Given the heightened interest in all things Watchmen that stemmed from its recent theatrical release, a marketing blitz was a given. Virtually any product imaginable is available with Watchmen branding – everything from posters, to action figures, to flash drives, and most importantly, a game. That being said, is the game anything more than a half-hearted cash-in attempt? Sadly, it appears as though the answer is a resounding no.
Billed as an action/brawler title, Watchmen: The End is Nigh is the first in a series of downloadable episodic Watchmen games released on XBLA (also available on PC and PSN). Chronologically speaking, TEIN is a prequel to the events of the graphic novel, as it follows Rorschach and Nite Owl II when they were still working together, several years before the Keene Act was passed into law.
Upon starting the game, one of the very first things you will notice is the amount of graphical detail; TEIN has what may arguably be the best graphics of any Xbox Live Arcade game thus far. Graffiti, smoke, and other minutiae abound, presumably being one of the significant contributing factors as to why the game is nearly 1.5 GB in size. In a somewhat bizarre move, despite strong visuals, there is no physics engine here to speak of. Very few environmental objects are movable, and even fewer are usable in combat.
Speaking of combat, for a game that bases its entire design upon hand-to-hand battles, TEIN feels somewhat dated. Imagine a Streets of Rage or Double Dragon style beat ‘em up, add unlockable combos and a rage meter, and you’ve distilled the entire essence of TEIN’s gameplay. With the exception of the main villain in the final chapter there are no stage bosses to speak of. The AI is absolutely brain dead, and every enemy seems to be based upon one of the same three character models. Worse still, there are no variations in the opposition’s fighting styles, meaning battling them becomes an exercise in monotony very quickly.
Controls are simple and fluid, limited mostly to running, jumping (when prompted), punching, and kicking. Combos have a slight delay before being executed, making strategic use of them all but impossible, giving the game more of a button masher feel than that of an actual fighting game. There is no discernible difference in control between the two characters.
Unfortunately, the lack of contrast between Rorschach and Nite Owl mode doesn’t end with the controls. In an ideal situation, gameplay would change based upon character selection; each one would have different abilities, character-specific locations, and perhaps even their own unique set of puzzles. As is stands, this is not the case. There is little to no difference in Rorschach’s and Nite Owl’s respective modes, and to that end, no compelling reason to complete the other character’s mode after finishing one of them.
As disappointing as TEIN’s single-player mode is, its much-hyped multiplayer mode is far worse. Don’t be fooled by the game’s supposed co-op; splitting the screen and giving two players control does not automatically make it true co-operative play. In fact, save for a handful of puzzles that require both players to hit a button at the same time, there is very little actual teamwork involved. Multiplayer feels like a throwaway addition implemented at the last minute; almost as if the developer forgot to implement it until the game was ready to be released, especially given the fact that it is offline only. That’s right – want to beat up legions of enemies with your friends over Xbox Live? Not in this game!
It almost goes without saying that this game fails on its own merit – and the addition of the Watchmen license does little to enhance the gameplay. That said, fans of the film adaptation will be happy to know that Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley reprise their respective roles, the latter still having a pitch-perfect voice for Rorschach. Based largely on the inclusion of acting talent from the film, and a suitably ominous soundtrack, TEIN is passable sonically. That said, I could have done without the barrage of enemy taunts, as they do tend to become annoying after a while.
Moving back to gameplay, the difficulty level in Watchmen: The End is Nigh borders on insane, if only for the fact that enemies more often than not attack in waves. There is no save anywhere function, and checkpoints have the frustrating tendency of placing you directly before a battle. In that sense, if you kill the majority of the onslaught of foes coming at you, there is no picking up where you left off if for some reason you have to exit the game. Especially in the later chapters, this will irritate you to no end. The same thing is true if you die; regardless of whether you defeated one villain or fifty, you will have to fight them all again.
Perhaps worst of all, there is no real payoff for playing the game. Despite its steep cost and high level of difficulty, the game abruptly ends after a mere 6 hours of gameplay, on a decidedly flimsy cliffhanger. There are no unlockable bonuses to speak of — no footage from the movie, no hidden art gallery, no time trials, not even so much as an additional increase to your rage/charge meter. At $20, I would have expected to see something extra for finishing the game – some incentive to play it again after wasting 6 hours offing anonymous villains.
In the end, TEIN’s biggest flaw is developer Deadline Games’ choice of genre. Anything Watchmen branded, regardless of its story, cannot and should not be represented in brawler form. Deadline Games’ Kapow engine would have served an adventure game or even an RPG well. I wanted to see an objective, any kind of mission of sorts to break up the monotony of killing wave upon wave of villain from chapter to chapter.
All told, I cannot recommend Watchmen: The End is Nigh to anyone. It lacks the necessary level of polish a proper brawler would have, it’s far too expensive to purchase as a casual button masher, and does absolutely nothing to earn its Watchmen branding. Ultimately,TEIN has no real targeted audience, and no reason to spend $20 on it. Watchmen fans would do well to avoid this one; it is an absolute embarrassment to the license.