If you’re a person trying to resist Nazi juggernaut in 1930s Germany, your best way of doing things isn’t clear at all; indeed, everything you do can often feel pointless. There were so many moments during Through the Darkest of Times that I wondered if I was doing the right thing or if something I was doing could even make a difference. Often I didn’t know what to say. All I remember was that I had to keep fighting, survive, resist, and hope it would be enough. This is our Through The Darkest Of Times Review.
Through The Darkest Of Times Review: About
- Platform: Android, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS
- Developer: Paintbucket Games
- Publisher: HandyGames
- Genres: Strategy game
- Release Date: January 30, 2020
Through The Darkest Of Times Review: Official Trailer Video
Through The Darkest Of Times Review: Gameplay
Billed as a historical resistance strategy game, Through the Darkest of Times resembles a narrative board game as you lead a group of as many as five freedom fighters against the Reich. The story begins in 1933 when Hitler’s appointment as chancellor confirms the Nazi party’s seizure of power. The four-company structure jumps forward to 1936 and the Berlin Olympics, to the occupation of France and the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and the final months of the war, before a brief epilogue in 1946, a year after the allied victory.
Every turn you play your hand, as it were, and assign resistance members to carry out missions on a map of Berlin. After the end of a turn, you see the results come in: Charlotte was able to have those folders printed; Arthur has collected donations from the factory, but may have been noticed by authorities; Gerhard was arrested while painting slogans on the campus walls. You manage assets and resources – we need two people for this job, a truck, and some explosives for that job – and getting the logistics in order becomes the primary focus.
Strategic decisions are forced by scarcity. A limit of 20 strokes is applied during each act, which is not nearly enough time to complete every available mission. Large missions often also have sufficient conditions. In the end, if you want to take a group of prisoners out of a torture camp, you need a pair of uniforms with a brown shirt, and to get them, you must do a reconnaissance mission first. Always the pressure is to stop and think about what you realistically have the time and resources to achieve.
If you throw a spanner in the works, specific actions can also trigger new missions that may only be available for several turns. Can you afford to spare someone to tackle a side mission without disturbing your main goal? Meanwhile, you now have little money to get those books printed, so Angelika will probably have to ignore that meeting with a British secret service contact and instead try to steal new funds from the SA, the Nazi militia. The decisions pile up quickly throughout 20 turns, adding to the fear that there aren’t enough turns to get something done.
Away from the dry mechanics of the strategic layer, it was during these storytelling interludes that I made real contact with the plight of the German people. One day, Rosalinde discovered that her brother had joined the SA. She was despondent; however, I was able to encourage her to take advantage of this and get information from him. A few time later, she raised fears that her brother now anticipated her of being a member of the resistance, and I had a choice: to tell her to leave the group for her safety or to force her to stay. The brother had inadvertently given us valuable information, but I had started to take care of Rosalinde and could not bear the thought of her being discovered. I reluctantly asked her to leave.
On a second playthrough, I decided to drive a ruthless ship, being the type of revolutionary who wouldn’t stop for anything. So when Lotte told me she was pregnant and wanted to leave to protect her child, I demanded that she stay with us. Morale in the team plummeted, and one day Lotte didn’t show up for the resistance meeting. Later I discovered that she had lost her baby and fled. It stung, of course, although I could coldly describe her exit as a betrayal of the cause, credit to the flexibility of the dialogue choices offered during these scenarios.
The tone is bleak, as you’d have expected, almost grim in its horror. A trip to a nearby camp where the Nazis rounded up the Roma people of Berlin is harsh, especially when you see children separated from their parents by brown shirts and taken away for medical reasons. I met a Russian lady who had escaped a bloodbath on the Eastern Front and came to Berlin. She told me about the scorched earth approach of the German army in the east, about the mass graves and hangings of Russian civilians. It was heartbreaking and sometimes almost too much to deal with.
Still, there is some respite. Angelika is married, and we enjoyed a party in the park. We managed to track down Monica’s abducted husband and reunite her family. Even as I fled to a train station to take shelter from an air raid, I was able to stop and help a Jewish man try to hide the star on his coat that would prevent him from accessing the hideout. Such moments of community, kindness, hope that there is still something worth fighting for have permeated all over the Darkest of Times and seem to appear just as the desperation of the strategic layer has hit me at my lowest level.
The two aspects of the game can be better integrated. The narrative scenes are realized despite the minimal presentation, often moving and filled with weight-bearing choices that can be felt weeks and sometimes years later. But beyond the story’s interludes, there is a frustrating lack of specificity. You distribute “leaflets” and paint “slogans” and smuggle “books” and retrieve “information,” but none are described in detail. On the strategic side, the content is void; the components are reduced to mechanical symbols.
Through the Darkest of Times review paints what seems like an accurate portrait of life in the era of Nazi Germany. Picking significant events like the Reichstag Fire or the opening ceremony of the Olympics puts you on stage convincingly. It puts you in the shoes of an ordinary German trying to get a handle on how one person – or even five people – can react in the presence of evil. It shows everyday life and ordinary people, both those who are seduced by ideology and those who find the strength to resist.