Comic book movies have become as common place in our culture as the video games they are based off. Too often, video games are made to represent the comic books or the feature film adaptation of the characters. Sometimes they work out (Ultimate Spider-Man), most of the time though they don’t (Justice League Heroes). Then there’s the double whammy of hope and despair with the comic book movie video game. These little conundrums often leave a bad taste in the mouths of unsuspecting fans and casual players looking for their fix of comic book media in any fashion.
It really should be no surprise that the latest game based on a comic book movie is Watchmen. After all, with so much hype surrounding the film and the oodles of merchandise out there for people to dig deeper into the mythos of the Watchmen, a video game is, as I said, common place. The question has to be asked though – does this stand alone as a video game or is it a blatant attempt at cashing in on the hype surrounding the film? To put it best, it is a little of both.
Taking place thirteen years before the events of the Watchmen graphic novel or feature film, the story revolves around the interesting “dynamic duo” of Rorschach and Nite Owl. While it may be easy to claim that Nite Owl is a Batman rip off (only by those that have not seen the movie or read the graphic novel), Rorschach is by no means Robin. The two answer a police band call about a prison riot and they investigate. It seems like a traditional riot for about ten seconds until Rorschach starts spewing off about how things seem too odd for it to be simple. Of course, he is right. An old villain, Underboss, has orchestrated a prison break to happen during the riot. Underboss escapes, and Nite Owl and Rorschach set off to bring him back in, albeit without the approval of the warden of the prison.
The story arch works well enough as a precursor to the events of Watchmen. It explains a little more about the dynamic between Rorschach and Nite Owl. However, even with the cameo appearances of the other characters, it doesn’t really deliver on the ideas that were present in Watchmen. If nothing else, it feels more like a flashback of brutality near the end of their heyday. The presence of the other characters will make fans of the graphic novel smile. It may even make those that become fans of the film happy. But, without actually knowing the characters beforehand, it may be hard to digest just why these characters are popping in and out of the story.
Case in point, there is a sequence that shows nothing more than crosshairs lining up a shot during a pivotal moment in the story. Without any prior knowledge, most would assume this was just someone working for Underboss, but those familiar will know it is The Comedian. There are little nuances like this throughout the game. Normally I would call them Easter eggs for fans, but in the context of this game, there should be more for newcomers.
The gameplay operates on the beat-’em-up tactic; akin to Double Dragon but in 3D. Button-mashers will initially think this game is for them – after all, most of your attacks reside in two buttons with a few extra options added as the game progresses. Unfortunately, on several instances I found myself irritated due to the lack of responsive controls. Sometimes I was solidly connecting, and then, in the same instance, it felt like the characters would forget they had someone else controlling them. This often occurred while performing combos. With most beat-’em-up games this can be easily overlooked, with The End is Nigh you’re not allowed to roll with it, as later in the game you are almost required to be a pro at the combos.
It’s not like the God of War button-mashing. Instead, it functions via two buttons that occasionally will open up button-sensitive take-downs. I really did enjoy the take-downs featured in the game – more so Rorschach’s than Nite Owl’s, mostly because it seems the developers took the time to ensure Rorschach was portrayed as the violent sociopath he was in the graphic novel. Nite Owl feels more like the traditional “I am superhero and I know Kung Fu.” They are each represented in their true fashion, but most will quickly decide to play as Rorschach due to the brutal nature of his attacks and take-downs.
In addition to the whole thumb-numbing experience, there are small puzzles you will have to complete. When I say small, I mean minuscule, nothing really surpassing pulling the glowing lever. Sometimes these puzzles involve you being separated from your partner, and then you being attacked by small factions of enemies. Sometimes these are fixed to make it easier for completion. Then there are instances were there just seems to be too many. The balance flips back and forth too often.
The co-op in the game functions well enough if you can get past the split-screen. With a fighter like this, it would have made more sense to not have the split-screen. Not only does it remove more than half of the actual environment, but it makes it very confusing if you ever casually glance over to the left or right, as it uses a vertical screen. If there was a need for split-screen, I think it would have benefited from horizontal split-screen.
The game’s two strengths reside in the graphics and the sound work. Graphically, this title is top-notch by any downloadable game standard. The environments are fluid with the tone set in the graphic novel. They add a sense of realism to the underbelly of 1972 New York that sets the overall tone of the game. The character models accurately depict the characters, with the exception of the countless clones of enemies you will face. The animation, at times, seems a little staunch as well. However, the lighting and weather effects in the levels help the characters really come to life. The cutscenes are delivered in the same style as Dave Gibbons’ art and uses the flash animation style of the movie.
Having the actors reprise their roles for the voice work was a smart choice. However, as much as I like the actor portraying Rorschach in the film, I found it mind-numbing hearing him dribble dialogue in the game. It came so often and so frequent that it was more distracting than appeasing. The other complaint I have about the dialogue is the use of certain curse words. Normally, dropping the “F-bomb” in a game and other colorful sentence enhancers is ok, but when you have a movie that doesn’t use the same vein of language it can be harmful on both sides of the spectrum. It’s like having Mickey Mouse in a Looney Tunes game.
Watchmen: The End is Nigh deserves to be called a great downloadable game. However, I can’t give it that nod for one main reason: the price tag. Twenty bucks for a game that is no more than three hours long, with simplistic control schemes, and a less than meaningful story is not a smart choice. It functions as fan service more than anything else. If there was more meat to this game, the price could be rationalized. Unfortunately, most will rather save their money to see the feature film than to experience an adventure with Rorschach and Nite Owl before the events of Watchmen.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Superb graphics for a downloadable game. It makes me wonder how it would have looked if it were a disc-based game. 2.5 Control
Simple combos make button-mashing a chore more than a relief. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cast members reprising their roles respectively for the characters in the game is definitely a plus, but the one-liners and occasional over-the-top messages can be daunting. 2.6 Play Value
As a traditional arcade co-op fighter this one delivers. Anything past this, and you are asking too much from it. The price tag is its own worst enemy. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.