Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Sammy Studios
Publisher: Sega/Sammy Studios
Release Date: March 3, 2005
They must be putting something in the water over near these here game development companies.
Some kind of super-brain-enhancing agent, or something.
Whatever it is, I want some.
It wasn’t long ago that the arrival of a capable console first-person shooter could be categorized as a once-in-a-while event. Yet, in the same season, I’ve been treated to the likes of the phenomenal Halo 2, the surprisingly solid Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, and just recently, Darkwatch, which will be released by Sammy next year.
Darkwatch puts you into the role of one Jericho Cross, a vampire who slays monsters and the undead, and—should you prefer to go that route—makes things safe for the human race. He’s a guy with a toothful sneer and a style that makes the likes of Blade or Van Helsing look tame by comparison.
When a game gives you an option for fanning your pistol hammer as a primary means of firing it, you know it’s on to something. Other weapons include crossbows whose projectiles embed themselves into targets and explode, and old-style renditions of shotguns and sniper rifles. Grenades are replaced by dynamite, most vehicles are powered by steam, pretty much everything’s given an Old West look, or something similar to it.
Speaking of looks, this is one pretty game. This is the Playstation 2, yet game play yields a consistent frame rate, and some of the smoothest graphics ever seen on the system. Even on a high-resolution medium such as S-Video, jagged surfaces are nonexistent, and colors and textures are distinct. This bodes quite well for the atmosphere, and I’d actually found myself scared a few times when the game would throw monsters at me that looked like something out of Resident Evil or Ghostbusters--and were just as much trouble to kill. The action’s already non-stop and never runs out of enemies to toss at you from angles you’d never even dreamed of, but when you’re staring into the bloody fangs of your would-be demise, trying to tactically search for weak points isn’t exactly the first action that springs to mind.
There are a number of reasons to like Darkwatch besides looks, however. The first is the control, which, once again, defies Playstation 2 convention. People who own more than just that system may have noticed over the years that the PS2 has the loosest and slipperiest analog controls since… well, anything. This makes for game play that can be somewhat tough to cope with, and first-person shooters often suffer due to aiming and/or movement issues. Not so with Darkwatch, however.
Supposedly, the programmers spent extra time fine-tuning, testing, and re-testing the control routines for this game via multiplayer bouts. Me, I prefer that to think that they just used magic. For the first time in a first-person shooter, I can snipe--and I am a person who gives away his sniping position in multiplayer Halo without fail, with no kills to show for it. Seriously, once you get used to the controls, they’re heaven.
Look for other neat touches such as being able to peer around corners and get shots off without the enemy being able to see you, which allows you to keep your precious cover, You can also double-jump (or “Vampire-Jump, as it’s called here), giving you the major high-ground advantage should you so choose to use it; and “Blood Vision, which allows you to easily detect enemy whereabouts. Jericho is also able to absorb the blood and essence of downed foes so that you may power up your “Blood Meter, which allows you to unleash special techniques that will be covered in just a little bit.
Another great thing to notice about Darkwatch is its knack for dynamic setting. One of the playable levels had Jericho take on a train full of undead baddies. He started out on horseback (yes, horseback), and had to take out the fortification around the train before actually being able to board it (and even then, he still had to take out oncoming riders). He then moved through the train, cleaning it out, and picking up some great weapons along the way, including a very effective shotgun, and a sniper rifle which he used to take care of enemies on top of cars further up without getting his hands dirty. When the front of the train was reached, his enemies decided to up the ante and come at him full force and in high-numbers—no problem, because there was a nifty gatling turret right beside Jericho (one which he’d “liberated a few minutes ago from some undead grunts) for him to hop in and start laying waste.
It’s about that point where the player realizes that they have an evil, conspiratory smile on their face. Levels like this make purification less of a job, and more of an adventure. The best part is that Sammy promises more of these types of levels, involving both horseback, and high-octane steam-powered vehicles. Definitely a step in the right direction.
Finally, Darkwatch has one other big card to play; its alignment system. Based on your decisions, Jericho can walk the path of the light, become a major bad boy, or just be one of those typical non-caring neutral antiheroes that anime seems to love so much. Hey, it’s all up to you. In all truth, alignment isn’t the deepest of aspects in Darkwatch. It doesn’t have truly RPG-like consequences, but it does have some perks. The main one is that it ties directly into Jericho’s ability-upgrade system.
Every once in a while, you have to save someone from the clutches of evil. Destroy everyone around them, and once you approach the victim, you’ve given a choice. You can use your vampire mojo to return them to their normal human state, or you can simply “assume that they’re too far gone, and finish them off like any other dirty rotten zombie. The former, of course, is the “good method; the latter is “evil. Jericho gets different rewards based on what he decides to do, such as different powers that he can activate when his Blood Meter is full. (The preview copy yielded temporary unlimited firepower if Jericho chose good, and temporarily invincibility if he chose evil.) There will also be outcomes based on leaning entirely to one side further on into the game.
Darkwatch brings a lot of new ideas to the table; some that you may have already seen before, just not in the medium of first-person shooters. It also reinterprets existing innovations. The end result is something that gets increasingly harder to keep to professional terms when writing about. (Seriously, I’m this close to bringing back the term “keen gear here. But that’d be more trouble than it’s worth.)
Anyway, keep an eye on the shelves next March, people. All signs point to this one being another diamond in the gaming rough.
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