Watchmen isn't your traditional superhero story. When it first came out, it revolutionized the genre, inspired a lot of stories (both good and bad), and reinvented the way people look at superheroes. It was also a testament to the comic book medium, with writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons creating a tale that couldn't be told in any other medium — or so it seemed. Over 20 years later, Zach Snyder (of "300" fame) is willing to give it a shot with the highly anticipated "Watchmen" movie. While we won't know if he's succeeded until the film hits theaters this Friday, it's safe to say that, at very least, Snyder has brought Watchmen back into the spotlight. With this attention comes a hefty dose of tie-in products, from action figures to coffee mix. A video game tie-in was all but inevitable, but some wondered how to turn the action-light and talking-heavy source material into a game. Watchmen: The End Is Nigh takes a rather interesting path by looking at the main story and the history of the involved characters.
Watchmen begins in 1985, long after the passage of the Keene Act, a law banning masked vigilantes that marked the end of the era of costumed heroes. Before the passage of the Keene Act, there were a number of fanciful characters who spent their days beating up criminals and helping the needy, although their reasons were not always good or pure. Watchmen: The End is Nigh places players in the shoes of Nite Owl and Rorschach, two of the main characters of the movie, back in 1965, during the peak of their crime-fighting days. A mob boss known as Underboss has escaped from prison during a prison riot, and he seems to have a mysterious plan involving weapon sales and two seemingly nobody reporters named Woodward and Bernstein. Naturally, it is up to Nite Owl and Rorschach to stop Underboss and figure out his plot. Don't expect any of the tremendous twists and turns that the actual comic takes here; barring a predictable plot twist (at least to fans of the book), this is good old-fashioned superheroics.
Watchmen: The End is Nigh is your fairly average beat-'em-up title. Playing alone or with a friend, you take control of one of the dynamic duo of Nite Owl and Rorschach as they try to figure out Underboss's nefarious plans. Combat is a breeze to pick up, with the X button controlling fast attacks and the Y button for strong attacks, and you can even mix them up for various combos. The B button is for throwing, which allows you to toss enemies into each other, over railings and off piers. The right shoulder button blocks or dodges, depending on the character, which allows you to avoid damage. Pressing the right shoulder button and fast attack together makes you counterattack an enemy who has attacked you during the animation, so this is a great way to handle crowds.
Both characters also have a special set of attacks accessible via the shoulder buttons, which is different for each character. Both also have access to finishing moves. If an enemy is badly hurt, a button prompt will appear over his head, and pressing that button will cause Nite Owl or Rorschach to instantly finish off the opponent, often in a very brutal way. Each character begins with only regular attacks and the ability to block, but quickly finds new attacks as the game progresses. Some are hidden in areas that only one of the fighters can get to, while others are right in the open. However, a cursory glance of each stage will find you everything you need, and the game tells you how many items are on each stage.
Nite Owl, long before his days of self-doubt and pudgy gut, was a skilled hand-to-hand combatant and a talented gadgeteer, and this background plays into his in-game combat abilities. In the comic, there is a once-off mention of his attempt to create a powered exoskeleton to enhance his abilities. Unfortunately, trying to use it made him break his arm. Watchmen: The End is Nigh assumes that Nite Owl was successful in creating this suit, and it is what he dons while crimefighting. Nite Owl can generate a brief electrical charge when blocking, which causes an enemy who touches him to be stunned and susceptible to a counterattack. He can also overcharge this electrical boost to shoot electricity at any nearby enemies. A built-in "sonic screamer" allows him to disorient all foes within a given radius. However, each use of these abilities drains his suit's charge. The more powerful the ability, the more charge it drains, and the only way to regenerate it is to let it slowly refill or perform a finishing attack, which gives the charge meter a huge boost. He also has access to a grappling gun, which allows him to reach high places that Rorschach can't, and night-vision goggles built into his cowl, which activate automatically in the dark.
Unlike Nite Owl, Rorschach doesn't have the technological know-how to create any fancy gadgets, so he relies on his own determination (or insanity) and hand-to-hand brawling to get by. Rorschach's a much more brutal fighter than Nite Owl, and it shows. His attacks are fast and ruthless, and he can steal weapons from enemies for use against them. As Rorschach fights, his rage meter builds up, and at any time, he can perform a Bull Rush to stun enemies at the cost of a bit of his rage meter. Once the rage meter is full, he can choose to enter into a special rage mode, where his speed and strength are magnified. Once you earn a certain upgrade, he is even invincible in rage mode, which drains the rage meter quickly but allows him to utterly devastate opponents while it's activate. Unlike Nite Owl's charge ability, rage doesn't refill naturally. You have to fight to keep it full, and in moments between battle, it starts to slowly drain. Rorschach also has access to a lockpicking set, which allows him to break into doors that Nite Owl can't. Lockpicking involves playing a short mini-game where you have to move the tumblers in a specific pattern to open the door. It's not particularly difficult to do, but it's rather pointless and feels extremely tacked on.
Combat is pretty darn dull. There are only a few types of enemies in Watchmen: The End is Nigh, and even if there were different models, they all fight in the same manner. The only ones who provide a minor threat are the "big" enemies, and that's just because they're more durable than their counterparts. After you've gone through the first two chapters, you've seen basically everything that the title has to offer, and earning new moves doesn't improve the combat quality very much. You can stun enemies or knock them to the ground with combos, but they usually involve some extra effort, and it's far easier to simply pound buttons and earn easy wins. Once you earn the counterattack ability, the only way to lose a fight is if you're not paying attention to the screen … and if you decide to pound the counterattack buttons over and over again, you still might win.
Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a pretty short game. It takes place over a handful of chapters, and you'll probably finish it in less than two hours. (There is even an Achievement for completing the game within 80 minutes.) It's fairly repetitive because you'll be fighting the same enemies from beginning to end, and while the environments are different, the gameplay doesn't change very much. There are a handful of occasions when Nite Owl and Rorschach split up, but those basically amount to fighting a few enemies by yourself and occasionally pulling a switch. There is only one boss fight at the very end of the game, and it's nothing spectacular. Watchmen isn't a terrible game, but for the $20 price tag, it's a bit on the pricy side due to the lack of replay value, overall short length and very repetitive gameplay.
For a downloadable game, Watchmen looks pretty darn excellent. The character models are good, and there are some nice visual effects that I wouldn't have expected. There is a lot of repetition in the game's animations, so finishing moves are repeated a ridiculous amount, and most enemies move almost identically. Despite the game's short length, it becomes repetitive very quickly, and even if you finish it within two hours, you'll have grown tired of the canned animations long before the final fight.
The audio in Watchmen is also quite good. The actors for Rorschach and Nite Owl do an admirable job of mimicking their respective actors. There are a few flubbed lines, but not many, and it's nothing that detracts from the overall quality. The enemies are not bad either, but there are far too many repeated lines coming from them. After you've heard the same threat three or four times, it starts to get really tiresome.
Watchmen: The End Is Nigh is a fairly mediocre beat-'em-up made special only by the source material from which it drew its inspiration. Playing as Nite Owl and Rorschach is faintly amusing, and the in-jokes, references and cameos are certain to appeal to Watchmen fans, but that is about the extent of its potential. The combat is dull and repetitive, to the point where you can win most fights without even looking at the screen. There are combos and special abilities, but they're rarely necessary or worth the time and trouble to execute. It's also a fairly short title, and most players will probably finish it in less time than it would take to watch the movie. Even at the discount price of $20, it's difficult to recommend this game to anyone but the most die-hard of Watchmen fans. Regular gamers without any interest in the characters will find little to satisfy them here.
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