If you’re old enough, cast your mind back to the 90’s. It was a pretty magical time for gaming. Big Boxes lined the shelves of every electronics store with the likes of Dungeon Keeper, Red Alert and Baldur’s Gate vying for our attention. Sir Patrick Moore was the “GamesMaster”, sat in the clouds, pitting 2 gamers against one another on the latest titles for the whole world (okay, just the UK) to see. Multiplayer was simply sitting around the same TV. It was a time before the internet was widely accessible and as such, there was no such thing as “Downloadable Content”. Instead, we had “Expansions” and “Add ons” that came in actual real boxes. I know. What a world.
Back in the 90’s, I was big into Duke Nukem 3D (I know. I was young and foolish) and had completed it more times than I’d care to admit. Unwilling to move onto other games, I’d take the money I’d earn from doing my paper round (remember print media? Those were the days) to PC World and pick up a boxed “Add On” for the game whenever I could. Duke Nukem: The Doctor Who Cloned Me, Duke It Out In D.C., Nuclear Winter, The Apocalypse and my personal favourite, Duke Caribbean: Life’s A Beach. I owned them all. Built on the original source code for Duke 3D, these expansions cost half as much as the game and were official (and sometimes Unofficial) packs that added new textures and tweaked existing enemies to build up to 500(!) new levels for the game. Sure, not all of them were good but it was more content for a game that I loved that felt instantly familiar but added a little something new too.
It was weird then, that while playing through the new DLC for Far Cry 5, Hours of Darkness, that I would feel constantly reminded of a Duke Nukem 3D add on pack from 20 years ago – but Ubisoft’s latest DLC does have a lot in common with the Caribbean adventure of the relic Duke Nukem 3D.
The vast majority of DLC released these days feels like more of the same. Whether it be more tracks to race on, more levels to complete or more fighters to fight with, it’s very rarely something different. This isn’t a complaint – you can’t have too much of a good thing, as my nana used to say – but an observation that very few pieces of DLC are transformative experiences. Hours of Darkness does try, at least, to do something different while retaining the familiarity of Far Cry 5.
In the Hours of Darkness DLC you play as an American troop whose chopper is shot down behind the enemies lines during the Vietnam war. You’re challenged to reach an extraction point at the other side of the map and hopefully free your squad mates and POW’s along the way.
Right from the off, this looks very much like a “Far Cry” game and if you squint, you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing Far Cry 2 or 3. Lush jungle, long grass, small orange-tinged outposts – It’s a different skin on the same base bones.
It doesn’t take long, however, to realise this isn’t like any Far Cry before it and I think this is why it reminds me of ye’ olde game add on’s of yore. Hours of Darkness feels and plays like it was developed by someone else – and it was, Ubisoft Montreal and Toronto lead the development of Far Cry 5 while Ubisoft Shanghai lead on Hours of Darkness. Playing it for a short time is enough to see that there’s a very different design philosophy that has been implemented here – rather than the “go anywhere, do anything” approach of Far Cry 5, Hours of Darkness forces you down choke points, zips you around the map on zip lines and guides your hand with the layout of the terrain. Mission results are final – accidentally call an airstrike in on a POW who’s desperate for rescue, blowing him to bits in the process and there’s no “Retry?” option. They’re lost for good in that play through.
Then there’s the stealth. Oooh the stealth. Something that was barely usable in Far Cry 5 is an integral part of Hours of Darkness which is used in a pretty ingenious way. Each kill you achieve while remaining unseen increases your stealth focused abilities to a maximum of 4 perks. 1 kill lets you move quicker while crouched and automatically tags nearby enemies. Two kills makes you more silent when moving and reduces fall damage. Three kills and you get a notification when someone is about to spot you and four kills allows you to tag enemies through walls. While all 4 perks are active, you get this real feeling of being Rambo, a silent assassin totally outnumbered but still getting the best of your prey from the shadows. The kicker is that as soon as you get spotted, all perks are removed instantly and you have to build them back up again.
Alternatively, and still on the topic of Rambo-esque moments, you can call the THUUNDAAA when you’re really in a pinch, pointing to a location with your binoculars and calling in an air strike – as long as there’s no active AA guns in the area, of course. There’s even a mode called the Action Movie Mode which gives you unlimited Air Strikes, regardless of if there’s an AA gun operational or not. This is fun, pure and simple. Finding an enemy camp and turning it into a smoking crater while standing on a ridge a mile away is strangely cathartic.
The whole episode culminates in a “hold this area against impossible odds” section which feels like it was ripped right out of a 90’s FPS playbook. Enemies are coming at you from any which way and even with a full stock of air strikes at your disposal, this is a challenge, especially in the Survival mode which drastically reduces your ability to soak up bullets and limits your inventory slots.
Much like the Duke Nukem 3D expansions from the late 90’s, Hours of Darkness is built using the same tool set but feels like a very different beast. Sure, it’s scrappy and far less open than the Far Cry 5 main game but unlike a lot of DLC that gets released these days, Hours of Darkness isn’t just more of the same. It’s an enjoyable side show that does something different. If this is a taster of what else is to come in the DLC packs – Dead Living Zombies and Lost of Mars – then this’ll make getting that Season pass a worthwhile investment indeed.