Recently the Operation Darkness demo appeared on XBox Live and I gave it a playthrough. Even if I never finish them, I tend to be a sucker for turn-based strategy games, especially ones with guns and lots of killing. The fact that Operation Darkness had supernatural elements, like magic and monsters thrown into it, seemed to be icing on the cake.
I once played a game on the PC very similar in concept to Operation Darkness, and it was called Silent Storm. Silent Storm, like Operation Darkness, took place in an alternate history World War II. Silent Storm went with superscience instead of the supernatural, giving players access to incredibly powerful energy weapons and seemingly indestructible power suits. It also had a highly detailed environmental damage system, allowing you to blow up buildings. Tossing anti-tank grenades into houses NEVER got old, lemme tell you.
While the game was fun, the last half of the game where you received all the energy weapons and power suits--which were supposed to set Silent Storm apart from other WWII strategy games--was actually a bit of a letdown. The suits were ridiculously unbalanced, and even with bazookas and anti-tank grenades, un-suited infantrymen were practically useless against them. The fact that the game would install Starforce--a copy-protection program commonly regarded as malware--on your system didn't help much.
The reason I mention this game is because I couldn't help but compare it to Operation Darkness as I was playing the latter game's demo. On the surface, both games provide the same features. Destructible terrain, overwatch fire (where your characters can save their action points and fire upon enemies that move or attack), RPG elements, turn-based tactics, and a variety of real World War II weapons with all the appropriate advantages and disadvantages one would expect.
However, when you dig deeper it seems that in many ways Operation Darkness is a significant downgrade from Silent Storm. The graphics, despite the power of the Xbox 360, look pretty bad, even in comparison to this old PC game. In fact, it's a little suspicious as to how much the graphics more closely resemble a Playstation 2 game. The environmental destruction in Operation Darkness pales in comparison to Silent Storm, as well. Sure, you can blow up cars and structures with bazookas and explosives, but Silent Storm allowed you to realistically (well, sort of) destroy the terrain piece by piece. You could blow holes in walls rather than go through the front door, or perhaps make yourself an easier path to your objective. Silent Storm's system was far more versatile and impressive.
Overwatch and other commands work kind of oddly in Operation Darkness, too. In Silent Storm, setting overwatch is pretty much automatic so long as your men have enough action points to fire. In Operation Darkness, though, you have to use a "Cover Ambush" command, and you have to use it at the start of the character's turn. You can't even move a single step forward, or your opportunity to use it is lost. To move multiple units at once in Silent Storm, all you had to was click and drag. Operation Darkness requires a "Cover Move" command which basically allows one character to move when another one does. I didn't bother using it. It seemed needlessly convoluted. I mean, I can understand why these commands would be useful, it just seems like Silent Storm's system was more elegant and felt more natural to use.
Operation Darkness is supposed to let you can use cover to protect your characters, but I never found it to help too much unless you were completely obscured by a wall. I can't make my characters crouch or go prone, either, which really sucks when you're facing an entire squad of German troops. In Silent Storm, however, you could easily crouch or go prone, and even move in both modes. It also helped you hide behind various objects, although enemy bullets could still rip right through your cover and hit you (that doesn't happen in Operation Darkness, either).
Silent Storm has a huge advantage over Operation Darkness in terms of perspective, too. Operation Darkness has a wacky camera that frequently slips behind a building, preventing you from seeing anything. It also just won't stay still! Silent Storm's camera, however, tends to stay right above the action and is almost never an issue.
Oh, and I was pretty disappointed to discover that the werewolves in Operation Darkness didn't have some sort of gruesome melee attacks. No, just some sort of magic spell that they don't even have to be in werewolf mode to use.
So what to make of this? I suppose it's a matter of Eastern game design versus Western game design (and yes, I know Nival Interactive, designers of Silent Storm, is based in Russia). Western strategy games tend to work harder to model certain factors like damage to terrain, physical injury, and bullet penetration more realistically. Eastern games tend to focus more on arbitrary systems of probability and simulation. I.e., guy X has a 60% chance of hitting guy Y, and if he hits, he'll do a randomly determined amount of damage. Will he cause some sort of horrific, bleeding injury that only a trained physician could heal? And, on top of that, even if he's healed will it take him a long time to recover completely? Nope, it'll just be a few hit points or so, easily healed up by a medpack. The other aspects of Eastern strategy games seem to restrict gamers' options along very fine lines. You simply don't have as much freedom as you do in their western counterparts, and even when you do, you have to jump through more hoops to get to it. Whether or not this means Western strategy game design is better is up to the individual.
As for myself, I understand if some might actually prefer the more Japanese style in Operation Darkness, but I can't help but think to myself that I'd really rather have a followup to Silent Storm instead.