Prior to playing this game, I knew very little about Dark Future, so I was pleased to be presented right away with a voiced narrative and film clips that did a good job of introducing new players to the setting. This is our Dark Future: Blood Red States review.
The main menu has a clean layout with a retro appearance supporting it is the 80’s synthesizer music, which can quickly become repetitive, but more on that later. Audio settings are limited but functional. Graphics settings are easy to adjust being both intuitive and satisfying. You can easily rebind keys, even using a Logitech Gamepad for those that prefer a controller. If you find the default green UI color scheme, not to your liking there are a limited amount of alternate color palettes, including an all pink option. I did notice, however, that each time you returned to the main menu from inside the game it played the narrative again, while tedious it was nice that you could at least skip it by hitting the ESC key.
In over 10 hours of play, I did not run into too many technical issues with the game. Only 2 fatal errors crashed the game, one after a mission when I was loading back to the garage and the other was clicking on Quit. There was also one sound issue during the final mission of my second season, the music went back up to full volume. (All small things that will no doubt be ironed out in patches.)
Starting a new season, which is how the game presents story arcs for the different operatives/drivers, I was prompted to take the tutorial as a first-time player. Unfortunately, I was still adjusting options and aborted the tutorial. It took me awhile to notice that on the mission tab you could go back into the tutorial by simply clicking on the bottom left mission and hitting the launch button. Once I did though, the tutorials were straight forward and well explained. At first, the command mode felt a bit cumbersome you’ll have to learn to love it very quickly as it can mean the difference between success and failure on any given mission.
The rest of your playtime will be spent in the garage UI or out on the highway doing missions. The garage interface is well laid out and when you mouse over tooltips pop up for almost everything: fuel, drivers, weapons, upgrades, car parts, perks, etc. Each section of the UI also has a helpful “?” that if clicked will bring up a side panel that provides a full description of that specific garage UI section. Within the garage, you will spend the money you have earned on upgrading your car with various items, armor, weapons, and modifications. For more difficult missions you also have the option to hire an additional driver who will take a cut of the pay and additional fees if they end up wrecked before the mission ends. To advance a given season you need to complete objectives that are noted in the bottom right of the garage. All your story is delivered through Z-mail text at this point along with fluff Z-mail you get after each mission, some of which are hilarious to read through and I found myself chuckling more than once. Other is completed new drivers and perks are unlocked. The other tab a player may want to take note of is the one for Corporate, as you complete missions for specific corporations, it will unlock corporate specific weapons and equipment for your car.
Missions are rated using 1 to 3 skulls and there are several types: Blockade Run, Quota, Intercept, Damages, Escort, Gang War, and Data Heist. Out of these, I found Gang War and Data Heist to be initially the most difficult to complete, once you have a few upgrades though things quickly become more manageable. Occasionally you would also get missions with a “mutator”, think mythic keystone affixes in WoW, these make a mission more challenging or easier. (For example, the two I have seen so far have been brutal enemies and glass enemies.)
Once a mission is launched you are off to cause mayhem on a 4 lane highway. Visuals are great with the cars looking very detailed and the explosions being quite satisfying. The surrounding landscape is pretty barren, to be expected with this setting, with enough features to make it visually interesting as you zip along. I really enjoyed the environments where the visibility was limited by the weather. At this point in the game, the music works well with the ongoing combat.
As I said earlier this is a mix between car combat and rail shooter, you are locked to the 4 lanes, switching between lanes by tapping the default A and D keys, with only going off the highway for short period due to force, typically by being rammed or from weapons fire. You can however also accelerate and slam the car into reverse when needed. Once you are forced off the highway a timer starts and if you cannot get back on the road quickly enough you are fined and placed there. If you flip your car, you will flip over at some point… sometimes 8 or 9 times in a row, you can call for a tow to set you back upright on the highway which again costs a fee taken from your mission reward if you are successful.
The highway combat is fast paced and very enjoyable especially when a large pack of enemy cars converges on you. I found the most intense moments to be during Data Heist missions where you need to maintain speed with your target to hack while getting shot… oh so much. The AI can be a bit slow to respond to your actions, but I did like that it would zip ahead if an enemy was the only one left and a new pack was about to emerge as if they were forming up for a better chance to take you out.
When issuing commands in missions, locking on targets, and firing weapons, you will find yourself switching in and out of command mode to slow down time. This allows you to pan around and see where everything is, swap between an additional driver if you have hired one, and if on an escort mission manages the escort car. Command mode really gives the player the chance to make strategic decisions on how to handle a given situation. The missions are timed, 10 minutes, but are pretty quick to complete unless you pick a tougher one and your car is underequipped. I typically found myself thinking, “oh just one more mission, they don’t take that long”. If you do die on a mission, unless you are a brain in a jar or have the perk “SecondChance”, the season ends and you will need to start that season over from the beginning. See, having no body does have its benefits.
The world setting is well done and the cars look great. Combat is engaging and flashy. While there are a few minor bugs the game plays well with very few interruptions that take you out of the action. Dark Future succeeds quite well at being an enjoyable romp in a post-apocalyptic world.
COMPARE TO: Take Star Fox, Spy Hunter and Interstate 76 then put them in a blender.