‘Through the Darkest of Times’ Review (Xbox One)

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

Through the Darkest of Times is a complex history based strategy game which takes place during Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 to Germany’s surrender in 1945.

Players take on the role of a resistance member in Third Reich Berlin. The story follows a historically accurate timeline with major events of Hitler’s reign drastically changing group member’s opinions and available missions.

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

At its heart Through the Darkest of Times is a turn based strategy game, but there is no fighting involved and no enemy turns. Instead the game is divided into chapters, each with 20 turns in which your resistance team must build up your supporters, find new members, raise donations, make allies, sabotage German supplies, save prisoners, create leaflets, stage strikes, hide Jewish families, procure supplies, and more.

You must do all this while keeping your group’s morale high despite beatings, arrests, and sometimes death. If the morale drops to zero then your game will be over.

Your resistance begins with three members but can grow to five. Each member is ranked by their secrecy, empathy, propaganda, strength, and literacy.  A citymap is available at the start of each turn to plan out your upcoming missions. Each mission has a requirement as to how many members must be used to complete the mission, so there is only so much you can accomplish on each turn, making where you place your members and how you use them extremely important to surviving the entire war.

The citymap is where the bulk of the gameplay takes place. Here you can plan your group’s actions, send group members on missions, get an overview of members/items/supporters/morale, search your inventory and contacts, etc.

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

Missions can be tackled in almost any order, provided you have the necessary supplies. You can repeat support/donation missions as needed while other missions may only appear once or twice and grant you specific items, such as an SA uniform.

As you scroll over each mission the map will display the required skill, risk, and amount of members necessary  to complete.  Once you select a mission you must then plan how to complete that mission. You can assign members to handle the mission, taking into account those members with skills that better fit the requirements and then you can add optional items to improve the mission’s outcome or help your members get out safe if something goes wrong during the mission.

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

Each mission has a preparedness meter and a danger meter. The preparedness meters measures how prepared your team is to complete the mission successfully, while the danger meter rates how likely it is you’ll encounter a disruption, attack, or fail. Even on missions where you succeed, you may be seen or hurt, which will lead to your wanted meter rising. Once you hit five notches on the wanted meter it becomes only a matter of time before your character is arrested.

There are ways to lower your wanted meter, but they involve having your character hide out for a turn or more and thereby having to pass on missions which may earn you much needed money, supporters, or supplies. There is a constant trade off of deciding who needs to hide out, who needs to raise funds, who needs to make allies, and who needs to go on dangerous missions which will keep players on edge as they attempt to make it through the ever increasing danger looming from all sides.

Once you have planned all your missions you can choose to end the planning stage and let the missions play out.  You are then given a weekly results screen which shows how much was donated, how many supporters you have, etc. followed by a breakdown of each mission and how your members did during it, what they earned, etc.

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

Sometimes missions go wrong and there is a disruption. You must then decide to Flee and gain no reward but your members might get away safely, hide – which has a higher risk of getting caught but you might get some of the reward, or enforce – which has a high risk of getting caught but you get the full reward if you are successful.

After each turn is completed you are provided with a chart at the end showing your weekly morale decline, missions, events, arrests, deaths, and releases.

If this sounds intimidating, there’s no need to fret. Thankfully Through the Darkest of Times has two play modes available to avoid frustration for players who may want to enjoy the story without fear of failure. There is a story mode, which is far more forgiving and saves after each turn, and resistance mode, which does not allow saves, has the police and Gestapo on high alert, and members of your group always teetering on the edge of giving up.

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

Through the Darkest of Times story is told through unique, hand drawn animation cut scenes, where you are allowed to make choices as to how your character thinks, reacts, and speaks. The things you say and do can have consequences for your group or get you arrested, so there’s always a fine line to walk between being a resistance fighter and knowing when to keep your mouth closed and move on.

The story is rather bleak as it tells in explicit detail the horrors which occurred during Hitler’s rein. Starting with Hitler’s rise to power, the story jumps between the first  SA attacks on citizens, the Reichstag burning, the star of david, book burning, Koepenick hangings, children joining the Hitler youth, Hitler’s birthday parade, the Olympics, the start of WW2, German’s attack of the USSR, establishment of the concentration camps, to Germanys eventual defeat. Aside from cutscenes, the story is also told in news articles displayed before each turn and in conversations between resistance members.

Photo Credit: Paintbucket Games and Handy Games

Surprisingly, the game includes a pretty neat character creator which allows you to choose your characters sex, occupation, and political standing. You can have the game create random characters or customize the hair, eyes, shape, nose, mouth, beard, accessories, and clothes to create the perfect avatar.

Through the Darkest of Times is a fresh take on strategy games, dealing with an incredibly horrific period of time while diving deep into the actions, courage, fear, and violence committed by ordinary people during an extraordinary time.  Those who love history or strategy will find a lot to enjoy throughout the ten hour or so campaign.

Special thanks to Handy Games and Paintbucket Games for providing Fandomize with a review copy. Through the Darkest of Times is available now on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.