Will you fight for the right side of history?
World War II is a part of history most of us are familiar with to some degree. Most WWII history buffs can tell you, in detail, about certain battles, the technology available, and even Hitler’s medical information down to the pills he regularly consumed. The opposing factions and their clashes often get the spotlight of docuseries and documentaries; this goes doubly so for Americans, who hear on repeat how much the former isolationist nation saved the day. The military narrative is the one heard most regularly — guns and bravado blazing, it seems the story we’ll always hear is the one where the Allies arrive to take on the Axis and save the day.
Of course, there’s far more to the story, but rarely does that excite the box office. What about the lives of everyday Germans living during the war? What lead to the war in the first place? Were there any resistance movements among the people? What did they do? What were their lives like? How did they cope? How did they live?
How did they feel?
It’s the road less traveled that Through The Darkest Of Times takes — a perspective rarely at the forefront of WWII narratives — and it’s this story that will transport players to the heart of it all, living through Nazi-occupied Germany from 1933 – 1946.
Through The Darkest Of Times is described by the developer as “a historical resistance strategy game taking place in Berlin during the Third Reich.” Available on Steam, Through The Darkest Of Times has already been nominated for many awards by organizations like Gamescom and Dokville. Its sobering story-telling and meaningful mechanics provide the player with a real insight to what it felt like to be a resistance fighter during Nazi-occupied Germany, and the result is a grim yet hopeful masterpiece surrounding the lives of those who dared oppose evil.
Through The Darkest Of Times begins in the year 1933, when Hitler is appointed as Chancellor, and ends a year after the war is over in 1946. It follows you and your small resistance group through those 13 years of suffering that starts hopeful for some but ultimately devastating for all. Separated into several chapters, such as initial inauguration, the Olympics, war, and the final blow, players get a real sense of the long progression Germany experienced from budding tension to absolute destruction. Along the way, players will meet people from all walks of life; from different political parties and occupations to different religions like Christianity and Judaism, there are all kinds in Through The Darkest Of Times, and the beliefs presented within will be met with agreement, anger, sadness, or shock.
Players start with the ability to customize their character and must enlist the help of others to join their group. With up to five possible group members, it’s critical to choose people wisely and have a wide variety on your team; traits like empathy, literacy, strength, and sneak can be leveled up over time, while other traits such as religious background or occupation will come in handy for certain missions.
What are those missions, you may ask? In Through The Darkest Of Times, resistance missions are more oblique than those with military might. Instead of storming the beaches, you’re stealing supplies, passing out leaflets, and stopping young men from joining Hitler youth. Play your cards right and you’ll be able to do exciting things like blow up key Nazi buildings, but be careful — if you’re seen, you risk being jailed… or worse.
The strategy aspect in Through The Darkest Of Times is primarily focused on each mission, with all missions taking a week to accomplish. Some will require only one person to fulfill, while others will need an entourage. It’s here where traits will come in handy; for example, when asking for donations from a warehouse full of workers, it’s better to send someone who is part of the working class. When headed to the local Christian church to ask for more supporters, only a fellow Christian is going to get the results necessary. Sending the right people to each mission will ensure preparation is high and risk is low — it’s in your best interest if you’re not seen.
Of course, if you are seen, there’s another aspect to the gameplay. If someone gets suspicious, you can just wait around until their suspicions die down. If a witness realizes what’s happening, you can hide until they pass. If the police or the SS show up, well… unless you’re ready to stand and fight with some stolen weapons, it’s best to just make a run for it. You can hide out in a different part of town if you make it out of there alive and just try again next time.
As the weeks go by, your group discusses all that has happened during this time. Through The Darkest Of Times takes real-life experiences from the people of Berlin during the 1930s and 1940s, detailing entirely plausible events that happened to the average citizen given their respective backgrounds. In one scene, a fellow fighter’s father was arrested for being a communist, ruing the fact that we didn’t have enough money to provide a lawyer for him. My first character was a Jew, so in the second act she was given a new name to hide out from the Nazis. Another group member’s very young brother was taken from their home and forced to fight on the Eastern front, never to be heard from again. At one point I actually loaded up an old save when my right-hand man was dragged from his home in the middle of the night and taken to prison. Every week is another devastating blow to the people of Germany, and the fatigue you feel from their experiences is palpable.
Perhaps more bone-chilling are the events that transpire around your group — after all, there’s a world going on outside your hideout. One in particular that stays with me are about two families — one Jewish, one German — with two young boys the same age as each other. At first, they’re school age, not much older than five, but as time goes on, we see their paths split ways from childlike innocence to something else entirely. The German boy, much to the chagrin of his parents, had become completely indoctrinated by the Hitler Youth movement and adopted all the anti-Jewish beliefs force-fed into their skulls, while the Jewish boy was merely hoping to see another day. Their relationship went from hardly noticeable to the German boy barring the Jewish boy’s entry into a bunker one night as Berlin was bombed by the Allies. The boys had grown up together and had played together, but it didn’t matter — he was Jewish, so the German boy was okay letting him die. I made sure my character forced the door open to let them in, but it only prolonged the inevitable, as the German boy later reported the Jews to authorities and they were carted off to a concentration camp.
I get goosebumps, even now, as I think of how the game let me follow them to the railways to say my goodbyes.
If I had one complaint, it’s only one, and that’s that the missions aren’t really well-defined at any point in the game, and seeing how all of them interweave is a bit of trial and error. It wasn’t until the third chapter that I finally understood how all of the missions on the map work — finish one, unlock another, get the penultimate mission of stealing uniforms which will allow you to complete more missions, etc. — and by that point I wondered why I was even fighting anymore. What could I do that would change the course of history? We were just five people, what kind of effect could we possibly have? Hitler had brought Germany to its knees and still we fought. Why was I doing any of this?
Just as I was thinking this, my character got a knock on her door. It was the German family with the young boy. Now a soldier on the front lines, he had deserted his post and would face certain death if he was caught. His mother, now a widow, pleaded with me to keep him safe — the same boy that had gotten a good family killed. What was I to do?
I’m human, not a monster. I hid him, finding him a safehouse among friends. The blood of that family was on his hands, but the blood of that boy would not be on mine.
It was then that I realized why I was a part of the resistance. I wasn’t going to stop the war — no single human would be able to at that point — but I was affecting the lives of individual humans and helping them as best I could. Providing food to the hungry, hope to the hopeless, banned books to those who still believed, and a safe place to those in need. If I could save even one life, I made an impact, and I know that that’s what other freedom fighters felt as well. It’s this feeling that Through The Darkest Of Times conveys more powerfully than any other WWII game — the feeling of desperation, knowing that one person cannot overpower an army, but can still make a difference that absolutely counts.
It’s my firm belief that everyone should play Through The Darkest Of Times. Not just the WWII fans, not just the history buffs, not just the strategy game enthusiasts — everyone. The lessons taught in Through The Darkest Of Times are incredibly important and show that the progression of a normal society into evil is a long and subtle journey that challenges the average citizen’s view of what’s appropriate. Additionally, it shows that it doesn’t take much to do the right thing, and even the smallest actions will help others immensely. Through The Darkest Of Times is a must-play title that will absolutely blow you away, leaving you with mixed emotions of despair and hope that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: HandyGames; Developer: Paintbucket Games; Players: 1; Released: January 30, 2020; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Through the Darkest of Times given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.