Review: Darkwatch (XB)


Darkwatch
Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Capcom
System: Xbox (Also on PS2)
Players: 1 Player campaign, 4 Player split screen deathmatch, 16 Player Live.

Story:

Hellboy meets the Old West. That sums up the events found in the game, but for those of you who have no idea what Hellboy is, I’ll go into greater depth. Picture a world where good and evil are fighting out in the open. Where the undead walk the earth and vampires are a real force to be reckoned with. Ok so I just described a Lucard wet dream but who cares? The Darkwatch is the force for good, trying to keep evil at bay while at the same time not letting the rest of the world know anything is even going on. You are Jericho Cross, a man who inadvertently allows plans to be set in motion when you rob a train.

After you attack the train you are bitten by a vampire and become one yourself. In order to save yourself from this curse, and maybe even save yourself from the curse that is your generic name, you have to hunt down this vampire and defeat him. You join the Darkwatch and get to work hunting down those things that go bump in the night.

Story: 7/10

Graphics:

Darkwatch is a very good looking game, both from a graphical standpoint and a stylistic one. The environments are familiar, meaning you’ll know you’re in the Old West, while character designs are excellent. Certain enemies have a certain Army of Darkness quality about them, while others seems to have been inspired by Serious Sam. The only character that feels out of place is Jericho himself, and thats because he seems too cartoonish for the rest of the environment.

The environments, while familiar, are never boring. They range from deep inside mine shafts to desert towns and forts. There are times when you are in ice caves and times when you are blistering sunlight looking desperately for some shadows. I never once thought to myself while playing this “Oh great, another tunnel.” Part of that was the frantic pace the game sets for you, while another part was the variety.

Graphics: 9/10

Sound:

First of all, I congratulate High Moon for taking the theme to “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” and tweaking it….and NOT screwing it up so bad I want to shoot my stereo. Not an easy thing to do, remixing classic compositions. The theme is heard mostly on the menu screen, but it’s well done and doesn’t feel out of place at all.

Now then, the rest of the music is fairly well done, when you can hear it that is. Most of the time you are too busy blasting away with your pistols to hear any kind of music, but there are spots where a short guitar riff just felt right to the developers, and I can’t disagree with them after playing.

As I mentioned the soundtrack gets drowned out by the sound of gunfire quite often due to the hectic pace the game sets. It’s not just gunfire that does it though. Banshees screaming, undead skeletons running at you yelling, zombie gunslingers firing away at you, all of it sounds really good. My only issue on one level an annoying noise appears and doesn’t leave for some time, and it is highly irritating. I’m not sure but I think it has something to do with the Banshees, but whatever it was, I really would have liked it to be gone.

The voice work is pretty well done, with western and demonic accents (what, you’ve never heard a demonic accent?) everywhere. After you actually join the Darkwatch you live in their Citadel, and use a device that is very reminiscent of a Stargate (which they call a Ghost Door in the game). You choose which mission to go on and the more you sway towards light or dark the more people will make comments, ranging from “I hope this is a one way trip for you” to “You should try walking in these boots”.

Sound: 8/10

Controls/Gameplay:

Shortly after I began playing Darkwatch I started to get some serious deja vu in regards to the controls, in fact the entire layout of the screen in front of me. It wasn’t until a few levels in that I was really able to place why I was having this feeling about the game.

In short, this is Halo in the Old West. With Vampires. The controls are almost exactly the same. But thats fine, games have taken cues from games before. This is different though. At some point along the way you acquire a voice in your head, similar to Cortana in Halo. The voice will warn you of things, tell you about enemies, and generally nag you when you choose to follow the dark path. I’m sure if Halo had allowed you to kill Marines and consume their souls Cortana would have done the same thing, but anyway, I’m still not done my point. Later on in the game you will get to drive a vehicle that is very similar to a Warthog (The jeep in Halo). Once again the designers have taken the controls and matched them to their needs.

The enemies you face in the game also seem to take at least some inspiration from Halo, as many of the undead that assault you do so in a way very similar to the Flood. You have suicide bombers. Well, if the undead can commit suicide thats what they are. You have giant bastards with shotguns, and you have your typical try and kill you with blades attackers. The only things missing (AND I’M NOT COMPLAINING HERE MIND YOU) are spiders to take the place of those little bastards that would attack you after the puffers blew up in Halo.

You might be thinking I have a problem with this, but the truth is I wish more companies would say ok, theres a really successful game over there, what made it work.. Part of Halo’s success is due to it’s controls being so easy and manageable. And as a result of Darkwatch mimicking Halo so well, what worked in Halo also works in Darkwatch.

Now, that’s not to say the entire game is Halo in the Old West. It’s not. The Master Chief isn’t a vampire, and he doesn’t have vampire powers. You can’t in most levels of Halo hop across an entire map, but I’ve done it in some of the maps in Darkwatch. The developers at High Moon really do a good job of conveying the fact that you are undead too, as you can really jump from any height and land safely without loss of health. Unless that is you jump off the map, but theres nothing you can do there. There are some other things to make this game more than just a Halo mod. Melee attacks are much more effective in this than they are in Halo. Many enemies can actually be killed just by hitting them in the right spot with the stock of your rifle or with the blade at the end of your pistol butt. Secondly, Master Chief doesn’t suck the blood from his dead enemies to regain health, but Jericho Cross does. This one feature alone may have shortened the actual game time I spent in game due to not dying nearly as often as I did in Halo.

Another of the things that makes the game stand out is something that makes enemies stand out on screen. Shortly after you get your new shiny fangs you acquire bloodvision. This is basically a way for you to find whatever is living on the map, and its really useful at times when you know theres an enemy around but you can’t quite locate it. This vision is also very effective on one of the levels just before you join the Darkwatch, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

Controls: 9/10

Balance:

I have to say I really liked the balance this game had for the most part. There aren’t exactly a large number of bosses, but when you get to them you should be able to handle them without too much difficulty. I’m not saying they are easy, but you won’t be buying new joysticks after playing this game, capiche? The enemies you face as you progress in game also increase in difficulty at a very acceptable pace. Just as you are beginning to get bored of killing undead skeletons with your rifle butt, they throw gunslingers at you. Once you are done with them, you get more skeletons and then they hit you with Banshees. And so on. There are really only about 10 types of enemies in the game, but High Moon uses them very well.

Balance: 8/10

Replayability:

Aside from being a very entertaining gameplay experience, Darkwatch actually has some built in replayability thanks to its good or evil storyline. Shortly after you become a vampire you run into a poor soul who has been left for you to find and feed upon. You can either free his soul by killing him mercifully or you can take it for your own, building up your strength, by claiming his soul for your own. You will run into a number of these, as well as people who have been cursed but not left in the same state. The choice is left up to you, and you will gain special powers, almost like force powers in Jedi Knight, depending on your choice between good and evil.

There is also of course the online aspect to the game. You have a couple of choices, as you can play 4 player split screen or 16 player online death match. The PS2 version of the game contains a 2 player co-op mode but lacks online multiplayer I believe. Frankly I find this lack of a feature in the Xbox version to be disappointing, as co-op is always appreciated. Still, after playing the game online, the only problem you might run into is a lack of other people to kill. The game does incorporate the vampire powers, but I found as I played that these are actually a hinderence to gameplay, as one person can use a power to run wild on the map for a few seconds, rake up the kills and then go back to get the power up again. There were other minor problems I had with the multiplayer, like turrets that were probably just a little bit too powerful, but even with these included the games I played in were close, and there was always a counter for the turret.

Replayability: 8/10

Appeal:

What do you mean appeal? In this drought we call summer someone chose to release a game. And a fairly good one at that. What more do you want? Oh alright. I’ll give details.

Firstly, if you’re under 18, ask your parents if you’re allowed to look at boobies. Because a couple of those make appearances. Secondly, if they say yes, ask them if you are allowed to massacre hundreds upon hundreds of undead soldiers and desecrate graveyards. If they still say yes, or if they don’t care, and you’re under 18, ask them if they realize they are the people screwing up videogames for the rest of us.

Finally, if you have anything against vampires. I mean if you just don’t get it and think people who do are freaks and such, you should probably avoid this.

Otherwise go grab it.

Appeal: 8/10

Originality:

Well, I can’t really go on and on about the gameplay feeling all that original can I? And when I start the review off by comparing it to Hellboy, I can’t seriously say the plot is something I’ve never heard of before. Having said that, there isn’t exactly an over abundance of games set in the Wild West starring vampires now is there?

Originality: 6/10

Addictiveness:

I think I was four levels into this game before I looked away from the screen. The combat is so hectic, the controls so smooth, that I found myself blazing through the game. Eventually I hit a point where I had to stop, but if I were made of sterner stuff I could have probably finished this game in a day. Not because it’s short, though it’s not terribly long even with the replay element, but because it kept me there until I couldn’t stay anymore. Very addicting game.

Addictiveness: 9/10

Miscellaneous:

I don’t know, I don’t think there’s anything left for me to talk about. The sex scene in the game felt a bit tacky, as it wasn’t exactly needed, but it did manage to move the story along. That’s about all I can think of at the minute.

Addictiveness: 9/10

Story: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10
Controls: 9/10
Balance: 8/10
Replay Ability: 8/10
Appeal: 8/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Short Attention Span Summary
A very enjoyable game, hectic and fun gameplay combined with solid controls makes for a game that should totally be experienced. Hopefully the start of a franchise.