With the much-delayed silver screen outing of the obscure DC comics heroes now doing the rounds, it’s no surprise to see a game based on the Watchmen crawl forth. What is surprising, however, is that this isn’t the typical EA cash-in we’ve come to expect from this kind of big name release. In fact, it’s not even a standard boxed retail deal at all. Watchmen: The End is Nigh can only be purchased online, through the Xbox Live Arcade service. To grab it, you’ll need to fork out a whopping 1600 MS Points. Is it worth this outlay, though?
Let me get something straight from the off, if you’re expecting a totally original, revolutionary and deep title, then you may as well stop reading now. This game is about as simple and retro as it gets, so skip the review and give it one star. If, on the other hand, you like a bit of mindless beat ‘em up action, then read on.
Watchmen: The End is Nigh is an old-school scrapper through and through, and lets you step into the shoes of two of the main Watchmen characters – the psychotic, Rorschach and Batman-a-like, Nite Owl. As this rather odd couple you begin the six-chapter story (the first in a series of prequels to the events seen in the film) by responding to a large-scale riot at Sing Sing prison. Unwelcome by the prison governor, who doesn’t exactly take kindly to vigilante interference, you then have to fight through the prison to find out what’s going on, before finding that there’s more to the situation than a few freedom-craving inmates.
Actual gameplay consists of the familiar 3D scrolling beat ‘em up fare. As either character, you can use a variety of moves and combos to deal with any opposition. These moves start off as simple weak and heavy attacks, but as you progress you’ll find tokens that, when picked up, grant access to more powerful moves and combos. Moves and abilities above standard attacks are different for each character too.
Rorschach, being a little unhinged, is far more brutal that Nite Owl, and is able to use weapons such as crowbars and wrenches to smash his opponents’ skulls, and he also possesses a Rage meter.
By attacking and finishing off foes using special finishing moves (press the right button after you’ve done so much damage) you can cause him to go into a beefed-up state in which he’s pretty much a one man army capable of taking on large groups of foes single-handed. He can also bull rush his foes, ramming into them to slam them into walls. Rorschach is the faster of the two, but also the weaker when it comes to basic attacks.
Nite Owl, on the other hand, is a more heroic combatant, and while he certainly doesn’t pull his punches, he doesn’t use any overly violent weapons, and instead relies on his Owlsuit, which replaces Rorschach’s rage meter with a charge meter (which also needs to be powered up by performing finishing moves etc). This lets him make use of such skills as stun grenades. Nite Owl is stronger, and so is able to lift heavy doors, and can also use his grappling gun to scale walls.
Regardless of the character you choose, the game is a straightforward case of slogging your way through endless waves of enemies. These foes, while occasionally taking time to change clothes, are essentially the same throughout the game, and with the exception of the last boss character, they all fight in the exact same way. Some are small and fast, others are large, powerful and slow, and others make use of weapons. Attack patterns are the same, whether you’re fighting a prisoner, biker gang member or policeman, and even in later chapters, the difficulty never changes, except for the number of attackers you’ll face at any one time.
There are some very light adventure/puzzle elements thrown in from time to time, such as the need to let Nite Owl open a door so Rorschach can find a way to open the route ahead, or for both characters to drain the water from a sewer chamber so they can advance, but these elements are blatantly last minute additions, and don’t add to the action at all really. The core of the game is the combat.
This string of battles may sound boring and dull, and to some, I’ve no doubt it will be, but strangely, I really enjoyed every second of the game. Despite its incredibly repetitive nature and total lack of variety in enemies, the game is oddly addictive. This may be down to the new moves and abilities you can acquire as you progress, the rock solid controls, or it could be due to the game’s excellent presentation.
Yes, the game itself may be a little basic, but it’s crystal clear that this has been a labour of love by developer Deadline Games. Watchmen: The End if Nigh is one of the best looking beat ‘em ups I’ve ever seen, and surely one of the best looking XBLA games ever.
Everything about the visuals screams quality, from the fantastically detailed and realised environments, to the superb character modelling of both protagonists. Every little detail is present, right down to Rorschach’s ever-changing inkblot mask.
Graphical presentation isn’t the only thing to get plenty of attention, and the inter-chapter cut scenes are also excellent, thanks to the use of the Watchmen: Motion Comic style seen in the recent iTunes releases. These semi-animated scenes are excellent, and serve to complete the game’s comic feel. The soundtrack is also great, with some epic music, and decent voice acting.
You can play the game in single or two player co-op mode, with the other player controlled by the game’s AI if you play alone. As ever, there’s a collection of achievements and Gamerpoints to acquire (200 in total), and to get them all you’ll need to do is defeat certain numbers of foes, use abilities and move a select number of times, and complete the game with both characters. Sadly, this won’t take long, as the game’s six chapters can be easily ripped through in one or two sittings. This makes the asking price of 1600 point a little steep, and 800 would be more in line with what’s on offer.
There’s no denying that Watchmen: The End is Nigh could have been so much better than a hugely simplistic scrapper. With such impressive presentation and production values, I can only imagine what the game could have been with a bigger budget behind it. In the end, what we have is essentially a very enjoyable tech demo. If Deadline Games can build upon this engine, though, and produce a game with more substance, then following instalments could be very special indeed…