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Watchmen: The End is Nigh Part 1

Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Deadline Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local Only)
Genre: Action/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:

Alan Moore is probably pissed off right about now. For those who don't know, the Watchmen writer went to extremes in opposition of Zack Snyder's recently released film adaptation. Not only was Moore's name omitted from the credits, but all his film royalties went to co-creator/artist Dave Gibbons. The reason? According to several interviews, it has everything to do with the conflicts between the film and graphic novel media. I'm afraid to imagine what Moore thinks about last week's Xbox Live Arcade release: Watchmen: The End is Nigh. This is an episodic game; the release of this first installment coincided with last week's silver-screen opening, and the second installment is expected to hit around the time of the movie's home release. I loved the graphic novel and enjoyed the film, yet I approached this game with no small amount of trepidation. It turns out, that was exactly the right approach to take towards The End is Nigh. I'll put it this way: if you are a gaming enthusiast who happens to be an open-minded Watchmen fan, you just might appreciate what this game has to offer. It may be lacking in length and depth, but Watchmen: The End is Nigh effectively puts you behind the mask of one of the greatest characters in comic book history - and that makes this game worth a look.

The End is Nigh is a good-looking game. Actually, it's often a great-looking game. Out of all the Xbox Live Arcade games I have played, this one is the sharpest-looking; it looks like a next-gen game. The character models for Rorschach and Nite Owl II look fantastic; from the shifting ink blots of Rorschach's mask to the flowing cape of Nite Owl II, both main characters have been done justice in the visual department. Environments are dark, gritty, and appropriately claustrophobic. The fighting animations are fluid and dynamic, which makes the combat system feel more freeform than it really is. The camera is usually workable, but it will occasionally get stuck in a weird position, such as behind a wall. This can obscure the action, but it doesn't happen very often. Animated cutscenes are presented in graphic novel fashion; the art style is reminiscent of Watchmen's original panels, but it never reaches the quality of Dave Gibbons' work.

This game looks great, but it sounds even better. The sound effects are wonderfully nasty - sickening snaps and meaty thuds punctuate the melee. Actors Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles as Rorschach and Nite Owl II, and I am pleased to say that their performances don't fall prey to an unfortunate licensed game convention - that is, they don't suck in the least bit. Ever since I saw the film, I've been trying (and failing) to put into words just how much I enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley's performance as Rorschach, and after playing The End is Nigh, I still can't. The one problem with Rorschach in this game is the fact that his constant refusal to use articles of speech does not always sound appropriate in the game's script (whereas it always works in the graphic novel and film). Patrick Wilson does a fine job as Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II's name by day); his performance perfectly matches that of a man whose confidence in his own intelligence belies his own crippling insecurities. Unfortunately, the talents of Billy Crudup, Malin Åkerman, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are nowhere to be found here. That being said, this is forgivable to an extent, since Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre II, and The Comedian only appear as cameos. The only real problem with the voice acting is the fact that many lines repeat themselves at inopportune moments. For example: your partner will repeatedly call for help when he clearly doesn't need it, and even the most colorful of enemy taunts grow stale after the first hundred utterances.


Anyone who is familiar with Watchmen's plot knows that it is not a story that can be easily shaped to fit the demands of a videogame. Unlike many other comic books, Watchmen is not an action extravaganza; rather, it is a cerebral political fable. The developers of Watchmen: The End is Nigh seem to be well aware of this, as the events of the game do not coincide with those of the graphic novel (or film). Rather, they take the player into Watchmen's past - to the year 1972, five years before the signing of the superhero-outlawing Keene Act. A riot breaks out at Sing Sing Prison, and in the middle of the chaos, a crime lord named Underboss escapes. It's up to Rorschach and Nite Owl to get to the bottom of what turns out to be a national conspiracy. I won't lie - the story comes nowhere near the sophistication of Watchmen's narrative. It lacks the moral and political ambiguity of the graphic novel, and it's generally not very interesting - but there are some elements that will throw history buffs (particularly those interested in the Watergate scandal) for a loop.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a brawler, plain and simple. There are two playable characters to choose from: you can choose to play as the scarred anti-hero Rorschach or as Daniel Dreiberg, the tech-savvy protégé to the original Nite Owl. Your job is to find Underboss... and to beat the crap out of anyone stupid enough to cross you. That's really all there is to know. There's a bit of exploration here and there, but 99% of the time, you will be fighting criminals and gang members. It's an extremely linear affair, but since the exploration mechanics are solely based on the ancient "if it flashes, interact with it" cliché, you'll likely welcome the lack of freedom. The combat can get repetitive, but it is often brutally fun.


Watchmen: The End is Nigh does not have a variable difficulty level, but it is easy to pick up and easy to master. The combat system is simple and forgiving. The exploration, lame and shallow as it is, never gets annoying enough to break the pace of the game. All you really need to remember is that Rorschach can climb drainpipes and slide under garage doors, while Nite Owl can lift said garage doors and use a grappling gun to scale the right buildings - just be sure to look for flashing objects in the environment. If you are confused as to how to approach a situation (be it a boss fight or finding a way to progress), the game will let you know exactly what you need to be doing.

The End is Nigh is over in a heartbeat; experienced action gamers can blaze through the game's six missions in a couple of hours. The game does not have much replay value; after your first playthrough, you might want to play it through again - if only to play as the other character. In addition, you may want to explore a bit more thoroughly the second time around, as there are a number of collectibles strewn over each level. Some of these tokens unlock new combos, while others increase your Rage/Charge meter. However, once you beat The End is Nigh a second time, the only things that might have you coming back to the game are the poorly-implemented Achievements (seriously, what kind of game has Achievements worth 8, 11, and 36 Gamerscore points?).

Game Mechanics:

As mentioned earlier, Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a beat-em-up, pure and simple. The control scheme is rather basic for an action game, but it gets the job done: there are two attack buttons, a grab button, and a dodge button. Pressing different combinations of attack buttons will unleash one of several combos (which you must first collect), and you'll eventually unlock a useful counter-attack. Once your enemy is worn down enough, you will have the opportunity to execute a brutal finishing move. At one point in the game, you'll gain a character-specific ability: Rorschach tackles foes in a mad rush, while Nite Owl unleashes an area attack. In addition to all this, there is a special meter that fills as your attacks hit their marks. When this meter fills, you can activate an extended-damage mode similar to Devil May Cry's Devil Trigger. Rorschach becomes a bone-breaking madman, while Nite Owl's suit becomes electrified. The ideas are decent, but they don't stay fresh. This is the biggest problem with The End is Nigh; it manages to wear out its welcome before its two-hour long campaign is over.

By now (or if you've read the graphic novel/seen the film), you probably can tell that Rorschach and Nite Owl have different styles of fighting. Nite Owl's fighting style is graceful and efficient. Rorschach simply wants to cause criminals as much pain as possible. I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes - it is considerably more fun to play as Rorschach. Not only can he pick up melee weapons (crowbars, baseball bats, and nightsticks), but his fighting animations and animalistic finishing moves are much more satisfying than Nite Owl's.

To top it all off, The End is Nigh includes local cooperative play. Nothing is lost in the transition, but the lack of online co-op is absolutely inexcusable. Many Xbox Live Arcade games offer it (Castle Crashers and Streets of Rage 2, to name a few), but its absence in The End is Nigh is a disappointing omission. The local co-op is decent, but it's far from perfect. The divided screen hurts the camera control by eliminating too much of your peripheral vision, and before long, you'll find yourself getting attacked by off-screen thugs. To be fair, though, any cooperative play is a plus in my book.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh is an interesting companion to a fascinating story, but nobody should approach this game with high expectations. It is offered for 1,600 Microsoft Points, which is not a great value for something that can be beaten within two hours. However, the presentation is great and the gameplay, while simple and repetitive, is often satisfying. With all pros and cons weighted, Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a passable beat-em-up game that looks and sounds great. It's not a shameless movie cash in, but it sometimes comes a little too close for comfort.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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