Darkwatch takes the first-person shooter genre in a stylish and appealing new direction.
With all its science fiction entries, the first-person shooter genre seems on the verge of becoming bloated and predictable once again. Along comes Darkwatch: Curse of the West to shake things up with an edgy flair.
Good. Bad. I'm the Guy with the Gun.
You're Jericho Cross, outlaw and fledgling vampire. After unwittingly loosing an undead scourge, you're inducted into the Darkwatch, an unsavory group that protects humanity from evil. Fight your slide into darkness, embrace your thirst for blood, or waver between the two extremes as you sample the powers of good and evil.
Those powers can change your entire strategy. Act righteously, and boost your projectile damage with the "silver bullet" power. Enslave innocent souls, and gain "blood frenzy," improving melee damage. You'll need to make the most of these powers, as your weapon choices are limited, and you can only carry two of them at a time.
Darkwatch mixes its western roots with gothic horror and steampunk aesthetics, and the results are uniquely engaging: the snazzy, stylish graphics are crisp and moody, and the modernized Ennio Morricone feel of the music works wonders amid enemy screams. Though the environments you'll encounter are predictable--you can't have a western without a train, graveyard, and ghost town--the execution of them is anything but. The level designs carefully accentuate the fun of exploration, a sense of danger and surprise, and the need for protective cover. Multiplayer levels are similarly well done, though only the Xbox allows for more than two players, and oddly, only the PlayStation 2 version supports cooperative multiplayer.
There aren't enough different enemies populating the levels, though. The Rifleman, Reaper, and Gunslinger look a lot alike, and the stronger enemies are just transparent, ghostly versions of their weaker counterparts. They could've been smarter, too, as they mostly either charge you, or stand still, sending hot lead your way while you return the favor. They're still fun to put holes in, though, especially with the rag-doll physics, but a few more varieties and a bit more upstairs could've helped offset the single-player campaign's brevity.
An Undead Life Half-Lived
As enjoyable as Darkwatch is despite its flaws, it's a shame some of the cooler concepts weren't fleshed out, so to speak. There's all of a single level that uses the Coyote steam engine vehicle, and only a couple more force you to avoid the sun's weakening effects. If these ideas had been explored further, lengthening the game in the process, Darkwatch could've rivaled the best of the genre. As it is, Darkwatch is just darn good fun while it lasts.