Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NACON
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Release Date: Feb. 4, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood'

by Redmond Carolipio on March 5, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Set in the World of Darkness universe, the player will become a werewolf, known as Garou, immersed in the atmosphere of their shamanistic and tribal world.

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I know I'm supposed to be choosier with my words in an effort to dissect the merits of the gaming art piece before me, but all I can think of whenever I see the characters in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood talk, move and sometimes break some of the game's fundamental elements are words like, "oof" or "damn" or "yikes." There was also the occasional incredulous chuckle, which is never a good sign.

Whatever fun-adjacent moments I extracted from Earthblood in the nearly double-digit hours I invested were consistently squashed under the weight of poor, stiff visuals, bland storytelling and characters, repetition and an overarching lack of imagination. The whole experience reminds me of what rental action games used to be like generations ago, when all they seemed to do was churn out a good guy and point him toward whatever the game told them was evil.

The good guy in this case is the extremely generic Cahal, who another writer gloriously described as "dollar-store Kratos," and I can't think of a more apt description of the bald, bearded protagonist. However, the lore behind Cahal is kind of cool: He's part of a special tribe of people called the Garou, who can turn into werewolves (and normal-size wolves) and serve as the guardians of the Earth, which they call Gaia. Gaia, for its part, is in the middle of a delicate balance among three forces: the Wyld, the Weaver and the Wyrm. The Wyrm is the most dangerous, according to the game, as its sole purpose is destruction. The Wyrm is also apparently winning, as the Earth is being torn up by evil corporate machinations, which leads us into the knowledge that Cahal and the rest of his wolf tribe act as a special kind of eco-warrior strike squad.

This all seems like potentially solid fun until you set your eyes on the gameplay, cinema screens and interactions between characters. Have you ever watched one of those house-hunting or fixer-upper shows where the couple walks into a room with some funky-colored flooring or wall hooks designed to look like fingers and somebody says, "Oh, wow," almost in disbelief? That's what happened when I started to see the game in action. I played this on the PS5, and it is almost disturbing how dated, flat and stiff the characters look and feel when they are talking to each other, as if they are still in the early design phase. Sometimes during conversation, the characters have mechanical, random gesturing that might remind people of animatronics at Disneyworld. The voice-synching with characters' lips feels way off, and in terms of the voices, almost everyone sounds bored or dry. The unintentional comedy chuckle I mentioned earlier is in the prologue, when you meet Cahal's child-age daughter. She legitimately looks like a grown-ass person, just child height. It's probably worth noting that I had a hard time investing in the story.

The Big Bad in this game is, of course, an apparently all-powerful company that's injuring the Earth, and its name is Endron. Yes, as in "Enron" with a D wedged in the middle. There's even a really evil CEO who looks like he should just laugh like Skeletor to complete his whole vibe. Much of the game is Cahal making life hell for Endron, blowing things up and infiltrating its facilities, most of which are comically within short running distance of Cahal and his entire tribe in the forest. The story eventually branches out beyond simple eco-fighting into Endron's strange science experiments, the Wyrm's growing influence and where Cahal and his wolf-tribe fit in.

If you can get past how Earthblood moves, there are some very interesting moments to be found within the gameplay, which struggles with trying to measure an emphasis on stealth versus balls-out slaughtering monster action with aggro metal playing in the background. Cahal has a wealth of abilities at his disposal. He can turn into a wolf at any time for speed, stealth and maneuverability, especially through networks of conveniently open-air ventilation systems that are in every Endron facility. He can also "enrage," which triggers his much larger, traditional werewolf form that comes complete with two different fighting stances and a wealth of different moves that can tear apart droves of hapless enemies or send them flying across the screen as you leave Jackson Pollock-like blood splatter all over the walls and floors. At times, it can be really satisfying — immensely satisfying — but it also slaps a neon sign on the game's tenuous stealth/action balance.

What makes this weird (and hilarious) is that Cahal can trigger his imposing werewolf form at practically any time, even during missions where stealth is supposedly required — even in mid-conversation. The example that sticks out in my mind is when Cahal is supposed to pose as a new recruit for Endron's security forces to infiltrate one of their bases. He walks up to the facility, makes it in to see the recruiter, who starts talking to him. All the while, the "enrage" command is available. I activate it while the Endron recruiter is in the middle of saying something and Cahal transforms instantly, sending out a rippling force wave that sends the recruiter and everyone around Cahal flying, destroying the cubicle-like structures and generally laying waste to the area. People are freaking out, soldiers start filing in from random doors to fight, the aggro metal starts, and Cahal basically has to kill everyone to clear the room and move on.

What this basically said to me as a player is that no matter how I execute any stealth actions, I can always say, "screw it" and just rampage through everyone, whether it's droves of Endron soldiers, mechs and snipers that fire silver bullets (which cut down on your overall life meter permanently until your fight is over), automated turrets and other varying enemies. It's like the game is saying, "Here's stealth, like, you know, if you really wanna, but if you don't, cool." There's an intricacy to the combat that I appreciated, making me critically think about which stances to use and which special abilities I wanted to trigger, such as self-healing vs. a powerful slashing attack vs. "frenzy," which makes Cahal nearly invincible and grants him fatal striking power. If I can enact all that at any time, doesn't that make the stealth elements completely unnecessary? Other games have a smooth transition from stealth to pure action, but whenever it happens here, it feels like I'm breaking something.

I also fell into a repetitive action cycle for most of my time, where I'd head to an Endron facility, open some doors, try to sneak past guards using a combination of small-wolf form and "penumbra vision" to highlight enemies, power sources, computers, etc., only to eventually get spotted (with no chance to re-hide), which then forces me to turn werewolf and kill everyone in the room. Then I'd move to the next section of the facility, where inexplicably, no one knew about the complete massacre a few rooms down the hall, and I'd try to stealth my way through again. Rinse and repeat.

I could delve into more, but I'd just be filling space at this point. I did have some nuggets of fun with Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, but there's too much I can't ignore to recommend it to anyone, especially with the dawn of next-gen systems and titles that execute their concepts much better and simply look like what current games should be.

Score: 4.9/10

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