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Dark Years Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . A great concept and intriguing time period is not enough to save Dark Years from a mountain of technical problems. From the dated graphics to impossible gameplay to horrendous voice acting, this adventure game comes up woefully short. There's a riveting story to be told about Iran's 1953 coup, but Dark Years is not the game to bring it to life. Rating: 1%
Dark Years
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  • F
In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated a plan to overthrown the democratically elected government of Iran. The goal was to remove Mohammad Mosaddegh, who had spent his time in office nationalizing the oil industry. In an attempt to secure the rights to Iran's oil, the United States and Britain worked behind the scenes to return the Shah to power. The plan worked, but this ultimately led to years of instability, followed by another bloody coup a quarter century later.

No matter where you come from, world history is fascinating. It's especially interesting when we get to see historical events play out from other points of view. Normally this type of storytelling is reserved for books and movies, but I have long contended that video games are a great way to put people in the shoes of those impacted by history's biggest events.

This is one of the reasons I was drawn to Dark Years, a brand new open world adventure game set during the lead-up to the 1953 coup d'etat. Designed by an Iranian game company, I was excited to see if their perspective would change the way I looked at this pivotal historical event. I knew it might be rough around the edges and look a little dated, but sometimes that's the price you pay when it comes to independently-developed games. And yet, even as I braced for the worst, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Playing out like an old film noir, Dark Years kicks off with a mysterious murder. Actually, it's a series of murders, each hinting at a much larger conspiracy. You take control of Major Afshar, who is on a mission to find those responsible and bring them to justice. At the exact same time, more than 3,000 miles away, an Iranian journalist is about to get the most important scoop of his career. These two men will uncover one of biggest international scandals of all time.

This is undoubtedly a compelling start to what should be a though-provoking adventure game. But with the exception of the intriguing time period, the developers at RSK Entertainment get nearly everything wrong. From the dated graphics to impossible gameplay to horrendous voice acting, Dark Years comes up woefully short. Let's tackle the problems one at a time.

Dark Years (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Visually, Dark Years resembles a high-res PlayStation 1 game. The open world lacks even the most basic details, opting instead for repeating flat textures that glitch out the moment you look at them wrong. There's never a moment when it feels like you're walking through a real city. There are pedestrians on the sidewalks, but they spend most of their time running head-first into buildings for no reason. As you might imagine, they aren't much better at driving.

To their credit, nobody is good at driving these 1953 cars. Every vehicle in Dark Years has two speeds -- snail's pace and way too fast. Once the car takes off, it's only a matter of time before you slam into a wall or get snagged on an invisible barrier. Speaking of which, this game might as well come with "Invisible Wall" as a subtitle, because huge chunks of the game are blocked off without warning.

As bad as the driving is, it beats the hell out of walking everywhere. Simple things like climbing stairs and navigating through hallways are made nearly impossible by the keyboard and mouse controls. The moment our hero walks into a narrow area, the fidgety camera freaks out and whips around uncontrollably. Things go from bad to worse when you try stepping over a sidewalk curb. It's common to get stuck on a six inch curb, forced to use a glitchy wall just to make progress. The control layout suggests there's a jump button, but it never worked for me.

Dark Years (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

That's an on-going theme you'll see a lot in Dark Years. I got stuck in an especially frustrating trial-and-error puzzle because I couldn't guess the four digit code. The game told me the press "Q" to quit, but it only reset the puzzle. Reloading the checkpoint meant restarting the game. It would be one thing if it was an isolated incident, but these kinds of bugs are rampant throughout the adventure.

It doesn't help that Dark Years bites off more than it can chew. At its core, the game is a basic point and click adventure, complete with picking up items and mixing them together. But that's not where it stops. In making the experience more ambitious, the developers have created an unnecessary open world and awful mini-games. There's a car chase so laughably bad that I'm surprised it wasn't deleted before release. And that pales in comparison to the shockingly poor 2D fighting sections, which wouldn't have even looked good in 1991.

By this point you might think I'm running out of things to complain about, but we haven't even gotten to the voice acting. As an Iranian production, it wouldn't surprise me if the actors involved spoke very little English before recording their lines. Between weird inflections and characters sounding out every word, it's obvious the voice talent didn't know what they were saying. The result is unintentionally hilarious, and turns the otherwise serious subject matter into a comedy.

Dark Years (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

As bad as the acting is, the English localization is even worse. It often seems like the English script was generated through an online translator, with no care taken for making it sound natural. Stories of death and sorrow are laugh-out-loud funny thanks to bizarre word choices and unfortunate spelling errors. You know you're in for trouble when every interactive cue tells you to "Press E for Intract."

As I battled the controls and cringed at the voice acting, I wondered if this would be a worthwhile experience under better circumstances. Unfortunately, even with an interest in the time period, I found the narrative lacking. The murder mystery isn't compelling enough to stand out and the twists and turns are too predictable. I still believe there's a riveting story to be told about Iran's 1953 coup, but Dark Years is not the game to bring it to life.
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