We can’t change our history, recreating the events which happened that still affect us today, but we can use it as a means of educating and informing people on how things were for our relatives many years ago. Games like Valiant Hearts and My Memory of Us used real events and documents to create interactive narrative adventures focused on the horrors of war and how the events tore friends and families apart, setting people against each other due to their race, religion and nationality. This week I’ve been taking a look at Through the Darkest of Times, a strategic game that covers the entirety of the Second World War from the eyes of a fictional resistance team.
Although the timeline can’t be altered and the events which are set to occur can’t be stopped, Through the Darkest of Times lets you make moral and strategic choices that affect your playthrough as you become immersed within it’s dark and emotional narrative. I’ve played through the whole game once, so far, making it to the end without too many casualties, yet I can’t wait to try again and see if I can be a bit more aggressive and make a bigger impact when I play it next.
So, let’s take a closer look at Through the Darkest of Times and see why I highly recommend this title to fans of strategic games, those who like history, and anyone curious about what life was like during the reign of Hitler’s war…
Through the Darkest of Times takes place between 1933 and 1945, putting you in the shoes of a fictional resistance leader as you strategise and deploy your team throughout Berlin in hopes of helping those in need and delaying the inevitable war. The game is procedurally generated for the most part, with the actual gameplay adapting to your choices and how you command your followers, but it’s held together with a set-in-stone narrative presented as key events within each of the four chapters. These chapters cover the Seizure of Power (1933), Peak (1936), War (1940/1941), and the Collapse (1944/1945).
Starting out as a bunch of strangers who have gathered together to try and gain the support of others and help out those who the government look down upon, you’ll evolve into a close-knit team of survivors who risk it all to help free and hide those in danger of death at the hands of the Nazis. Although the game is fictional, the events have clearly been based upon real situations and processes which were in place within Germany, resulting in some emotional scenes and difficult moral choices to make.
As the war begins and Hitler’s army becomes more aggressive, things become much more ‘real’ and intense. Will you stand up for yourself and your team at the risk of losing your life in order to save those who can’t save themselves, or will you conform to the Nazi regime and play along with the rules in order to stay alive? Whatever you choose, the experience you’re about to have is one you won’t forget as you immerse yourself within this horrific period, trying to survive Through the Darkest of Times...
Unlike My Memory of Us and Valiant Hearts, Through the Darkest of Times is a strategic game held together by a strong narrative, rather than an immersive narrative adventure game. This means that the game is split into two main segments, the narrative and choice-based stories and the strategic gameplay. Let’s talk first about the main aspect of the gameplay, the strategy…
The game is split up into chapters, each further split up into a certain number of weeks (indicated on the map screen). At the start of each week you take a look at the weekly papers, to see what people are talking about and the events which happened previously, then you begin planning out what you want your team to do this week. Initially, only a few options will be accessible but once you’ve successfully completed certain events, you’ll unlock new and linked events in the subsequent week. But what are these events?
There are many types of missions you can embark upon but they seem to revolve around a few core goals. You can send out your team members to talk to the local workers, priests, friends, and politicians in order to rally support and gain followers who will either loyally stand by you or offer unique help later on (such as giving you money or an influx of new supporters when you need them). The next common objective is to have a whip-around and ask the same set of people for a monetary contribution to your cause, increasing your funds for future events. The final one is to go shopping, buying supplies with the money you’ve obtained so you can take on bigger and more unique protests.
Once you have some items in your possession, you can paint slogans on the walls of buildings, break into factories, steal officers’ uniforms, and even print out a bunch of leaflets and anti-war propaganda. These missions are much riskier than the previous ones though, so you run the risk of getting caught unless you have things like a fake uniform or bikes which will let you blend in or escape if the Nazis spot you. You have to strategically think about what you wish to do each week as there’s only a certain amount of time and your colleagues only have so much morale.
That’s right, as the weeks go on, morale naturally drops, requiring you to keep people motivated by performing certain missions which boost the morale or having a day off from it all and going out with your group to a social event. You have to ensure you keep an eye on the morale, your income, the number of supporters you have, and the ‘wanted’ level of each person (based on if they’ve been seen whilst out working). If things fall too low, people will leave, the group will disband, or you’ll find the Nazis had arrested them when you show up in the hideout the next week!
Each mission allows up to three people to attend, both increasing the chance of success and the danger level (if they’re wanted). Items can be used to reduce and increase these percentages but it’s not a guarantee you’ll get the result you want. Nazis can show up at any time, forcing you to either run, hide, or carry on and risk becoming under attack. If you hide then it’s a 50/50 chance you’ll get half the result you were expecting. As the missions become harder, you’ll have to group together high-levelled team members if you want a chance of completing your goal – I didn’t actually realise you can upgrade your team until chapter three!
Aside from the standard missions, there are a bunch of special ones with their own trophies and much more difficult criteria. One requires you to break people out of the prison in one week, then smuggle them over the border the next, using fake passports which you must steal or buy yourself. There are others that require you to kit out all your team in uniforms you’ve stolen, and one which involves importing and distributing illegal books. Again, due to the time constraint within each chapter, trying to complete all of these is a challenge and will take a lot of dedication and pre-planning to pull off.
Each week begins with your team meeting up within your hideout and a mini-story related to one of the followers you’ve gained. These seem random and can sometimes affect your team directly, rather than the overall story narrative. For example, I had a period where one of my team was trying to convince me that another member had stolen money and we should force them to quit – I had a few options but I gave them one more chance and they became the most loyal member in the entire playthrough. I’ve also had a few people ask to leave, but I declined them, only to find they’ve either left anyway or something terrible had happened to them (usually involving death).
Each chapter has five set-in-stone story narrative segments. These are the underlying narrative of the chapter you’re on, offering a few choices even though the outcome is always going to be pretty much the same. These are more like moral choices, seeing just what type of person you are rather than how your actions affect the world. One such event had me returning home to find my neighbour’s apartment open. After looking around, I see that the owners are dead on the floor. So, you have the choice of looting their house for resources or investigating the bodies to see if there’s anything you can do.
These stories all held the game together perfectly, offering us a glimpse of what life was like during this horrific period of time. It showed how people who were once friends could be turned against each other simply due to their religion just because of the hated being told to them on a daily basis by the ones in charge. The choice you make may not change the outcome, but it really helped fuel the desire to try and make a difference when you’re back in control and planning who to try and save next.
Why is it so good?
I’ve played a lot of strategy and tactical games which are based in or around various wars and oppressive governments. One such game which comes to mind is Beholder, a game in which you run an apartment block and have to choose whether or not you’ll report any illegal activities to the powers in charge or turn a blind eye to keep the offender safe. But there was something about Through the Darkest of Times that made it feel more immersive and impactful, the fact that it’s based on real events and (fairly) recent history.
Each week I wasn’t sure if my team would come to the hideout or if they’ve been caught, maybe even killed, as well as the risk I had to balance when sending out my colleagues to perform the tasks I gave them. Once you’ve sent them out you don’t really have much control over the actions, other than running or hiding if they’re spotted, so that further increased the stress and anxiety I had whilst playing. I felt like I didn’t really suss out the gameplay until I was in the third chapter, maybe the final quarter of the second one, as you really need to take your time and think before you do anything – especially if you’re playing the difficulty I was.
There are two difficulties in Through the Darkest of Times, there’s a normal difficulty that saves every week and the overall gameplay is much more forgiving, allowing you to ‘enjoy’ the story. However, I decided to torture myself and I restarted the game in ‘Resistance Mode’ which has the police and Gestapo on high alert and your team members are constantly on the edge of walking out. This mode also doesn’t save the game so there’s no going back, no save-scumming, and it adds a whole new level of realism to the game.
The visuals for Through the Darkest of Times are dark, simple, colourless (apart from red), and almost like illustrations from a book. I really like the art direction the game has gone for as it’s not too realistic (which is good considering the themes covered within the game), but it’s not too fantastical either. On a side note, the game was originally out on mobile devices and PC, so you can tell that touch and mouse was the primary control method in mind here. The game works okay with a controller, but it is a little fiddly at times – as I said, I didn’t realise you could upgrade your team until the latter half of the game due to not realising I could click on them!
Mouse and keyboard controls don’t work with the PS4 version.
The music within the game is very war-time and secretive, matching the style of the game perfectly. There are voiced cutscenes at the beginning of each chapter, all the others are silent, and they are performed great for the most part. There were a few mispronounced words which I spotted, but it’s not enough to really complain about it as you can tell the voice actor was German, English isn’t her first language.
In terms of trophies, a lot of them revolve around simply completing the game without losing – which are simple enough – but others require you to complete various unique missions which are only within certain chapters, and there are some for obtaining a certain amount of supporters and money. I personally didn’t even look at the trophies when I was playing the game, having only looked just now, as I feel this game is one which you should experience without the distraction of trying to force certain actions just to grab a trophy (at least on your first playthrough).
Through the Darkest of Times gives players a glimpse of what life was like under Hitler’s rule within the heart of Germany. The gameplay is very strategic, requiring you to pre-plan events as you work towards your goal of helping those who can’t help themselves, yet the stories will test your morality and judgement of others. Despite knowing that history is written in stone, you’ll find yourself determined to try and help as much as you can, not because it’ll change the narrative, but because it’s something you feel you have to do. A second playthrough may not have the same impact as the first one, due to the strict timeline that holds the game together, but you’ll still find yourself drawn back into this dark narrative as you try to help those who you failed the first time around.
No matter what platform you prefer to play on, Through the Darkest of Times is an experience that everyone who has an ounce of morality and interest in history should try out.
Through the Darkest of Times£11.99
- - Immersive and emotional narrative holding the game together (based on real events)
- - Addictive and easy-to-understand strategic gameplay
- - Multiple ways to spend each week and progress through the game
- - Two difficulty modes for those looking for a challenge
- - Very nice book-like images and atmospheric music
- - The controls work fine but you can tell they were initially created for touch and cursor use