Defend the honor of the Garry Owen boys in "Darkest of Days" (see the Last Stand below... and ignore the fact that the Custer Country is mixed up with Switzerland!)
LAST STAND IN PIXELS
Alexander Morris was part of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry fighting under General Custer, and was present at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Morris was considerably more fortunate than many of his compatriots. Instead of dying, he went missing-in-action. Alexander was plucked from battle to travel through time and space.
The opening of Darkest of Days has players battling, as Morris, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Not only will you see other cavalry soldiers fall, but the death of Custer himself, before you take an arrow to the femoral artery. The wound should have been fatal, but moments before bleeding out, a man in a futuristic suit pops out of a glowing blue sphere to recruit Morris to become a time agent. By recruiting only those about to die, the time agents hope to avoid influencing the timeline, recruiting members to protect time from those who would tamper with it.
Another group is busy changing the past, so Morris is sent to historical battles and catastrophes to prevent changes. Mysteriously, people are dying who should have survived. Those people are marked by Morris' futuristic gear with an aura, and must be protected. Even if they fight on the opposite side of a battle, they must be taken out of action – without the use of lethal force. Change the timeline yourself, and you risk being sent back to rectify your own mistakes, or even being located by enemy time agents and forced to engage foes equipped with futuristic weaponry.
Darkest of Days is concerned with historical accuracy, so when Morris travels in time, those locations have been carefully researched, with the developers promising accurate terrain and historical participants. Morris will go as far back as Pompeii in the midst of the volcanic eruption of the year 79. He'll fight on both sides of the Battle of Antietam in 1862, in the midst of the American Civil War. He'll fight in the Battle of Tannenberg on World War I's Russian front. He'll even escape from a World War II German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941, then go back to plot his own escape (in a less-comedic Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure-style jailbreak).
To capture the feeling of these historic and historical battles, developer 8monkey Labs built its own game engine, designed for large-scale, wide-open conflicts. The engine claims to be able to support in battle 300 combatants, each with its own AI decision-making. And as I saw, the battlefields are colossal – not constrained as so many seemingly-open arenas are in other games. I saw endless hordes of German soldiers charging the trenches in WWI, and Civil War soldiers flowing back and forth across the cornfields of the Battle of Antietam. Soldiers seemed to exploit weak points, and through the actions of the player could be turned back such that allies would follow a counter-charge.
The engine looked good when surveying vast crowds fighting from afar. There's still time before release, but this did seem to come at the expense of close-up detail, with facial and body animations still slightly clunky. But what really captured my attention was the ability to pursue different paths during battle. From the preview, it looks like one could use futuristic armaments to simply clear the battlefield or stick to authentic weaponry to remain inconspicuous. Likewise, one could plunge forward, rushing to complete objectives, or take the time to support existing troops and advance slowly with an entire army at your back.
Darkest of Days has tremendous potential to deliver on wide-open historical battlefields, especially if the game can deliver on Phantom EFX's promise of a "time travel game done right."