The world ended a few hundred years ago, and humanity still clings on. Dark Earth is post-apocalypse in the mould of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth: technological civilisation has fallen, and all that is left are a few scattered settlements eking out an existence from the scarred & radioactive wasteland. Mutated and (therefore) evil people stalk the world, plotting the downfall of the Stallites from which they are exiled. The sun has been blocked out by radioactive clouds; the glories of the past have been long forgotten.
It is this last point which distinguishes the flavour of post-apocalypse represented by Dark Earth from that of the Fallout series: there is no hope of salvation from the past. There is no vault of preserved technology, and if there was then nobody would know what to do with it. We don’t even know what part of the world Dark Earth takes place in, and that doesn’t remotely matter: Shakespeare, King Arthur, Buddha, Christ and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are all dust.
The technical side of things are well-done enough, for the time. Dark Earth was released in the godforsaken dark age of 1997, so the graphics are horribly dated.
The combat gameplay is simple – hold down on ‘Control’ and use the arrow keys to attack/sidestep/retreat – but fun enough. Weapons degrade and break as you use them, but I don’t think there are enough fights for that to present a real challenge. The game uses fixed camera angles, and if you get backed into a corner this can make things frustrating as you can’t see what’s going on.
Also notable is that there is a sort of branching storyline – certain characters can die or survive depending on your actions. You can kill nearly anyone, and this will affect how other characters react to you; you can even set Arkhan’s mood (neutral or nasty) to get different responses from those you interact with, in a sort of rudimentary version of Alpha Protocol’s conversation system. There’s even an Reversi minigame.
Being both a video game and from the 1990s, there is of course some well-embarrassing fanservice crap. In lego-graphics it’s pretty close to the least sexy thing I could imagine. But, well… it’s just trying so hard that it’s almost endearing, you know what I mean?
Anyway. Dark Earth is currently available via archive.org. Since they’re associated with the US Library of Congress, I assume that’s all legal and whatnot. I haven’t got around to trying this out on my current computer yet (it’s a game originally for Windows 95, so there might be some trouble getting it working on a modern machine – any tips on that would be very welcome in the comments), but I will – and, really, since you can get it for free, I’d recommend that ya’ll should take a look, too.