Pros: Satisfying shooter mechanics; interesting setting
Cons: Single-player is far too short; multiplayer is dull; good/evil system is a wash
In a genre that’s fast running out of creative ideas, at least the developer of DarkWatch got something right. Instead of having to mow down hoards of Nazis, bio-genetic soldiers, mutants, or undead demons from hell, DarkWatch puts the player smack down in the middle of a western. Ok, you still have to mow down undead demons from hell, but at least they’re undead demons from hell in the old west. We’ll take whatever we can get.
The Great Train Robbery
You play Jericho Cross, a no-good outlaw who decides to pull off one last train robbery before packing it in and moving to Tahiti. Unfortunately Jericho isn’t quite smart enough to realize that this train (filled with undead minions, no less) might not be, shall we say, normal. And maybe that safe emblazoned with spooky spikes and skulls doesn’t contain gold, but a super bad vampire.
No matter. In short order Jericho is killed and then rises as a vampire himself. But is he strong enough to overcome the evil in his heart and save humanity or will he succumb completely to the darkness? Important questions, but not nearly as important as whether or not you get to shoot lots of stuff.
A Shot in the Dark
DarkWatch is a first-person shoot that doesn’t stray far from established genre conventions. Many of the game mechanics are lifted directly from Halo. Jericho can only carry two weapons at any given time and he has a regenerating shield. Unlike Warhammer 40k: Fire Warrior, which attempted the same thing and failed miserably, these designs largely succeed in DarkWatch because the developers clearly tweaked and balanced the firefights in the game to take advantage of the system.
Combat feels uniformly good in this game. Movement and aiming is simple without being too easy. Each weapon in your roster is appropriate under certain circumstances. Once you learn the art of the headshot, most players will probably gravitate to the carbine for its mix of power and accuracy. The shotgun, another favorite in first-person shooters, seems a little underpowered even at close range. But if the monsters get too close to you, you’ll probably end up smacking them with the butt of your rifle anyway. And even though melee attacks are overpowered, they are incredibly satisfying to pull off.
The enemy AI won’t wow you, but each monster has a particular style of attack. The scythe-wielding skeletons will charge you. Pistol-packing zombie cowboys will take potshots at you from behind cover. Banshees fly around and spew ectoplasm at you. There are several other enemies and it's the combinations of different kinds in a battle that makes the combat interesting and satisfying. DarkWatch has the basic mechanics of the first-person shooter down cold. On this level, the game just plain feels good to play.
Good… Bad… I’m the Guy With the Gun
Things don’t look so hot when the game starts to introduce other elements into the mix. There’s a whole good/evil system that promises to take you through different story paths. Although there are two different endings to the game, your path to get there isn’t really any different. And the reward for being good or bad is a linear progression of special powers. As such, it makes little sense to play the game neutral as you’ll never be able to get to the most powerful abilities that way.
There are also a couple of rail-shooter levels that aren’t really up to snuff. This is odd because it feels like huge chunks of the game were cut out (presumably because they had to get the game out the door). So the choice of leaving those particular levels in is puzzling. The game is pretty dull for the first third of the game. But once the pace picks up (especially once you meet the DarkWatch) you’ll be having a great time. And then, all too soon, it’s over.
Unfortunately, multiplayer doesn’t do much to pick up the slack. It’s your basic, deathmatch and capture-the-flag shtick. There’s also a collection game called soul hunters that isn’t all that great. The multiplayer presentation is bare-bones to say the least, and the great combat of the single-player game doesn’t translate to multiplayer at all.
Cowboy Vampires Ahoy!
The biggest draw in DarkWatch is the setting. It’s just different enough to remain interesting the whole way through. It does fall back on tired video game clichés from time to time like big-breasted, leather-clad babes who speak in aggressive sexually suggestive double entendres, but it’s nice to see something--anything--that’s a little off the beaten path. It’s worth trading in your plasma rifle for a six-shooter, if only for a little while, right?