Dark Future: Blood Red States is not a driving game. Instead, it’s a real-time tactics game that uses time dilation to allow you to make decisions and commit to actions that then play out when you switch time to normal again. It’s a splendidly clever mechanic that takes the adrenaline-fueled action of vehicular combat and slows it down to where you can make considered tactical choices. Moreover, it’s a melding of strategic thinking and split-second decision making that doesn’t compromise either one; you get to carefully plan an action then watch it all come together in a fast-paced, brutal way. It’s hugely satisfying, exciting and accessible.
Indeed, this is a wonderful adaptation of the Games Workshop property that doesn’t just recreate its table top experience in digital form, instead it reconceptualises Dark Future in a way that can only really be experienced through the video game medium. Sure, you can recreate a time dilation effect with turn-based table top rules, but only here can you see the results of your tactics play out in such glorious visual detail. Watching an enemy vehicle burst into flames and careen off the road as a fiery ball of metal is a sight that never get’s old.
Taking to the roads of the Big Empty in a vehicle kitted out for warfare, you must destroy enemy vehicles or otherwise achieve a mission objective to make a living in this dystopian future. Mega corporations now control the world and society has broken down, making the world a hugely dangerous place where resources are low and fought for by roaming gang cults. You work for the corporations and state as a mercenary, taking out gang cults to further your employer’s agenda. You take to the road, vehicle brimming with guns and explosives, and you devastate your foes without mercy.
It’s an experience that makes you spin around in your chair in desperate hope that someone else was around to see what you just saw. Furthermore, you didn’t just see it, you forged it; designed a strategy that resulted in your victory. A big part of this visual spectacle is the physics at work. As cars hit objects or are caught up in explosions, they feel the force and skid or take to the air momentarily. Slow time at that moment, target your off balance foe and fire before returning to normal time, can result in flinging your foe further in the air towards an explosive death. There’s no better word for it than awesome. However, this is an experience unlike anything else you might have played before, and as such requires a little bit of re-training of your instincts to fully use the time dilating, weapons, and abilities of your vehicle to full effect.
While the action is fast, frantic and delightful to see, it’s the payoff for clever tactical considerations. You need to stay aware of your vehicle’s shields and core health, managing your repair ability and moving around the track in order to stay alive long enough to deal damage to your foes and complete your objective. The sides of your vehicle, as well as your front and rear, each get their own shields, and when a shield is gone there’s no refilling it during that mission. This makes your position relative to enemies very important to avoid suffering too much damage, and while a repair ability can refill your core, there’s a cooldown to consider and it doesn’t take much to destroy you without your shield’s protection. Position is also important in regards to your weapons. Each vehicle has different weapon slots with different firing arcs. While a turret can move 360 degrees, your front and rear weapons aim forwards and backward respectively. Moving your vehicle so to best use your weapons and utilise your shields, all comes into consideration as you also determine who and when to attack.
Then there’s the objective you’re trying to complete. Dark Future: Blood Red States is setup a little bit like a rogue-like, splitting everything up into runs with differing objectives, lore, and tiers of weapons and abilities. It acts like a campaign, with each run unlocking new ones which feature a different character and vehicle to take to the roads of the Big Empty. Once you’ve chosen your run, you’re provided with jobs – procedurally generated missions – of different types: Intercept challenges you to rack up kills to tempt a boss to appear that you then take out; Damages has you attack and destroy a powerful robotruck; Data Heist has your travel close to robotrucks as you hack them and steal data; Blockade Run has your speed along the road through blockades, aiming for the openings as attackers gang up on you; Gang War has you aid other vehicles by destroying their enemies; Quota has your destroy a certain number of enemies, and finally Escort has you protect another vehicle for a certain distance.
A small selection of missions are present on your mission select screen across a map featuring five locations: Gehenna, a global dumping ground where junk flies through the air; Chemical Badlands, where pools of bio waste pollute the ground and acid rain falls from the sky; Thunder Peak with its arid land and sun-baked cliffs, as well as Stomping Grounds and Car Corpse Valley with their desert-like features. Each location features multiple variations and roads that are procedurally generated, this alongside day and night version for each location results in a great variety of environments. Additionally, each mission can also feature random mutators, such as making enemies more volatile and their explosions therefore more impressive, or bounties are activated earning you more cash once the mission is over, etc.
In-between missions you must refuel for a cost and then choose if and how to upgrade your vehicle. Randomly generated upgrades are available to purchase but you’ll need to manage your vehicle’s weight as you kit your war machine out. Upgrading the engine boosts the weight you can carry but its cost is significant. When you’re ready to play your next mission, it’s often wise to play an easier one from the selection rather than immediately chase any overall objective, so to build up your cash and therefore upgrade your vehicle ready to take on the more challenging assignments. But eventually you’ll need to complete specific missions to satisfy the objectives and further your progress through that run, although it’s up to you to find the balance between upgrading your car and completing these objectives. It’s a simple vehicle management and preparation setup that’s intuitive and very quickly gets you back on the road.
After the voiced intro the lore of the world is disappointingly delivered through text alone, however, there’s plenty to enjoy. At the end of each mission you receive an email to your mission screen, and these emails take the form of spam or news, feeding you bite-sized lore. It’s clever and subtle, making you feel more immersed in the world and providing plenty of nods to the original Dark Future table top game and novels, as well as some other Games Workshop properties. Once an objective it complete the you’ll receive a new log entry from your character, furthering their own personal tale. It makes the world feel real and that you’re a part of it in a small but meaningful way, and it’s well written enough and amusing enough to keep your entertained.
While the procedurally generated components allows for good variety, repetition still creeps in. Mixing up the kinds of vehicles you’re commanding and the weapons onboard change your tactics slightly but once you’ve got to grips with the strategies behind the time dilatation and managing your position on the road for firing and minimising the damage you take, it can feel repetitive performing the same maneuverers for each mission. That said, witnessing the explosive devastation you can cause with these strategies is still a delightful spectacle, one made all the better due to physics and the randomness that injects into the experience. Vehicles flying through the air or crashing into each other is wonderful to see, and can result in some excellent, unpredictable events as the AI tries to correct its course and fire back you. And even when you are caught up in this carnage, it’s often so entertaining to watch and try to recover from yourself, that the damage to you doesn’t matter so much, although we did run in to occasions where we’d reset our vehicle position and it would trigger the reset multiple times, costing us a fair amount of cash.
Indeed, Dark Future: Blood Red States is a truly unique tactical action game, and an excellent adaptation of one of the more obscure Games Workshop properties. It provides action and considered tactics in equal measures, satisfying the strategic and bloodthirsty side of your brain wonderfully. Meanwhile, the terrific techno-synth soundtrack, barren yet attractive environments, and witty writing absolutely nail the tone of Games Workshop’s special brand of dystopia. This is a refreshingly different kind of experience and one that we thoroughly enjoyed.