Share
submit to reddit
Pin it
Darker Skies - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Inspired by H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi novel
  • Levels loop back around to reduce back-tracking
  • The idea behind the one boss encounter
  • No plot twist about dead family or other trauma
  • Goal is ultimately altruistic

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Zombies? Really?!
  • Repetitively simple set pieces
  • Frequent cheap deaths
  • Fighting at close range
  • The actual execution of that one boss encounter
  • Painfully slow walk
  • Rapidly-draining flashlight batteries
  • Character motivation initially unclear

Overall Impression : D+
Poor man's The Last of Us

Darker Skies - cover

Developer:
Steel Arts Software

Platforms:
PlayStation 5 < (via PSN digital download),
XBox Series S | X (via XBox Live digital download),
Nintendo Switch (via Nintendo Shop digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $18 USD

Original release date:
19 August 2021

Genre:
post-apocalyptic sci-fi 3rd-person survival shooter

Player(s):
single player

Play time:
4 hours

ESRB Rating: M (for Mature 17+) for:
Blood, language, violence

Official site:
www.steelartssoftware.com/grey-skies-a-war-of-the-worlds-story-copy

When I booted up my PS5 for the first time and signed into the PSN, I immediately downloaded a few of the must-have games. You know, the Demon's Souls remake, Miles Morales, and Returnal. I also downloaded some other ... shall we say "less high profile" games that piqued my interest, including the [ultimately very impressive] World War II shooter Hell Let Loose and a little indie game that claimed to be a sequel to H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi novel The War of the World, called Darker Skies.

Darker Skies takes place during the aftermath of H.G. Wells' classic novel The War of the Worlds,
but the visual and sound design is clearly pulled from the 2004 Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Cruise.

Budget "Last of Us"

I didn't have high hopes for this budget indie title, but I was curious what a game developer would even do with a property like War of the Worlds. As soon as I saw the first enemy, a zombie shambling around just like a Clicker from The Last of Us, my heart sank. With all the potential of the source material, Steel Arts had to go with a zombie game?! The War of the Worlds is a classic sci-fi novel about a Martian invasion of Earth. My expectation for a video game adaptation of The War of the Worlds would either be some kind of survival horror game about surviving against Martians who survived exposure to Earth's microbes, or an action shooter about humans counter-attacking the Martians on Mars, or something akin to XCOM. It absolutely would not be a total knock off of The Last of Us, right down to having infected zombie humans.

And when I say this is a knock off of The Last of Us, I'm not just talking about the presence of Clicker-like zombies. The protagonist has an X-Ray "focus" vision, he scavenges random supplies in order to craft consumables supplies, and most encounters with enemies are intended to be dealt with by various throwable tools. There's even areas of the map that are overgrown with red Martian tendrils, similar to the spore-infested areas of The Last of Us, except this time around, the character doesn't need a gas mask to get through.

The character can use X-ray vision to detect enemies through walls, but only if they are moving.

The only thing missing is the tag-along NPC child character -- which is a big problem because the interactions between the two characters is a huge part of what makes The Last of Us a great game. That's where the heart and soul of that game was. If you played The Last of Us, and you thought the best thing to emulate is the crafting system, then I feel like maybe you missed the point...

Why am I building a Martian ray gun?

Not only does Darker Skies lack an NPC companion character, but it also lacks any kind of clear motivation for the one playable character. Jack is putting together a salvaged Martian heat ray in order to, presumably, blow up a reinforced door for ... some reason ... which the game doesn't bother to explain until the end credits have literally started rolling. Because Jack's motivation is never explained to the player, the whole proceeding feels pointless. Am I just trying to escape? Is there a stash of gold behind that door? A cache of food or weapons or medicine? Is Jack's family on the other side of that door? Are there survivors trapped inside? Why are we risking our life to assemble a Martian superweapon?! Maybe Jack mumbled some throw-away line to himself about what he's trying to do early in the game, but if so, I completely missed it.

At the risk of spoiling the game (it's not much of a spoiler considering that it's the primary motivation of the protagonist), Jack is simply trying to break open the bunker door so that he can convert it into a shelter for other human survivors. He narrates this over the closing credits, as well as claiming that he has stockpiles of food and water for thousands of people. OK, so it's a noble, altruistic goal. I could have easily seen this degrade into yet another attempt at a crude "psychological horror" twist in which it's revealed that his family has been dead all along, or getting into the bunker will reveal some previously hidden past trauma or some crap like that. Thank goodness that wasn't the case!

The protagonist has established a camp in the sewer, and is assembling a Martian heat ray for ... some reason?

But if the whole point of the game was going to be to try to create a shelter for survivors, then I have another possible inspiration that Steel Arts maybe could have looked at. Perhaps they could have modeled their War of the Worlds sequel after the indie survival / strategy masterpiece This War of Mine. Darker Skies could still be an over-the-shoulder action / adventure / survival game, but instead of just scavenging resources to use as makeshift weapons and tools to fight or evade enemies, the protagonist could have been scavenging for resources to stock his bunker. And maybe he also occasionally finds survivors out in the world, who he has to lead back to the bunker, where they'll be safe.

This would provide a much greater sense of motivation for the player. It also would have allowed the levels to potentially be a bit larger and more open-ended in scope, allowing for more opportunities to explore for additional resources, at the risk of encountering more dangerous foes. But that isn't the game that Steel Arts made, and it might have been well beyond the scope and budget that they had available.

Gameplay loop

The game that Steel Arts did make is incredibly small in scope. Each level is pretty tiny, with a single objective, and only 2 or 3 enemy encounter set pieces between the player and that objective. There's a few tiny tangential rooms here and there to provide opportunities for light exploration, which usually rewards some extra resources and/or experience points for giving Jack new skills (the only of which I found useful was the inventory expansion). But other than that, each level is about 20 minutes of walking through empty hallways, coming to a large arena with 2 or 3 enemies, defeating or sneaking past those enemies, repeat until the end.

After finding the objective, the level loops back around to the beginning, sometimes with one additional enemy encounter as a final obstacle. It's nice that the levels loop around like this, as it spares the player from having to back-track through the empty levels, or to face respawning enemies in the same rooms you'd cleared before. But then again, the levels are so small and so short, that the run back to the beginning would only take a minute anyway, as long as you didn't leave any enemies alive to get in your way.

Unfortunately, these short levels do not make up for their shortness with creative enemy encounters or set pieces. Yes, the encounter design is clearly inspired by The Last of Us, but it's so repetitively designed that it just falls flat. Stand in the doorway to the arena, throw a rock into the middle of the room, wait for all the zombies to wander over to the rock, throw a water jar, then throw a shocker to clear out all the zombies at once. Basically, imagine a version of The Last of Us in which the entire game can be beat with molotov cocktail cheese, and you have Darker Skies.

Almost every encounter can be easily defeated with the same strategy.

There's smoke bombs, flashbangs, and an explosive, but I never once used any of them outside of the one single late-game encounter that required the use of smoke bombs. There was maybe one boss encounter in which, in retrospect, a smoke bomb might have been useful, but that was it.

This game lacks the larger, more complex level designs of The Last of Us, which forced the player to conserve resources, use distractions, and carefully sneak around enemies to either escape or make stealth kills. In fact, Darker Skies doesn't allow stealth takedowns at all. So it doesn't even encourage sneaking through a level in order to conserve supplies. Every encounter seems explicitly designed with the water jar and shocker combo in mind. You don't even have to sneak through the level to find a better vantage point, or to kite enemies from different rooms into a common area in order to attack them all at once. Nope. They whole encounter takes place in a single room, so they can all be resolved without even having to set foot in the room.

By the last level or two, I had over 100 bullets stockpiled, so when I finally started running low on water and shockers, I was easily able to just shoot every enemy in my way. Gunplay is incredibly shallow. Enemies sprint straight at the player, making them relatively easy to hit once you learn to compensate for the high recoil of the handgun. As long as I left enough space between me and the enemy before firing the first shot, it was easy to down them before they reached me.

If an enemy does reach you before you can kill it, you might as well just let it kill you and restart from the last checkpoint. There's no melee attack whatsoever, as far as I could find. Once the enemy is in range to hit you, most of them just flail their arms wildly, constantly draining your health until you keel over and die. This is why the health upgrade did not seem particularly useful, as getting hit by an enemy usually just meant death anyway. It's pretty bad.

Gun recoil takes a little getting used to.

The only real shake-up from this tedious gameplay is a couple short and simple stealth-only encounters in the last level, and the game's single boss encounter. That boss encounter is, admittedly, pretty neat and comes as a bit of a surprise. It makes for a memorable visual, and the sound effects in this boss fight are pretty cool too. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay for this encounter isn't all that great. It's a hide-and-seek encounter, in which you have to move from cover to cover to running between a stash of mortar rounds in the center of the level, and taking them to the various mortar launchers scattered around the level to actually attack the enemy. This would be fine, if not for the second phase, which spawns in mobs of other enemies which bum rush the player and are just a pain in the ass to deal with.

Definitely doesn't live up to its literary inspiration

Even though the design of Darker Skies isn't particularly good, I do want to give Steel Arts credit for the technical side of things. I didn't run into any major bugs during my playthrough. The only recurring issue I had on PS5 was that sometimes Jack wouldn't pick up supplies off the ground unless I crouched right next to it. Other than that, character models and animations look fine, even if they are a bit stiff and robotic. The environments look OK, even if a bit too dark and murky. There's a flashlight in the game, but it's battery drains so unbelievably fast that it's not really viable to use. But it really isn't necessary, since even in the dimly-lit environments, collectibles glow anyway, so I never missed anything in the darkness.

I can't really recommend Darker Skies. I've certainly played worse indie games in my days, so I wont tell you not to play it either. Darker Skies isn't un-playably awful; it's just thoroughly mediocre.

Apparently this same developer also made a game called Gray Skies: A War of the Worlds Story, which takes place during the actual war. That one sounds like it could be a more engaging game, but after playing Darker Skies, I don't feel particularly inclined to try Gray Skies.

Other Game Reviews I've Published

>Observer_>Observer_12 Minutes12 Minutes
35mm35mmAce Combat 7Ace Combat 7
ADR1FTADR1FTAlan WakeAlan Wake
Alan Wake 2Alan Wake 2Alien: IsolationAlien: Isolation
Alone In The DarkAlone In The DarkAmnesia: a Machine for PigsAmnesia: a Machine for Pigs
Amnesia: RebirthAmnesia: RebirthAmnesia: The BunkerAmnesia: The Bunker
Amnesia: the Dark DescentAmnesia: the Dark DescentAmong the SleepAmong the Sleep
Assassin's Creed IIIAssassin's Creed IIIAssassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin's Creed: OriginsAssassin's Creed: OriginsAssassin's Creed: ValhallaAssassin's Creed: Valhalla
Atomic SocietyAtomic SocietyAxis Football 18Axis Football 18
Axis Football 2019Axis Football 2019Axis Football 2020Axis Football 2020
Axis Football 2021Axis Football 2021Axis Football 2023Axis Football 2023
Axis Football 2024Axis Football 2024Back to the Future Episode OneBack to the Future Episode One
Backbreaker FootballBackbreaker FootballBanishedBanished
Batman: Arkham CityBatman: Arkham CityBattlefield 1Battlefield 1
Blair WitchBlair WitchBloodborneBloodborne
Bloodborne: the Old HuntersBloodborne: the Old HuntersCall of Duty World War IICall of Duty World War II
CatherineCatherineCities SkylinesCities Skylines
Cities Skylines IICities Skylines IICities Skylines: After DarkCities Skylines: After Dark
Cities Skylines: AirportsCities Skylines: AirportsCities Skylines: CampusCities Skylines: Campus
Cities Skylines: Financial Districts + World TourCities Skylines: Financial Districts + World TourCities Skylines: Green CitiesCities Skylines: Green Cities
Cities Skylines: Hotels & RetreatsCities Skylines: Hotels & RetreatsCities Skylines: IndustriesCities Skylines: Industries
Cities Skylines: Mass TransitCities Skylines: Mass TransitCities Skylines: Natural DisastersCities Skylines: Natural Disasters
Cities Skylines: ParklifeCities Skylines: ParklifeCities Skylines: Plazas & PromenadesCities Skylines: Plazas & Promenades
Cities Skylines: SnowfallCities Skylines: SnowfallCities Skylines: Sunset HarborCities Skylines: Sunset Harbor
Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4Cities: Skylines: Match Day & ver. 1.4CitiesXL & Cities XXLCitiesXL & Cities XXL
ControlControlCrusader Kings IIICrusader Kings III
Dark SoulsDark SoulsDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLCDark Souls Artorias of the Abyss DLC
Dark Souls IIDark Souls IIDark Souls II: Scholar of the First SinDark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Dark Souls IIIDark Souls IIIDark Souls III: Ashes of AriandelDark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel
Dark Souls III: the Ringed CityDark Souls III: the Ringed CityDarker SkiesDarker Skies
Dawn of ManDawn of ManDead Space (2023)Dead Space (2023)
Dead Space 2Dead Space 2Death StrandingDeath Stranding
Death's GambitDeath's GambitDeliver Us The MoonDeliver Us The Moon
Demon's SoulsDemon's SoulsDemon's Souls (PS5)Demon's Souls (PS5)
DepravedDepravedDeracineDeracine
Devil May Cry 5Devil May Cry 5Disco ElysiumDisco Elysium
DmC (Devil May Cry)DmC (Devil May Cry)DOOM (2016)DOOM (2016)
DreadOutDreadOutElden RingElden Ring
Endling: Extinction Is ForeverEndling: Extinction Is ForeverEvent [0]Event [0]
F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)F.T.L. (Faster Than Light)Fallout 4Fallout 4
Fallout ShelterFallout ShelterFar Cry PrimalFar Cry Primal
Final Fantasy VII RemakeFinal Fantasy VII RemakeFinal Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy XVFirewatchFirewatch
Five Nights at Freddy'sFive Nights at Freddy'sGame of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)Game of Thrones (Telltale series 1-2)
Ghost of TsushimaGhost of TsushimaGod of War (2018)God of War (2018)
God of War IIIGod of War IIIGone HomeGone Home
Gran Turismo 7Gran Turismo 7Grand Theft Auto VGrand Theft Auto V
Green Hell VRGreen Hell VRHell Let LooseHell Let Loose
Hellblade: Senua's SacrificeHellblade: Senua's SacrificeHer StoryHer Story
HumankindHumankindImagine EarthImagine Earth
Kayak VR MirageKayak VR MirageKingdom Come: DeliveranceKingdom Come: Deliverance
L.A. NoireL.A. NoireLayers Of Fear 2Layers Of Fear 2
Legend BowlLegend BowlLetters To A Friend: FarewellLetters To A Friend: Farewell
Lifeless PlanetLifeless PlanetLollipop ChainsawLollipop Chainsaw
Mad MaxMad MaxMadden NFL 11Madden NFL 11
Madden NFL 12Madden NFL 12Madden NFL 13Madden NFL 13
Madden NFL 15Madden NFL 15Madden NFL 16Madden NFL 16
Madden NFL 17Madden NFL 17Madden NFL 18Madden NFL 18
Madden NFL 19Madden NFL 19Madden NFL 20Madden NFL 20
Madden NFL 21Madden NFL 21Madden NFL 22Madden NFL 22
Madden NFL 23Madden NFL 23Madden NFL 24Madden NFL 24
MADiSONMADiSONMars Rover LandingMars Rover Landing
Marvel's Spider-ManMarvel's Spider-ManMarvel's Spider-Man 2Marvel's Spider-Man 2
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles MoralesMarvel's Spider-Man: Miles MoralesMaster of Orion: Conquer the StarsMaster of Orion: Conquer the Stars
Maximum Football 2018Maximum Football 2018Maximum Football 2019Maximum Football 2019
Maximum Football2020Maximum Football2020Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom PainMetal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain
MiasmataMiasmataMiddle-Earth: Shadow of MordorMiddle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth: Shadow of WarMiddle-Earth: Shadow of WarMonster Hunter: WorldMonster Hunter: World
Moons of MadnessMoons of MadnessNCAA Football 11NCAA Football 11
NCAA Football 12NCAA Football 12NCAA Football 13NCAA Football 13
NFL Pro EraNFL Pro EraNiohNioh
No Man's SkyNo Man's SkyObservationObservation
Outer WildsOuter WildsOuter Wilds: Echoes of the EyeOuter Wilds: Echoes of the Eye
OutlastOutlastPacific DrivePacific Drive
Papers, PleasePapers, PleasePortal 2Portal 2
Red Dead RedemptionRed Dead RedemptionRed Dead Redemption IIRed Dead Redemption II
Resident Evil 2Resident Evil 2Resident Evil 3Resident Evil 3
Resident Evil RemasteredResident Evil RemasteredResident Evil VII: BiohazardResident Evil VII: Biohazard
Resident Evil VIII VillageResident Evil VIII VillageReturn of the Obra DinnReturn of the Obra Dinn
Rock Band 3Rock Band 3Room 404Room 404
Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceSekiro: Shadows Die TwiceSettlement SurvivalSettlement Survival
Shadow of the Colossus (2018)Shadow of the Colossus (2018)Sid Meier's Civilization VSid Meier's Civilization V
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New WorldSid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New WorldSid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & KingsSid Meier's Civilization V: Gods & Kings
Sid Meier's Civilization VISid Meier's Civilization VISid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering StormSid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and FallSid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and FallSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond EarthSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising TideSid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising TideSilent Hill 4: the RoomSilent Hill 4: the Room
Silent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill HD CollectionSilent Hill: Shattered MemoriesSilent Hill: Shattered Memories
Silent Hill: The Short MessageSilent Hill: The Short MessageSilicon DreamsSilicon Dreams
Sillent Hill DownpourSillent Hill DownpourSimCity (2013)SimCity (2013)
SimCity BuilditSimCity BuilditSomaSoma
Song of HorrorSong of HorrorSpider-Man: Edge of TimeSpider-Man: Edge of Time
Spider-Man: Shattered DimensionsSpider-Man: Shattered DimensionsStar Trek ResurgenceStar Trek Resurgence
Star Trek TrexelsStar Trek TrexelsStar Wars Battlefront IIStar Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars Jedi Fallen OrderStar Wars SquadronsStar Wars Squadrons
StellarisStellarisStellaris mod: New HorizonsStellaris mod: New Horizons
Stranded DeepStranded DeepStrayStray
TacomaTacomaThe Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man 2The Amazing Spider-Man 2The Callisto ProtocolThe Callisto Protocol
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLCThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC
The Evil WithinThe Evil WithinThe Evil Within 2The Evil Within 2
The Last GuardianThe Last GuardianThe Last of UsThe Last of Us
The Last of Us Part IIThe Last of Us Part IIThe Outer WorldsThe Outer Worlds
The SaboteurThe SaboteurThe SwapperThe Swapper
The Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
Tomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)Total War: AttilaTotal War: Attila
Total War: Rome IITotal War: Rome IITotal War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTrineTrine
Tropico 5Tropico 5U-BoatU-Boat
Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil WarUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Until DawnUntil DawnVirginiaVirginia
VisageVisageWhat Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch

Contribute Comment

avatar


We'll incarnate your avatar from the services below.
PlayStation Network Steam Xbox LIVE Facebook MySpace Pinterest Twitter YouTube deviantART LiveJournal



biuquote
  • Comment
  • Preview


Grid Clock Widget
12      60
11      55
10      50
09      45
08      40
07      35
06      30
05      25
04      20
03      15
02      10
01      05
Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Check out my YouTube content at YouTube.com/MegaBearsFan.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

Patreon

If you enjoy my content, please consider Supporting me on Patreon:
Patreon.com/MegaBearsFan

FTC guidelines require me to disclose that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made by clicking on Amazon product links on this site. All Amazon Associate links are for products relevant to the given blog post, and are usually posted because I recommend the product.

Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

Random Post

How to kick like a pro in Maximum Football 2019How to kick like a pro in Maximum Football 201910/04/2019 I've been hearing some complaints about the difficulty of kicking the football in Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2019 (from Canadian developer Canuck Play). Many players seem to be having difficulties making field goals longer than an extra point. At the risk of sounding like an elitist, the kicking in this game really isn't...

Month List

Recent Comments

Comment RSS