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Watchmen: The End Is Nigh

RORSHACH’S JOURNAL. MARCH 14TH, 2009

Played a game today. Watchmen, they call it. Tie-in for a film, twenty years in the making. Originally a book. I wouldn’t know, no time to read about such gratuitous life/death struggles. Opinion is mixed though. Some say game should not be made, source material does not suit it. Hard to tell, difficult to play with face on. Fights are full of violence and the violence is full of blood. Should please some, not all.

Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

ROSHACH, MARCH 14TH, 2009 .} {.

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And back to reality. If you didn’t understand what any of that, rather awkward, fan-service-intended opening meant then you’re in the wrong place. Watchmen: The End is Nigh is of course a tie-in to the much anticipated movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel, Watchmen. A book that elevated the superhero genre to new heights with its adult take on the flawed and troubled life of a superhero in an alternate 1980s America where an impending nuclear war looms on the horizon.

Developers Deadline Games have taken a wise design choice, opting to set The End is Nigh a few years before the events of the graphic novel and film. The source material could never in a million years translate well into a game; hell, fans continue to claim that the graphic novel is unfilmable even as it hits cinemas this month. So Deadline Games chose the right option and drafted in original talent with Watchmen’s editor Len Wein, and artist, Dave Gibbons, to pen the story, while they were at it.

And their talent goes to good use. Whilst not matching the extreme heights of the original tale, The End is Nigh still manages to entertain as the detective-style story plays out in some gloriously hand drawn cut scenes that capture the graphic novels style. It’s great fan service that elevates the game’s story even more so; managing to imbue an extra ounce of back story into these deep and thought-provoking characters.

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Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a straight up brawler, plain and simple.”Something the gameplay falters at is in its approach. You see, while the story focuses on telling a crime solving, detective story in line with the original graphic novel, the gameplay takes a completely different angle, borrowing more elements from arcade classics such as Streets of Rage and Double Dragon than its source material – which many believe would be ideal as a point-and-click adventure title. Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a straight up brawler, plain and simple. Playing as either Rorshach or Night Owl, you must make your way through six chapters of pummelling guys from head to toe. Each chapter is set in a different location, from the dodgy back streets of a dreary New York, to the city’s sewage system and dock yard. You’ll fight your way through the underbelly of the Big Apple, taking on the scum of the streets in all shapes and sizes.

And, surprisingly, it’s a pretty competent brawler; basic in design, but fun, nonetheless. You have your heavy and light attacks as well as a dodge move and special attacks depending on which crime fighter you’re playing as. Rorshach’s the more visceral of the two, he’ll charge in like the psycho he is, smacking bad guys left, right and centre. When he gets particularly angry his rage meter will fill up allowing you to go into overdrive and unleash some deadly, bone-breaking moves. Nite Owl, on the other hand, is a little more conservative. His moves have a hint of grace about them, and he’ll use technology to defeat his foes with night-vision, electric shocks and grenades all at his disposal.

But ultimately, there’s not much of a difference between the two. Sure, they have their own unique abilities, but you’ll end up playing the game the same no matter who you choose. Luckily there are quite a few combos to unlock as you make your way through the game. They’re easy to pull off and you’ll discover a much more rewarding experience with The End is Nigh if you utilize them properly. Some are just shorter or stronger versions of combos already in your repertoire, so it does get repetitive eventually, but it’s certainly more enjoyable than some action games I’ve played over the past year.

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The special moves are especially exciting. When the moment calls for it you can press a button to unleash a devastating finishing move. There are quite a few to see but it’s all random so you never know what you’re going to get. They’re all very satisfying though, especially Roshach’s brutal approach to finishing off his foes – just when you think it’s over, he’ll come back with another gut wrenching blow. It might shame the graphic novel with its approach, but there’s no denying how cool it is to see these characters execute moves like this.

“It might shame the graphic novel with its approach, but there’s no denying how cool it is to see these characters execute moves like this.”Sadly, though, there’s just not much else to it. You’ll enter a room, a wave of baddies will run in, you’ll beat them up, rinse and repeat. The only time the combat is broken up is when some video game clichés are introduced. From lifting up gates, to pulling switches and turning levers; it’s all here and it’s all as boring as you can imagine. You can see they’ve tried to put some emphasis on co-op play by occasionally splitting you both up, but it never lasts for long and seems like something that was thrown in last minute in an attempt to spice things up.

And, really, it doesn’t work as well when there’s no online co-op anyway. Being an Xbox Live Arcade game where two characters are always present, it’s a major oversight that online co-op couldn’t be incorporated. There’s still split-screen, but there are no excuses, especially with the high price point.

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Luckily the production values are through the roof. Visually, The End is Nigh is stunning. This is the largest download on XBLA and you can see why. There’s some exceptional texture work here and the lighting effects are superb. Character models for both Rorshach and Night Owl are done extremely well, although the other characters didn’t get quite the same treatment; and while the animation is great, there are some choppy transitions between certain moves. Regardless, this is by far the best looking game on the Arcade, and it could definitely match up against some retail games.

And work in the sound department is just as impressive with talent from the movie reprising their roles with Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson voicing Rorshach and Night Owl, respectively. They both do an admirable job, and on the whole, the brutal blows of combat sound top-notch throughout.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a game that probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day. A brawler is not something you expect to see these characters starring in, but it’s not as bad as you might imagine. However, for 1600 Microsoft points (the same price as The Lost and Damned, to put things into perspective) it’s ludicrously overpriced for what is a three to four hour basic street brawler. Repetition begins to set in eventually, and there’s not much to go back to other than co-op. Sure, it’s an enjoyable romp that some fans should enjoy thanks to the faithful design and story, but there’s not enough substance to make it last more than a few hours.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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