Operation Darkness Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

Operation Darkness Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

Did You Say Zombie Nazis?

Sometimes you go for broke; sometimes you head so far in an absurd direction that – instead of the sheer randomness of your ideas scaring others away – they end up being your saving grace. From obscure developer Success, Operation Darkness takes a niche genre – the tactical RPG – and not only proceeds to stand it on its head, it then spins that head around a few times.

Operation Darkness screenshot

The game is set during World War II but with an alternate history twist. Playing off Hitler’s fascination with the occult, it pits a special unit against an army of Nazis – undead Nazis. Yep, the game has werewolves, zombies, and even vampires. The World War II market may be overcrowded, but Operation Darkness has definitely carved out its own home. Seriously, can you name one other game where a werewolf can lob a grenade at a vampire SS officer?

Sure, this plot may be off-the-wall, but it comes off as so silly it’s actually fun to see it unfold. Paired with some solid RPG mechanics, the game has a lot going for it. Plus, the number of tactical RPG games is few-and-far-between. Aside from the portable offerings of the Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars series, there really isn’t much out there in the strategy gaming landscape. When you throw in the fact that Operation Darkness is on the 360, the game has a very small potential audience. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see it falter in such major ways. The game may have an original story and great tactical gameplay, but it’s all marred by a horrid camera system, last-gen-like graphics, and a steep learning curve.

Beginnings can be deceptive and this is the case for Operation Darkness. As a series of black-and-white news footage plays, a narrator gives you a very generic overview of World War II – nothing beyond the familiar Axis vs. Allies material most with a public education already know. Thrown into his first battle with a British unit, the main character (Edward) is wounded in battle and taken to a military hospital. He learns that his gunshot wound healed in just a couple of days. Not only are the doctors amazed with his recovery, so is a special unit known as K Company, the Wolf Pack. Edward is asked to join them and in the missions that follow he learns the unit is made up of people with supernatural abilities (that range anywhere from werewolf transformation to spells). The group has one simple objective: stop Hitler’s group of occult super-Nazis made up of legions of the undead.

Operation Darkness screenshot

Since Operation Darkness is a strategy-RPG, it utilizes a grid-based system for battles. Each character has a certain number of spaces they can move per turn. Attacks are based on hit chance and potential power – the closer you are to the enemy the better chance of getting a direct hit and dealing maximum damage. However, you have to be careful for line of sight. If there is any object between you and the enemy – whether it be a tree, car, or building – then an attack can’t be carried out. Besides the generic attack command, anyone on your team can use cover tactics. The two that help the most are Cover Attack and Cover Ambush. The former attacks any enemy who steps within a set perimeter – allowing you to attack from a longer range. The latter follows a similar rule set, but allows you to attack more frequently (at a damage discount). These cover tactics allow you to attack more than once per turn, provided enemies step within your set perimeter.

It’s too bad the game doesn’t go to sufficient lengths to explain the basic battle tactics. Instead of including an in-depth tutorial, developer Success opted for a strange approach. The first time you select a command, you’re given a very brief overview of what it does and then you can never call it up again. Didn’t completely understand cover attack? Too bad – the game isn’t going to hold your hand. Also, it will violate its own rules. For example, line of sight is needed for nearly every attack, so the computer is quite picky about the targets you choose. If you position yourself on a hill and there’s a direct line to the enemy, sometimes the computer will claim there’s a zero percent chance of a hit and won’t allow you to fire. While you’re being penalized, the computer will violate its own rules for a distinct advantage. On one particular mission, Nazi troopers kept firing through an embankment to hit the Wolf Pack. In a strategy game, rules of engagement are important, so that kind of blatant violation sticks out.

Operation Darkness screenshot

The omission of a tutorial and sometimes inconsistent rule set is problematic, but those two areas pale in comparison to the game’s spastic camera. Most strategy games utilize a top-down view, so you can get a read on the entire field of battle. Operation Darkness has a 3D camera you can swing around, but it never seems to find a comfortable medium. You’re either too close to the action or stuck in a top-down view that doesn’t let you see everything. You can fiddle around, but then the camera gets stuck in the side of buildings or glitches through enemy units. There is one way to get around these issues – the game allows you to use the left and right triggers to select potential targets. It’s a nice feature, but correcting the camera would have been a much better solution.

Operation Darkness takes a trial-by-fire approach to the first section of the game. Before you get to the supernatural bits, the battles you fight have a very strict condition: no one in your party can die. Sure, they’re all story characters so this makes sense, but since there’s eight of them it makes the early battles a tense affair. You can recruit other characters to your unit, but they all start at level one and tend to die off before you can level them. To curb the beginning difficulty, the game allows you to carry over kill points (essentially cash) you earn from each battle (even if you die). You can use kill points in the supply depot to buy new weapons and items, but for some reason you can only buy one of each item at a time. This leaves you to continually hit the A button to buy the same item over and over. Since you’ll visit the supply depot a lot, it becomes a tedious process.

It seems like there’s a laundry list of issues, but much of it is overshadowed by the strategy engine underneath everything. Blowing up a tank with a bazooka is super satisfying, and when you win an hour-long battle there is a true sense of accomplishment.

Operation Darkness screenshot

As you see your characters level, getting new skills (like healing, special attacks, etc.), acquiring powerful weapons, and tapping into their supernatural talents, you just want to keep going one more level forward. If you get stuck, you can always replay non-story missions to build experience.

The inclusion of Xbox LIVE support is a surprising feature. You can play co-op with up to four people online on a small selection of maps. The nice thing is someone who has level 10 characters can play with someone who has characters at level 60. It would have been nice if the developer put in the ability to do player-versus-player matches or play the entire single-player campaign in co-op, but what’s included is welcome.

The easiest way to knock Operation Darkness is to pan the graphics. Sure, the in-game models look a generation behind (almost like an early Xbox game), but the 2D art on display in the story sequences is stylized and detailed. From an audio standpoint, the voice work is well done and most of the backing tracks complement the dramatic tone of the game.

There’s a solid strategy game underneath the absurd story exterior of Operation Darkness; it’s just a question of whether the average gamer will have the patience to tough it out through the difficult beginning to get there. Strategy-RPG fans will ignore the game’s shortcomings and find much to praise, but this isn’t a game that’s going to rope in those who aren’t already fans of the particular genre.

The 2D art is gorgeous, but the in-game character models and maps seem suited for the original Xbox. 3.7 Control
Controlling the camera is a messy process. The supply depot and inventory interfaces are poorly designed, but the sound tactical controls make up for those shortcomings. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Most of the voice work is well done. The score fits the game, but doesn’t really stand out in its own right. 3.8 Play Value
The difficulty and obtuse camera will be enough to drive a lot of players away. However, the solid strategy-RPG engine underlying the lengthy single-player component should garner the game a cult following. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Lead the Offensive! Brave dozens of missions, confront supernatural creatures, and discover mystical powers as you progress through a sweeping campaign of drama and mystery!
  • A Strategy-RPG with an Emphasis on Tactics! With a vast arsenal of historical weapons and a large team of specialized characters at their disposal, players will have to consider every variable as they plan their method of attack – using the environment to your advantage is imperative!
  • High-definition visuals, fully-voiced dialog, and in-game cutscenes deliver a true next-generation experience!
  • History and fantasy collide: Play the hidden battles of WWII as you combat the occult forces of Hitler’s regime, including Nazis, zombies, vampires, and more in this epic alternate WWII strategy-RPG.
  • Engrossing squad-based tactical gameplay: Dig deep into the tactics of weapons and magic, werewolf transformations, and issuing condition-based commands via the cover system.
  • Huge arsenal of weapons and skills: Outfit your team with a huge arsenal of arms, artillery, and magic skills.
  • Xbox LIVE co-op play: Enlist up to three other players in Xbox LIVE multiplayer co-op mode.

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