|Watchmen: The End is Nigh is the first in a series of downloadable episodes and is set to release around the time of the upcoming feature film. Though it's downloadable and at an unnamed price "competitive" with other digital titles, Watchmen is gorgeous. The environments and character models are as good as any high-end retail game on the market. Whether on the wet cobblestone streets in the middle of a storm or in the cramped quarters of a run-down prison, Watchmen is a real looker. If you were expecting some rushed movie tie-in, one look at the game in motion will erase those thoughts.
There's no question that visually, Watchmen: The End if Nigh does some great things for a digital download. In fact, the screenshots hardly do the game justice. The real question is whether the gameplay can equal that same level of quality.
Having had a chance to see and play parts of three of the six chapters in The End is Night, I'd say the jury is still out on that. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some promising elements, but Watchmen is a street brawler. And, in my experience, 15 minutes with a street brawler isn't the same as six hours. How the constant battles with endless strings of enemies holds up over the course of the entire game is going to ultimately determine Watchmen's critical success. But, to its credit, Warner Bros. and developer Deadline Games are working to ensure that things stay fresh from start to finish.
First, you need to just chill the #$@% out. Once you've done that, it's time to accept that there's a game and movie being made and that, despite some reservations, you probably want to be on board with it. Warner Bros. is doing what most deemed impossible -- turning Watchmen into a videogame. Debate the merits of this all you want, but at least WB is not doing it half-assed. This is a sincere effort to make something good and relevant and with an homage to the graphic novel.
While the gameplay features realistic visuals, there are numerous touches that give the feel of the comic book. The cutscenes, for example, play out like moving comic book panels. And though the art is not directly from Watchmen's Dave Gibbons, it was done under his supervision. It's very much like an old superhero cartoon with minimal animations and a 2D look. The colors are spot on, which helps maintain the visual look of the comics. A lot of care was given to these slick cutscenes. In fact, Warner Bros. licensed Gibbons' specific font to ensure the cut-scene text is identical to the source material.
The first episode examines the partnership of Rorschach and Nite Owl. Both are playable for the start and split-screen offline co-op is available. That's right: offline only. Let me know when you're done dripping tears onto the screen.
The character you choose to play won't fundamentally change the chapter. The same events occur, the story progresses in the same way. However, Rorschach and Nite Owl have distinctly different fighting styles, which will alter how you tackle the enemies on screen. On top of this, there are several divergent paths where the duo split up. In one instance, Nite Owl lifts a gate for Rorschach to crawl under, then he uses his grappling hook to ascend to the roof. While one hero traverses the ground, the other experiences the rooftop. This should add a touch of replayability.
These are two different characters with their own fight tactics. Rorschach is a bit of a brute. He likes to charge in and fight multiple enemies at once. As you unlock combos, Rorschach gains the ability to pull off more impressive moves and chain his attacks better. As you perform well, combo buttons appear on the screen as guidelines to what moves can be made. You can ignore these or follow them to a T.
Personally, I found it far more satisfying spending my time countering attacks with a well-timed press of the block button. The counter-moves look pretty slick and add some needed flair to the melee. With counters, you can disarm enemies and, while using Rorschach, pick up those weapons to use on the scum of the world. As seems requisite for brawlers, Rorschach can build up a rage meter. Once full, you can let out a feral howl and, for a brief time, do extra damage and more easily perform finishing moves.
Not that I am attempting to sway your choice of which character to play, but Rorschach has the added bonus of being able to pick locks. In a mini-game lifted straight from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you're presented with a series of tumblers. Move the lock picks until a tumble is in place, then move to the next and so-on. There are locks with up to seven tumblers, so failure is possible, though there is no punishment. Locks can lead to rewards or to the next section of the game. Nite Owl may also have his own special mini-game, but nothing was shown to me during my half-hour demo. If nothing else, he has a cape (and we all know chicks dig capes).
There's still quite a bit of Watchmen: The End is Nigh that I haven't seen, so it's quite possible that there are some additional non-combat elements to be discovered. Warner Bros. is hoping that there is enough gameplay variance to keep fans interested for the 6-8 hour experience and, of course, to get them to come back for Episode 2. Though no other characters from the movie/graphic novel appeared when I played, Warner Bros. assures that we'll see Dr. Manhattan and others over the course of the adventure.