Easy Turn Order
Operation Darkness is a game that has raised many eyebrows. It isn't every day the supernatural is combined with World War II realism. However, the two mixed just seems to work and it somehow feels very natural having vampires hurling magic at you while you hunt for Adolf Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. This isn't some alternative world conveniently like ours, this is portrayed as our past and it's surprisingly compelling.
At first I had to wonder "What the heck am I doing playing a shooter, even if it is tactical game? I'm the one people shoot to get the kills to win the game, I'm no competition." I was leery of trying it, but I figured if nothing else it would get a good laugh. I didn't expect the game to immediately suck me in with all of the traditional strategy elements: positioning, barriers, and turn order. I was pleased with my initial progress and fell into the worst trap I could: I got too cocky with my main character, rushed him forward, and was promptly rewarded with many bullets to my chest and a shiny game over screen. Guess I am the person you shoot for kills after all.
Once the laughter of my coworkers subsided, Atlus took pity on me and loaded up a level that was partway through the story. Though I was unable to return to a story critical mission, they took me to a map which was an optional mission. I was facing many vampires and two giant tanks, armed with anti-tank arms and two very tough werewolves to protect my rather squishy human friends. The thing that struck me was the amazing Cover system: Ambush, Attack, and Move were the three options. Though these didn't make sense at first, once they were explained and demonstrated in action, I was floored I hadn't heard about this incredible system before.
In-Battle Mini Map
I set up three snipers behind my front line, which were all set to a Cover command. One was selected as "Cover Move," which meant any time the enemy moved, my sniper would shoot them -- an attack of opportunity so to speak. The other two were set up as "Cover Attack," so any time an ally within their range attacked, they also sniped that target. It sounds complicated at first, but what it meant was each time the enemy moved within my sniper range, they were shot at three times. Considering I was outnumbered (my eight men to their fifteen and two tanks!), this strategy was an excellent way to pick off their vampire foot troops before they were close enough to damage my front line. This left my characters with the anti-tank artillery to go to town on the tanks. It was oddly satisfying to watch my snipers pick off the troops as they advanced towards my line and the odds slowly began to turn in my favor; I did discover to my chagrin friendly fire is painful, especially on werewolves.
While not as impressive as the Cover system, it was fantastic to see whenever it was time for groups of enemies to go (often five or six would get a turn between two of my own personnel), they all moved and performed actions at the same time. While this meant the camera did zip around furiously trying to catch the actions at some points, for the most part, it meant battles stayed focused on the players' actions. The time between enemy turns and when control would return to the player was very short. When I wanted to know who would go next, I would consult the turn marker on the right side of the screen. Allies were denoted with a blue background, while enemies were marked in orange. In its place, I could display a mini-map of the battle.
If Run to the Sun has done nothing else, it's made me very, very happy about my recent Xbox 360 purchase. Operation Darkness is shaping up to be intriguing, complex, and highly original. There's definitely some fantastic games coming out for the system and I'm not sure exactly where I'm going to find the time to play everything exciting coming out this summer from the various publishers, including the fantastic variety Atlus is showcasing. Perhaps I can get an IV hooked up...