WTF Atlus? “Fight the secret battles of WWII as you undertake the ultimate mission- assassinate Adolf Hitler! Confront Nazis, vampires, zombies and the most unspeakable horrors mankind has ever known.” Wow that sounds cool. Doesn’t it? Yeah!…. Well take all the cool stuff you’re imagining, and save it for a game that doesn’t suck.
The game starts with two friends (back story irrelevant and forgetful) fighting in North Africa during WWII. After the main character is shot, another unit happens on the two as the one bleeds out fluids and terrible death rhetoric while the other begs for helps and reassures his friend with equally terrible reassurance rhetoric. Luckily the leader of this platoon volunteers for a blood transfusion which saves the boy’s life and then recruits the two junior officers into his platoon the “Wolf Pack”. The story that follows is typical Atlus “Huh?” and can be as easily ignored, which will save you the headache. Unluckily, the story and game must continue.
One of the biggest problems about this game is the fact that the camera is so sensitive and unwieldy that it will give you vertigo more often than it will help you actually locate the enemy. Which is strange, because they have big floating orange banners over their heads that say “E” and you can use your triggers to jump between them? When a camera can defeat both big landmarks and easy button toggling in a strategy game, then you know you’re in for a real treat. But it doesn’t stop there. Just figuring out where to move becomes a practice in patience as you wrestle between a terrible birds-eye view and trying to see a unit through an obscuring bush, not that the graphics lend to being able to define anything. It’s a wonder they went to war when they had to get there by means of this navigation.
Blurred and barren landscapes make up most of the environments with some block like building-overrun city levels thrown in to really irk you. The character models move awkwardly and appear almost indecisive as they rotate one way then the other before suddenly aiming and firing. The best graphics of the game are 2d character image pop-ups that substitute cut scenes for scrolling text and cheesy poses. Even these need work however as best exemplified by Keith Miller. He always seems to be carrying a gun in his hands, even when just inviting the boys for a drink, and looks randomly constipated in the middle of a conversation as the different stills slide in from out of frame.
He, like everyone else as well, is also guilty of some of the worst voice acting ever put in a game. The overly generic accents will have you wondering if the whole game isn’t just meant to be some sort of joke being played on you by Atlus. It’s almost insulting to listen to the girl with the cartoon like Irish accent talk about seeing the IRA fighting in her back yard, the boy with the pretentious Oxford accent talking about how the “Damn Krauts” killed his parents and sister in the bombing over London, or the man with the Scottish broach so thick he has to be wearing a kilt just off screen. It’s just ridiculous and annoying.
As lame, annoying, insulting and inane as everything in this game is, none of it will enrage you more than character death. You aren’t actually told what you will be up against, be it troops or monsters or tanks, until you have already equipped your characters and chosen who you want to take into battle. The terms for victory and defeat are stated just before the battle starts and are usually just to destroy the enemy units and not let any of your eight main characters die. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. The battles can take as much as an hour to complete at times with no save points. This means that if you use up the five med kits you may have equipped (which aren’t unreasonable given the length of battle and number of enemies) and then someone hits you, it’s over.
In each battle you will face live troops and usually a couple tanks. After killing enough of them, random reinforcements appear from the edges of the map. But don’t think victory is yours just yet. Once these troops are defeated, dark magic rings raise the fallen enemies creating a flood of zombies. But wait; kill off the zombies and here come the Nazi vampires! Again, with no check points through any of it. Making it through a battle is never satisfying because you’re left feeling tired and annoyed. And it gets better.
Later in the game, a new character joins the unit with ability to resurrect comrades. However, resurrection must occur before the battle is over or the fallen characters are gone forever. So, if you are unable to perform the resurrection, a character you have been leveling up and giving equipment to the entire game is just gone and replaced by some low level John Doe. Even the character with the ability to raise others can be eliminated from the game! Ninja Gaiden doesn’t even induce the same kind of aggravation and sheer frustration as this game does.
This turn-based strategy RPG does some things right though. The leveling up process works because it follows classic RPG leveling rules. Experience is gained from hits and kills with more points for killing higher level and multiple enemies. Higher rank leads to strengthening characters ’specializations such as sniping and magic, and developing new skills. Also, the better you do in battle, the more “kill points” you receive which can be spent on weapons and power-ups. Leveling of course helps in battle because it allows you a bit more strategy when it comes to movement and attacking. A decent cover system helps you buy time as you decide how to plan your attack. It always helps too to be camped by a dead body because you can loot them for Nazi appropriate Lugers and other weapons and power-ups that you can keep after the battle if you don’t use them. Sadly, that really is all the good that can be said about this game.
It’s hard to believe that anyone could like this game; even the most hard-core strategy game fan would have a hard time actually enjoying Operation Darkness. Between the horrific camera and the absolutely infuriating battle deaths it is a wonder that this game was ever allowed to be put on the shelves. It’s just a bad game that will leave a bitter taste in your mouth and dent in your wallet that will be felt every time you reach in to purchase a game actually worth buying.