WARNING: This is a review for a game that take place in Hitler’s Third Reich from 1933 to 1945. This game was created with historical accuracy in mind and follows the struggles of an underground resistance in Berlin during the course of World War Two. Despite the cartoon-like art style that is used, players will come face to face with some of the ugliest and most horrific incidents of that time. Please exercise mature discretion going forward.
I came into this game not truly sure of how it would go. I deliberately avoided any media surrounding it, and I am glad I did. On the surface, this didn’t seem like a game I would chose to play on my own. I am glad it came to me though, as it offered an experience that I rarely have in games. I found myself truly emotionally invested in the story and events. It was a surreal experience as I have studied World War Two extensively for most of my life. Throughout the game you are forced to make decisions that are heartbreaking and terrifying. Welcome to Through the Darkest of Times.
Developed by Paintbucket Games and published by Handy Games, Through the Darkest of times places you as the leader of a small resistance group in the heart of Germany, during the Second World War. The game opens with you preparing your character using a simple character creation interface that randomly assigns age, gender, name, political affiliation, and profession. You are able to customize your characters appearance using a number of preset slider bars.
The profession and political affiliation of your character dictate the starting stats of the character. Your resistance cell starts with three members with the ability to recruit more, up to a max of five. Each new recruit will bring new types of capabilities to your cell, increasing your ability to complete various tasks from recruiting supporters or stealing weapons and uniforms from the Nazis. The majority of the game revolves around the planning and execution of these tasks. Each turn happens over the course of a week. The week begins with a planning phase where you assign your character and your cell members to different available missions. Typically there will be more missions than you are able to complete, forcing you to prioritize specific tasks. Furthermore, as cell members complete these tasks, they will gain notoriety with Nazi sympathizers or the Gestapo, denoted by red dots next to the character portrait in the planning phase. Collect too many of these dots, and the cell member will be arrested. If you are unable to rescue them, they are sometimes released, but usually killed. Too avoid this, a cell member, or members, may be sent into hiding as a task during your turn, at the cost of thirty marks.
There are two main resources that must be managed throughout the game: Morale and Supporters. Morale reflects the general state of mind of the members of your resistance cell. Supporters influences the amount of indirect support you receive from like-minded citizen of Berlin. If you lose too much of either, or do not cultivate them enough, you may find that your cell is destroyed or dismantled. The number of supporters you have will dictate how many marks receive per turn. Marks are used to purchase materials, buy medicines, bribe officials, or a number of different things. While supporters are typically gained by tasks dedicated to that purpose, morale can be more difficult. Successfully completing tasks, as well as significant events in the Reich, both will affect your morale. Occasionally you will have an option to send your entire cell on a fun trip such as dancing or a museum visit, to increase morale.
Through the Darkest of Times is split into four chapters that each occur during different times of the rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Each chapter covers significant events from the Time period, including Hitler becoming Chancellor, the Berlin Olympics, the Bebelplatz book burning, and many others. Which leads me to one of the negative things about the game. At the end of each chapter, you will lose any significant items you have gathered, as well as have morale and supporters reset to a pre-determined value. While I understand the reasoning behind this as a continuity issue, it can make individual efforts in the chapters themselves seem frivolous or without value.
The game’s mood is poignant and compelling, overhung by a dark cloud of fear and shame, with tiny moments of kindness and human empathy. The games art style complements this mood by using a large pallet of blacks and grey, offset by an occasional splash of color to punctuate a particularly powerful moment. The attention to detail and dedication to historical authenticity, with the original audio from several events being used, is impressive and indicative of creators who truly cared about getting it right.
I found myself going through multiple replays as I tried and tried to save more lives. I convinced myself that the risk here was worth it. Sometimes it was, and I was able to do a little bit more, or get a little bit farther. Just as often however, I found myself over extended and captured by the Gestapo or worse.
Overall, this narrative driven strategy is well worth the time and money. It’s historical value alone is priceless, as the world is close to losing all those who were there for these events. My final score for Through the Darkest of times is four out of five. I would recommend this to any history buff or fans of story driven games. Through the Darkest of Times is available now on Steam.