For many years, the German government has banned the use of swastikas in video games. Although the Nazi symbol is permitted in books, movies, and TV documentaries, it is banned from use in-person, and on toys and games. But Through the Darkest of Times from Berlin-based Paintbucket Games is the first game in Germany that will be allowed to show the swastika.
German censors made the allowance because the game takes a historically realistic, serious approach to Nazism, from the appointment of Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor in 1933, to the end of World War II. This is not the kind of game in which Nazis make for easy enemies, just waiting to be mown down in a hail of righteous gunfire. The player has very little power.
It’s a streamlined strategy game, with heavy narrative elements and a sharp, minimalist art style. In Through the Darkest of Times, I take on the role of a person who is unhappy about the Nazis. I have various statistical abilities, such as an ability to spread propaganda, or to evade the Gestapo, or to keep my cool during a crisis. I recruit a small group of volunteers.
As the game progresses, I take on various missions, such as daubing graffiti, infiltrating universities, helping political prisoners escape, or sabotaging Nazi events. It’s a permadeath game, in which I send my best people to undertake a job, aiding them with stat-boosting items that I collect. Sometimes, my guys are killed. If I’m killed, the game ends.
I must also navigate dialogue and action-trees, deciding the best way forward. In one scene, Nazis are beating an old Jewish man. Do I place myself in danger by intervening, or do I walk on by? If I am captured, I can try to sweet-talk the Nazis into letting me go, though this becomes much more difficult if I’m jailed for a second or third time.
On its first play, Through the Darkest of Times does not attempt to rewrite history. The victory condition is surviving Nazi Germany up to 1945. Subsequent play-throughs do allow for alternative historical outcomes.
The game has a serious, downbeat This War of Mine-style feel to it, as well as the moral complexity of Papers, Please, in which there are no easy choices, only difficult ones. It’s a lesson that violent, dictatorial regimes are difficult to dislodge and dangerous to navigate for those who strive for a better world.
Through the Darkest of Times is being published by THQ Nordic’s indie label HandyGames and will be released next year for Windows PC.