Through The Darkest Of Times was purchased on Steam for $15. The title was developed by Paintbucket Games and produced by HandyGames which is currently a subsidiary of THQ Nordic
Watching the decline of American democracy is exhausting. Ever since the orange tyrant Donald Trump wormed his way into the oval office after the 2016 presidential election, bad news has permeated our lives on a daily basis. Whether it’s refugees being locked in cages, Trump’s popularity among white nationalists (i.e. the KKK, Neo Nazis, and the Alt-Right), or the fascistic senate acquitting a clearly guilty impeached President, our democratic institutions are bleeding out, suffering the accumulative death of a thousand cuts via the moral and ethical corruption inherent to the Trump regime and Republican ideology. As a result, American democracy has decayed at a catastrophic rate while we the sane people wonder how we can combat such an overwhelmingly hateful movement that has infiltrated every facet of our lives. Indeed, how do we fight such evil?
The newly released video game Through The Darkest Of Times contains an answer: resist in whatever way you can. In this good story based strategy game by developer PaintBucket Games, the player controls a German citizen during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. As the Nazis spread their evil throughout the region and the world, the player’s randomized character leads a German resistance. The player’s responsibility is to recruit allies, gain followers, collect donations, and take action against the evil Nazi government while avoiding detection. The game is as intense, depressing, and riveting as it sounds.
Building a resistance from scratch isn’t easy. As Germany’s democratic institutions crumble beneath Hitler’s authoritarian heel, players must approach their managerial duty as head of a rebel group with great care. Every potential ally has their own various strengths, weaknesses, and political factions. Whether they be catholic conservatives, liberals, democrat socialists, or communists, the player’s fellow resisters need to cooperate despite embodying different ideologies. Characters with polar viewpoints fight regularly to the point that some party members forget the big “must unite to fight the Nazis” picture and leave the group. These volatile scenarios must be treated with a deft hand in order to ensure the group’s survival.
Maintaining a party with a diverse background is the key to success in Through The Darkest Of Times. Missions often require party members with specific attributes. For example: a communist is better equipped to appeal to a union of workers than an anarchist and a Christian liberal can raise donations at a wedding better than a socialist. While recruiting members from a variety of different backgrounds can raise the tension, being able to manage these randomized characters adds to the game’s good strategy elements.
Of course, your recruits need to do more than just raise money and increase supporters. Seeing as this is Nazi Germany, some missions are more perilous. Whether it’s hiding people, sending details to foreign powers, or stealing weapons and equipment from the German army, there are an abundance of missions to choose from. These missions, however, contain a higher risk of being seen by suspicious folks or the police. If a character receives too much heat, they will be arrested by the Gestapo.
This adds an undercurrent of suspense to Through The Darkest Of Times. Even though the gameplay is simplistic and controlled via the click of a mouse, Through The Darkest Of Times requires the player to contemplate every decision they make. Despite how it’s morally imperative to help the Jews and defeat the Nazis, there simply isn’t enough time or resources to be able to accomplish every mission. The Nazis are evil and tenacious, infecting their evil across every sliver of society, and there is only so much the player and their ragtag crew can do without getting caught. In this regard, Through The Darkest Of Times is a fittingly agonizing experience in the best way and highlights the title’s strong strategy elements.
The tense gameplay compliments the somber story. Conveyed through still images in a Schindlers List style black and white, Through The Darkest Of Times grounds the player in this horrific yet depressingly relatable world through its narrative. Through the eyes of the protagonist we witness key historical events like the burning of the Reichstag, the 1936 Olympics, and wartime Germany. In these cutscenes, the player chooses some dialogue options that allows the player to interact and have some control over the sequence of events, but whatever the player decides, the game hammers home that the normalization of evil incarnate and human cruelty isn’t normal. These scenes are the best part of the game, and despite being depressing, they are important for remembering the human cost the Nazis inflicted upon the world.
Admittedly, Through The Darkest Of Times is an imperfect experience. Some of the strategy elements are confusing. Many missions require specific items in order to access them, but this is a problem due to how Through The Darkest Of Times often doesn’t explicitly state how to retrieve the objects necessary to the mission. The title can be incredibly frustrating and the English mistranslations (Paintbucket Games are a German development team) only hamper the game further.
The poor replay value is another issue. Through The Darkest Of Times contains two ways to play the game: story mode and resistance mode. The story mode is essentially an “easy mode” that allows the player to focus on the story, and resistance mode enhances the difficulty to where party members are more likely to leave the resistance group and missions can’t be accomplished without gaining some heat. This, however, leads to the problem of replayability. While having more difficulty modes is always a good thing, Through The Darkest Of Times carries so many lengthy cutscenes that it breaks up the flow of gameplay, and even though the story is great, the narrative’s surprises only shocked me the first time around. On my second playthrough, I just wanted to get back to building my resistance; nevermind how good the story is.
With that said, Through The Darkest Of Times is a damn good anti fascist strategy game. Even though the title stumbles a bit in terms of its slapdash menu organization and replay value, Through The Darkest Of Times weaves a sad tale of a world that has gone cruel, and how we must fight back; no matter the cost. In this regard, Through The Darkest Of Times hits incredibly close to home. As fascism spreads across America and the world, our actions, no matter how small, matter, and like Nazi Germany, the world will one day look back at this pivotal turning point of history and judge us. Will we allow this fascist infection to spread, or will we resist to our final breath? The choice is ours.