situations and circumstances people lived through, like Jewish shopowners being persecuted and assaulted, or books being burned while people chanted hate, made for some very unsettling moments that weren’t always easy to watch.
Even though it makes for some rather emotionally heavy moments, not shying away from them makes the whole experience richer and more poignant as a result. Every aspect of the gameplay, narrative, and visuals feed into making a game that touches on so many varied emotions, handling the subject matter with as much dignity as it can.
I had moments where I could really tell that developers, Paintbucket Games, wanted to create a game that was challenging in both gameplay and subject; especially when playing on the tougher resistance mode, to fully embrace how it must have felt during those times. Not knowing if one day you would be thrown in prison, your children would become indoctrinated, or friends and neighbours are shipped away to concentration camps.
It’s not pretty and it’s not glamorous, but because of this it feels real, and even if only in a small way it shows what the best and worst of what humanity can be, while in its own way paying tribute to unsung heroes during one of the darkest times in history.
It may not be a game for everyone and may not be the most exciting, but it’s one that, if nothing else, deserves acknowledgement and praise for shining a light on some real-life heroes and stories. Ones we shouldn’t forget anytime soon.