- Title: Darkwatch
- Developer: High Moon Studios
- Publisher: Capcom
- System: Xbox (PS2)
- Reviewer: Zonk
- Score: 6/10
There is a lot to like about the setting of this game. Darkwatch combines some of the best elements of Vampire Hunter D and Brisco Country Jr.; riding a horse quickly through the night pursued by a vampire lord, driving an armored buggy over ranks of skeletal undead, leaping onto a moving train just to hitch a ride. The two worlds are well blended, with the fantastical elements melded to the western in an interesting style.You'll be seeing that world through the eyes of Jericho Cross, a former bandit turned vampire through his own bad luck and poor preparation. Cross is short on words, but rubs up against some interesting characters who do plenty of talking for him. The game follows Jericho's pursuit of the vampire lord named Lazarus, who kicks off the plot by slaying the protagonist within the first ten minutes of the game. In your afterlife you pursue Lazarus with the help of a pair of western beauties voiced by Jennifer Hale and Rose McGowan. These characters make up the bulk of the NPC interaction you'll encounter during the game. Representatives of the Darkwatch, an undead hunting organization, and the slavering undead they slay fill out most of the other NPC roles. Despite the subject matter, the voice work comes across as respectful to the roles. The voice actors gave their all to give these characters life. The dialogue is regrettably less respectful, with some corny eye rollers spread throughout the game. The storyline itself is interesting enough, moving with a frenetic pace and throwing a few twists and turns at you. Unfortunately, the game is over too quickly to really settle into the plot. Gameplay and story are somewhat interconnected. Throughout the game, you're presented with 'good' and 'evil' options. Choosing either path nets you new vampiric powers, but disappointingly does not affect the storyline or the game's outcome. Controls are the typical console based FPS, with one thumbstick controlling movement and the other orientation. Even with the sensitivity turned up as high as it went, I found the movement a little gummy. The problem lies in the pace of the game. Enemies spawn quickly and in many locations around the gamespace, forcing you to react quickly to incoming opponents. While this makes for exciting gameplay, the mushiness of the controls leads to frustration. Even if you see an opponent coming you may not be able to line up your attacks quickly enough to defend yourself. Thankfully, your vampiric powers give you an edge. In addition to a 'blood shield' (ala Master Chief in the original Halo), Jericho can execute great leaps, speed himself up, and enter a vision mode where his opponents are clearly highlighted against a red background. Other abilities manifest themselves as you consume the souls of the damned, or release them into blissful oblivion, based on your chosen alignment path.
The vision ability is very useful, because as you might expect from a title with a touch of horror there are a lot of dark spaces to explore. The game maps tend to be well laid out. Regrettably the sameness of the visual elements, the darkness and textures, begin to blend together fairly quickly. Creature designs, too, run together into sameness before the short title ends its run. They certainly look good, but after you've worked through a few levels you'll have already encountered most of the critters the game can throw at you. Refreshingly despite their sameness they can be crafty opponents. The skeleton foot soldiers are dumb as hammers, but the gunfighters do a good job of seeking cover in a long-range fight. Throwing a stick of dynamite in the direction of a group of foes will send them scattering, and they even react appropriately when one of their number is hit with an exploding arrow. There won't be any moments of eerie intelligence, but it's gratifying to know they'll at least put up a fight.Visually, Darkwatch does a good job of placing you into the moment. While the graphical capabilities of the console of your choice won't be pushed to the limit, characters are attractively animated and opponents convey a sometimes surprising sense of speed. Both the undead and story characters share a somewhat exaggerated style, with large facial features and angular body shapes. Jericho's vampiric powers are stylishly realized, as are the explosions and weapon effects in the game. The audio landscape of Darkwatch is not as attractive. Generic-sounding monster screams and underwhelming weapon effects will be your constant companions. The game is slightly less forgettable music-wise, with some nice musical stings and twangy background tunes. But then, I like spaghetti westerns.
High Moon offers up a game with an interesting setting and memorable characters, muddied by sluggish controls and repetitive gameplay. Though Darkwatch will likely not be remembered as one of the pinnacle releases of 2005, it does stand out from the crowd of generic shooters thanks to the obvious attention paid to the game's background. Despite that the too-quick story doesn't allow for time to fully appreciate the environment, and the sameness of the game levels and monstrous opponents drains the player's interest in the gameworld long before the plot concludes. Darkwatch is another game that could have been great, but ended up only worthy of a rental. While I think there are elements to enjoy here, I can only recommend it to someone specifically looking for a shooter with a western or horror theme.
Update: 09/21 19:24 GMT by Z : Clarified that High Moon was the former U.S. publisher, not developer, of the Guilty Gear series.