Through the Darkest of Times succeeds in these moments. Developer Paintbucket Games excels at telling the human stories of life under devastating oppression. The game’s at-times-jazzy, at-times-eerie score, red-white-and-black colour palette, and staccato dialogue combine to create a tense and unsettling world. The game uses touchstone phrases like “drain the swamp” and “fake news” to draw parallels between Nazi Germany and Trump’s America, but it doesn’t need to. Through the Darkest of Times brilliantly captures the queasy hopelessness that comes with the dawning realisation that the people you care about may proudly support naked cruelty.
The problem is, Through the Darkest of Times is being marketed as a strategy game. And for roughly half of its ten-hour campaign, it is. But, at least on the less challenging of the two difficulty settings it offers, succeeding in this aspect requires little thought. As the leader of a resistance group, you recruit new members, maintain morale, and manage finances. You accomplish this by selecting activities for each party member to perform. Some, like asking for donations, bring in money. Others, like buying red paint to scrawl anti-Reich graffiti, take it away. Each mission carries a degree of risk which can be ameliorated by assigning party members with certain skills or equipping helpful items, like a stolen SA uniform or a fake passport.
All of this, conceptually, is interesting. In practice, it feels simple after a few hours of play. I never worried that I might fail, and I only dipped into the red once. Again, I’ve only dabbled with the harder difficulty, dubbed ‘Resistance Mode,’ but in ‘Story Mode’ the strategy bits felt like a boring distraction from the game’s gripping, visual novel narrative. Through the Darkest of Times may have been more compelling as a purely narrative-driven experience. Despite some sleepy strategy sections, Paintbucket does an excellent job of connecting the authoritarianism of the past to the authoritarianism of the present.
Through the Darkest of Times smartly captures the numb fear and near-hopelessness of life under tyranny. Though we, as the player, know that Hitler will eventually fall, struggling through a virtual decade of resistance makes the inevitable seem almost impossible.
Through the Darkest of Times is rarely compelling as a strategy game, but its narrative of resistance in Nazi Germany is frequently gripping.
Genre: Strategy / Visual novel | Format: PC (tested) / Mac | Developer: Paintbucket Games | Publisher: HandyGames | Price: £13.49 | Release: Out now