Video Game Review: Watchmen, The End is Nigh (Part I)

by Phil Kehres

Watchmen: The End is Nigh (Part I) (rated M for mature, available for download on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network — Xbox Live Arcade version reviewed)
Release dates: March 4 & 5, 2009.

There’s a long history of terrible video game adaptations of good movies. But what about a video game adapted from a movie that itself is adapted from a comic book (or as some prefer, graphic novel)? Think of it this way: have you ever used Google to translate an eloquent English poem into another language, and then translated those results into yet another language? The result is nothing less than an abomination. Watchmen: The End is Nigh (Part I) is the video game version of this phenomenon, only you have to pay $20 for it.

The premise of the game (heretofore referred to as Watchmen) is decent enough. The first installment in a series of episodic downloadable content, Watchmen lets the gamer choose between one of two masked vigilantes from the legendary Watchmen comic series and movie — the brainy, tech-savvy Nite Owl or the scrappy, sociopathic Rorschach. The original story is a prequel to the comic/movie that follows Rorschach and Nite Owl as they pursue the villainous Underboss, whom they suspect is the mastermind behind a large but vague evil scheme (that will presumably be fleshed out in subsequent episodes). Outside of a few fun surprises, the story is nothing special, but the decision to attempt an original story rather than just follow the source material is a welcome one. Add in the nifty, stylish comic book-inspired cut scenes and the voice talents of the actors from the movie, and you have the makings of an interesting, enjoyable game. If only the gameplay weren’t so soul-crushingly boring.

Watchmen does a lot wrong, or rather fails to do much at all, but there are some positives. The first thing gamers will notice is that the graphics are exceptional for a downloadable game. Environments are dark, gritty, and fairly detailed. Longtime fans will certainly geek out when they first take control of virtual Rorschach, standing stoically with his hands buried deep in his trench coat pockets. The game is a straight brawler, and it handles well. Each character has unique abilities — Rorschach can use weapons and climb things, Nite Owl can use technology and a grappling hook to reach high places. Combat is fairly seamless, and combo attacks flow smoothly from enemy to enemy as you fight off hordes of baddies. Battles are accentuated by slow-mo strikes and bloody finishers reminiscent of the fighting style seen in the movie. The fighting is stylish, sleek and enjoyable — until you realize that’s all you’ll do through the course of the game.

It’s always a bad sign when a game is best defined by the things you can’t do in it. In Watchmen, you can’t run faster than a medium-paced jog, you can’t jump, you can’t see who you’re fighting sometimes because it’s so dark, and you can’t interact with the environment outside of climbing a few gutters and pulling a few levers to solve so-called “puzzles” that would be insulting to a five-year-old’s intelligence. You essentially move from room to room, fighting a bunch of random bad dudes until you advance to the next room to fight more bad dudes. Go to a prison, fight some dudes. Go to the docks, fight some dudes. Over and over again. You’ll also be treated to trite clichés like “looks like we’ve got company!” every time a new group of bad guys appears. Occasionally, you’ll watch a cut scene. The repetitive nature of the game exposes the lack of depth in one of the few decent components — the combat system. After you’ve seen each of the moves 400 times, they lose a bit of their luster.

Watchmen is one game that you’ll be glad to see end in well under five hours. By the time you reach the third of the game’s six chapters, you’ll be struggling to get through. And if you do finish there’s little to come back for. The game lacks any sort of online functionality, and the offline co-op adds little to the replay value. There are ten cards to collect for each character, but you simply won’t care enough to look for them after the tedium sets in. For $10, Watchmen would be one of the better games on Xbox Live. For $20, it is unacceptable.

Final verdict: 1.5/5

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(For more background on Watchmen, please see: "Films: Watchmen, The Darkest Night.")

(The promotional screenshot of Watchmen: The End is Nigh (Part I) is from Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. To see an R-rated trailer for the game, please check below.)

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coffee said...

I had nagging feeling throughout the movie that the they chose the wrong girl for the (younger) Silk Spectre; all the other character choices were perfect tho

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