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Watchmen: The End Is Nigh – Review

Submitted by on Saturday, 7 March 20094 Comments

Watchmen - The End is NighKeeping with the brevity of the content in question, we’ll follow suit and keep this review brief*.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh (hereafter simply ‘TEIN’) is not a good game.

It would be unfair to leave such a statement just hanging there however; damning and unequivocal without justification or explanation. Hence, in the interest of candour, we’ll attempt to justify this stark claim by addressing each of the game’s many issues and letdowns.

Don’t get us wrong. The game is not without some degree of fun (sliding between bad guys’ legs to deliver a crotch-punch is enjoyable in anyone’s book) but, as a whole, the game is repetitive, prosaic, over-priced and ultimately lacks the degree of quality we’ve come to demand. Sure, it might be pretty at times, but pretty visuals aren’t going to assuage those who have parted with their cash when faced with the 200th opponent to be dispensed by yet another simple button combination.

It’s a shame really as there are some interesting elements presented in TEIN. The characters for one are depicted authentically (especially Rorschach who ambles about menacingly) and the plot, though succinct, is actually not your usual tacked on half-thought. Written by the original comic’s editor, Len Wein, there is a definite feeling of familiarity and consistency of theme – especially if you’ve just seen the movie.

The 70s had a lot to answer for in terms of crimes against fashion

The 70s had a lot to answer for in terms of crimes against fashion

Paradoxically, a lot of the positives of the game can be found in its association with the Watchmen property itself. Case in point, Jackie Earl Haley’s sublime voice acting performance adds a stamp of quality to the experience. Not that Patrick Wilson’s turn as the Nite Owl is in anyway bad; he just doesn’t have the luxury of growling through malice-laced dialogue like Haley does. Unfortunately, any benefits the game has garnered through its association with the licenced property are ultimately negated if we assume the game’s failings are to be blamed on a development schedule hamstrung by the film’s opening. Due to this possible rush, what could have been a noirish, violent and poignant look into the Watchmen universe has descended into what accounts to basically Streets of Rage HD – and that’s probably doing Streets of Rage a disservice.

A standalone prequel set in the universe so meticulously created by writer Alan Moore (eccentric) and artist Dave Gibbons (apparently normal), Watchmen: The End is Nigh was an obvious game tie-in. A pre-installed fan-base, fantastical themes and likable yet flawed and downtrodden superheroes, it was a no-brainer that a game was coming. Considering we’ve quoted the plot as one of the few redeeming features of the piece, we promise not to spoil things too much when discussing the story. Needless to say, protagonists Rorschach and Nite Owl, operating during the pre-Keene Act era of the 1970s, respond to a riot at Sing Sing prison only to unravel a plot suggestive of a well disguised escape ruse that eventually spirals into possible government collusion. This story also apparently requires a serious amount of beatings to be dished out.

Rorschach and Nite Owl ask for directions the ole fashioned way

Rorschach and Nite Owl ask for directions the ole fashioned way

Game-play wise it’s pretty vapid and monotonous from the getgo and, despite new “moves” unlocking as you trudge through various numbered (and short) chapters, it never really progresses anywhere. Rorschach and Nite Owl have both strong and weak attacks though either seem to equally do the trick against the never-ending (and rarely-changing) antagonists.

You’ll have the opportunity to pick up nite-sticks and the like but it’s all incidental considering it makes little difference whether you crack an opponent’s skull open with an iron bar or a fist. The throw feature is useful enough, and a welcome reprieve from the incessant button bashing, but we’re hardly looking at a complex fighting system here. Counters are possible, as are graphic finishing moves that are insultingly easy to pull off. In fact, there are times when adversaries magically vanish from one position to appear right in front of you so as to receive a particular scripted disposing maneouvre. How magnanimous, and mind-numbingly stupid, of them. That said, the majority of the finishing attacks are deliciously visceral and fun to see. At least in the beginning before the sight of Rorschach chopping an evil doer across the trachea becomes trite and old-hat.

If you think we’ve mistakenly referenced the fighting system rather than the actual game-play then we have some bad news: this is the extent of the game-play on offer. With the game’s foundations firmly built around this omnipresent brawling trait, we would have hoped that the combo system was sufficiently complex and rewarding but in its place, we get a simplistic bash-athon devoid of any real skill requirement.

By Chapter IV you'll be wishing you were the guy on the right getting piped

By Chapter IV you'll be wishing you were the guy on the right getting piped

When you’re not mindlessly pressing the same buttons over and over, you’ll be mindlessly wandering around levels looking for an exit or a switch to pull. Apart from a couple of terse and pithy mini-games thrown in to break up the beatings, that’s it – that’s your game-play.

Graphically the game is competent and possesses some nice lighting and rain effects (especially in the second chapter) capturing the aesthetic and mood of Moore’s (and by extension Snyder’s) dystopian cesspit-esque representation of New York city quite well. But once again, just as we’re applauding one aspect of the game, it is necessary to highlight another less virtuous related element.  Far too many of the textures are either noticeably blurry or disappointingly austere for our liking and the frame-rate is also conspicuously lackadaisical at times to a degree that whole segments stutter to a halt when our heroes enter a new area.

TEIN is a shameless beat ’em up through-and-through, never professing to be anything more, so are we being overly harsh on it?

In one sense it achieves exactly what it sets out to insomuch that it is a perfect mindless smack-fest. It’s the over reliance on the licence and the obvious lost opportunities however that results in the game free-falling in our assessment.

The opening chapter makes prison look even worse than what you previously imagined.

The opening chapter makes prison look even worse than what you could have possibly imagined.

For example, you can’t really interact with Rorschach’s world, though this is just one instance of many missed opportunities. How great would it have been to traverse environments, jump off fire escapes to ultimately deliver flying blows to the scum of the streets below. With no jump option and an environment so linear that that it makes Sonic the Hedgehog appear multi-dimensional, you”ll find yourself racing through it to its final conclusion, almost blind to what’s happening around you. Considering the game is about three hours long (and there’s a trophy for completing it in less than half the time) there’s a definite desire to get this over with as quickly as possible in a vain effort to get your money’s worth. Which leads, inevitably, to TEIN’s price.

In an ideal world we would not mention what a game costs in relation to how well it performs. After all, games should be judged based on their qualities – not how much it cost you to play in the first place. That said, would we have reviewed TEIN differently if the game was offered at a lower price than the $19.99/£12.99/€14.99 quoted? It wouldn’t have made the game any better per se, though, quite honestly, we probably would have been more venial towards some of the game’s shortcomings. At its current price the only people we can recommend this to is those out there who are already snuggling up to Rorschach in their Watchmen themed bed-spread. Or maybe fans of ultra-violence with little to no depth. Surprisingly, that might actually add up to quite a lot of you.

With more chapters promised it is possible that TEIN will drop in price or become part of a bundle. We’d recommend waiting until then before ponying up the fee and, who knows, maybe the second chapter, now that the film is out and the rush has eased, will see Deadline Games produce a better sophomore effort.

The End is Nigh now has the unwanted accolade of becoming the next-gen touchstone of all that is wrong with the movie/game tie-in sub-genre. This is the apotheosis of why such ventures are treated with leery suspicion and, after this initial distrust is vindicated by experiencing the hackneyed game-play first-hand, abject ennui. It’s not that Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a terrible game. It’s not. It’s the disappointing lack of creativity and depth, synonymous with a genre that regularly produces titles that lack any breathing space to remedy shortcomings discovered during tight development windows, that becomes its most damning factor.

*Wasn’t so brief after all.