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Review: Darkwatch 167

With control schemes for console first person shooters fairly standardized, developers seek to differentiate their titles with theme and storyline. High Moon Studios chose the relatively untapped genre of the vampire cowboy for their latest offering, Darkwatch. The former U.S. Guilty Gear publisher tries to explore some semi-serious story elements along with a heavy helping of spectral prostitutes, skeletal riflemen, and dramatic voice acting. Read on for my take on the best undead western you're likely to encounter any time soon.
  • 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.

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Review: Darkwatch

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  • Genre! (Score:5, Funny)

    by lukewarmfusion ( 726141 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @01:59PM (#13597317) Homepage Journal
    With the exception of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I have never encountered the "relatively untapped genre of the vampire cowboy" anywhere.

    I think there's a pretty good reason for that.
    • Re:Genre! (Score:4, Informative)

      by bmongar ( 230600 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:03PM (#13597349)
      Deadlands RPG (table and dice type) is a good example.
    • With the exception of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I have never encountered the "relatively untapped genre of the vampire cowboy" anywhere.

      Well Cowboy and Be-Bop don't exactly roll off the tongue either, but what Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) has done with his latest film certainly puts a new spin on the phrase 'slap leather, pardner!'

      • I recall a story in a horror comic involving a snake-oil salesman in the Old West. He goes town to town hawking his miracle heal-all elixir (which is nothing but some concoction of whiskey, opium and turpentine, or whatnot). Plying his wares, he runs across a remote, run-down town and is in for the shock of his life when the residents tell him that, thanks to their wondrous magic spring, they don't need his elixir. They proceed to demonstrate how despite cuts, gunshots etc. they are able to heal instantly.
        • I know it's not your story, but him sneaking back into town at night implies he went there during the day, first. If they were vampires, wouldn't they == dust, if they were to see sunlight?
      • And let's face it, weren't the "From Dusk 'til Dawn" series (while 2 & 3 were woefully bad) all based around vampire cowboys etc. to a degree?
    • Re:Genre! (Score:2, Informative)

      by josefek ( 621779 )
      You've missed out on some woefully now out of print gems like the Joe R Lansdale compiled Razored Saddles [], then.
    • He was a sheriff who got killed and (partially) resurrected to track down his murderers. Lyrics here []. The song is on their "Of Mythic Distortions: CD, and it's a stitch.
    • I think there was an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that had some vampire cowboys. Or maybe there were just vampire rednecks. I think that was more accurate. They wore cowboy hats at any rate.
    • Re:Genre! (Score:3, Informative)

      by sabernet ( 751826 )
      Prominent in Anime. For example:

      Vampire Hunter D

      If zombies are counted: GunGrave.

      If immortals are counted: Trigun.

      Also, I remember an older cartoon called Lonestar where the baddy was a skeleton man in a cowboy outfit who drove a hog.

    • ...relatively untapped genre of the vampire cowboy...

      If you hurry, you can probably catch 1966's Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula [], now playing on a VHS machine near you...

    • Re:Genre! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lesrahpem ( 687242 )
      That was actually a pretty good series. However, this genre is actually a lot less "untapped" than you might imagine.

      The Deadlands RPG put out by Pinacle Etertainment Group was set in 1800's America in the "Weird West". The game features demons (manitou), werewolves, zombies, mad scientists, wizards in the form of magicla card sharks, and yes, undead gun fighters. Granted, it was a tabletop RPG, akin to D&D, but it's worth mentioning here.
    • am i the only person that thinks vampire cowboys are awesome?
    • Two have featured protagonists that are probably undead, but non-vampires. High Plains Drifter [] features stranger riding in town who's tortured by dreams of being whipped to death by the three outlaws in town, while it's a bit more obvious in Pale Rider [], where there is a brief shot of Preacher's back, featuring six healed bullet wounds centered on his heart.
    • I've seen a few good suggestions posted, but the king of this "relatively untapped genre" would have to be Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, [] starring David Carridine (from Kung Fu) as Dracula and Bruce Campbell (from Evil Dead) as Van Helsing.

      Not that it's a good movie or anything (it's not), but if you've ever seen it, it does define the "Vampire Cowboy" genre more than most things out there.
    • Two words - Tex Arcana. More words: This was a graphic novel, originally serialized in Heavy Metal magazine in the 1980s, and then collected in one volume. Worth looking for a used copy somewhere, the artwork was incredibly lush and beautiful, and the writing was good and very original, with nice touches of humor thrown in as well.

      For me, any vampires & cowboys story in any medium has Tex Arcana as the yardstick it should be measured against.

  • High Moon Studios chose the relatively untapped genre of the vampire cowboy for their latest offering, Darkwatch.

    Gee, I wonder why that might be? ;-)
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:14PM (#13597423) Homepage
      Kudos to anyone who taps an untapped genre. There are lots of untapped genres, though. What about space marines? That hasn't been done in a first-person shooter yet, has it? ;)

      Rather than an innovative genre, however, wouldn't innovative gameplay be better?

      • I'm still waiting for the "Evil villian, his protege with glowing green hand, his cheerleader arch nemisis, and her goofy sidekick all get pulled into a television reality where the protege learns the word 'froopy', the villian has to escape Mr. Sitdown, the hero cheerleader ends up on Star Trek with a red shirt, and the goofy sidekick is running from monkeys," genre. I could make millions!

        Wait. What's that? It's been done before? [] Damn. Guess I'll have to try for the "Turtles turned into mutagenic superhero
      • Obligitory september 19th Arr:

        I dunno. TAPPING an untapped genre is easy. Execution is the hard part.

        I mean, I could "tap" the as-far-as-I-know untapped genre of "sentient fruit in Shakespearian plays seen as action dramas" by making a first person shooter and having the enemies be bananas that scream "wherefor art thou?!!?!??" at the top of their lungs before attacking you with crossbow-chainguns.

        Kudos are probably not something I'd get, however.

        Executing an idea well, that's the hard (and kudo-worth
        • I could "tap the as-far-as-I-know untapped game of "sentient fruit in Shakespearian plays seen as action dramas by making a first-person shooter and having the enemies be bananas that scream "wherefor art thou?!!?!??" at the top of their lungs before attacking you with crossbow-chainguns

          Please do. :) I would be ever-so amused.
  • by tont0r ( 868535 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @01:59PM (#13597319)
    Read on for my take on the best undead western you're likely to encounter any time soon.

    i think its safe to say that its also worst "undead western" you're likely to encounter any time soon.
    • Ummmm . . . Tarantino and Rodriguez's "From Dusk til Dawn" comes to mind. As does the as yet unreleased Mary Lambert film "High Midnight". "Curse of the Undead" is 46 years old. And there was the Doomtown CCG (as I recall, I didn't play it) that had a cult following, and was a companion to the "Deadlands" role playing game.

      Truth is those two genres have some interconnect. They weaknesses of one tend to get balenced by the other.
  • by Stanistani ( 808333 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @01:59PM (#13597320) Homepage Journal
    "Happy Trails to You, until we meet again!"

    The only question is, will Dale Evans rise to the occasion?
    • The only question is, will Dale Evans rise to the occasion?

      Will undead Roy Rogers, riding skeletal Trigger, be one of the 4 horsemen of the western pocralypse?

      o bury me not,
      on the lone prarie.
      i might rise up
      and haut somebody.

  • Tala (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tibor the Hun ( 143056 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:01PM (#13597334)
    I dunno,
    I've seen some dialogue from the game. I don't think even Tala's big jigglies can save this train-wreck.
  • Western Horror? Certainly doesn't come readily to mind (not like a good pirate thriller, w' a ship full 'o the dead and buckets o' blood, arr!) A shooter is a shooter, eh? How about we include some gun play in the next Dungeons and Dragons roll-out. (What was that strip with the guy with the handgun that ran in Dragon for ages? Some potlicker borrowed by book and ain't seen it since.) How do you kill spectres with bullets? Shouldn't they be silver?
  • by goldspider ( 445116 ) <ardrake79@gm a i> on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:02PM (#13597340) Homepage
    "High Moon Studios chose the relatively untapped genre of the vampire cowboy..."

    That's not a genre, that's an unimaginative combination of two ganres.

    And by "relatively untapped", I assume you meant "absurd".

    Seriously, the people who put out games like this must be Adult Swim flunk-outs... and that's saying a LOT!
  • *ahem* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Soul-Burn666 ( 574119 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:11PM (#13597401) Journal
    With control schemes for console first person shooters fairly standardized

    I think someone [] disagrees with that comment.
    • Has Nintendo even announced any FPS games yet for the Revolution? Have they publically shown any? Or are you just buying into their hype?

      I'm all for the Revolution controller if it ends up as effective as their fake gameplay videos suggest. But let's be a little realistic until we actually, you know, play or even see some of the games in development for it. Some journalists that actually played the demos (ie 1up) have suggested it won't be particularly useful for FPS games unless they are pretty slow-paced
      • Well, they have shown Metroid Prime using this new control scheme :)

        And my comment still stands, Nintendo disagrees with the current control standards.
  • In essence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:14PM (#13597424) Journal
    Controls are sluggish.
    Levels and enemies are repetitive.
    Game is short, so plot is ineffective.
    Dialogue is sub-par.
    Graphics are ok, but don't push any limits.
    Levels and enemies are repetitive.
    The characters are pretty good.
    The setting is different from other FPSs.

    6 out of 10? "Cool! Six-shooters and skeletons!" Almost every other part of the review was negative. What does this game offer that makes it better than average?

    If you say that you "can only recommend it to someone specifically looking for a shooter with a western or horror theme," doesn't it deserve a rating of 3/10? Or is an "average" game worth 8/10?
    • Games are supposed to be graded on the same scale as schoolwork. 6 out of 10 is just south of failure, which sounds right considering that the criticisms in the article are numerous but individually weak. 3 out of 10 is actively painful to play, which is something Darkwatch fortunately does not achieve.
      • Re:In essence (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Red Flayer ( 890720 )
        Thanks for the info. In that case 6.0 = D (for most school systems), so this would be "barely passing."

        The "6 out of 10" should be modified, then, to "6 out of 10, where average is 7.5"
    • What does this game offer that makes it better than average?

      I played this game (PS2 version). I will summarize this in a way that this review takes too many words not to say. Shooters should have two things:

      • Lots of things to shoot
      • Lots of things to shoot them with

      Now, simply consider every FPS back to Doom 1, and think how many fail one or both of these things. Lots of hallway-running and not enough shooting, or scarcity of ammo, are the two main ways to fail these. It's a shooter. I want

      • I think your criteria for whether FPSs are good or not are a little simplistic, and may not apply to all FPS fans. But, FWIW, thanks!
        • Well to be fair, I'm not saying these are the only things that make a good shooter. These are just the two basic things every shooter should have to qualify as a shooter.

          What's truly sad is that something like Darkwatch which, while fun, doesn't have a lot beyond the bare minimum going for it, stands out among FPS's. Something is seriously wrong with the evolution of the genre.

      • You forget stealth shooters which are still first person shooters.
      • Good point. To me, this was the big thing that set Halo aside. I was relieved that the FPS had extracted every painful wart of the FPS experience - no ammo management, no backtracking-for-health, etc.

        Halo redefined the genre simply by looking at the stupid, stupid features we all take for granted. I've been playing Serious Sam 2nd Enc. for a while, and it's got awesome monsters, weapons, etc. but still has the fundamental problem of inventory management - whenever I fire a gun I'm wondering if I'll need
    • doesn't it deserve a rating of 3/10?

      you get 5 points just for putting it to market I think.
    • If you say that you "can only recommend it to someone specifically looking for a shooter with a western or horror theme," doesn't it deserve a rating of 3/10? Or is an "average" game worth 8/10?

      You get 5/10 if the game installs and displays a splash screen. You get 4/10 if the game won't install, but the screen shots on the box are cool. I think 3/10 is reserved for games that won't install, and the box is made from poison ivy.
  • 1 million sold... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by StacyWebb ( 780561 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:15PM (#13597438) Homepage
    for no other reason but this
    ...along with a heavy helping of spectral prostitutes...
  • Untapped Genre (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msaulters ( 130992 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:17PM (#13597454) Homepage
    I'd love to see someone take on the relatively untapped genre of non-3dFPS games. I yearn for the days of King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry.

    Could a game like Civilization or Sim City get off the ground today? Not likely.
    • Leisure Suit Larry games are still being released. I just rented one for my PS2, and it was so horrible, I didn't even bother making a copy. Sim City and Civilization are both series still releasing games today. I think that there are some people out there who still want something other than "twitch" games. Hell, "The Sims" is still the hottest thing out there, and that game doesn't even have a goal!
      • Hell, "The Sims" is still the hottest thing out there, and that game doesn't even have a goal!

        You mean it's not "find the most interesting ways to torture and kill your little annoying sims"?
  • by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:18PM (#13597464) Homepage Journal
    Roll ye, if ye dare, a pair o' d6s, 'tis the game you'll be a making make will ye get, arr(!):

    Characters -- Setting
    (1)Pirates -- (1)Carribean
    (2)Cowboys -- (2)Old West
    (3)Knights -- (3)Camelot
    (4)Vampires -- (4)Erie Castles
    (5)Soldiers -- (5)WWII, burned out society, etc.
    (6)Aliens -- (6)Outerspace

    The scalawags rolled a 4 and and a 2, but Douglas Adams they ain't. Arr!

  • Metacritic (Score:5, Informative)

    by baboon ( 4086 ) on Monday September 19, 2005 @02:26PM (#13597509) Homepage
    On metacritic, it scored 77/100 by critics and 8.7/10 by users. For metacritic, that seems pretty respectable. Of 25 critic reviews, only 2 scored 60% or less. I don't know who Zonk is.

    Also, I ask, did Zonk play PS2 or Xbox? watchcurseofthewest []
  • This game sucks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kylere ( 846597 )
    I do not have to play it, I do not have to buy it. This is yet another Doom/Wolfenstein type game that anyone over the age of 12 has been bored to death by since the early 90's.

    Bet next review is another Command and Conquer, or another Wing Commander, remember when they actually made NEW games? Don't give me that MMORPG tripe, I was playing MUDS in the early 90's also, all they did was add pictures. There has not been a major advance in the actual GAMES since I last booted my Amiga 500.
    • I'm no gamer, but has there been a FPS game that involves running around a large spacecraft, which is itself moving through space? (I.e. space scenery changes through windows/portholes, etc)

      I know this is minor scenario change, but this seems a lot more interesting than all these flat map games...

      • Not to be mean here, but that sort of comment is EXACTLY why people keep buying this craptacular trash. There is no difference between climbing down a ladder/taking an elevator/sliding on a force shield on a ship/plane/planet. Since back in 1995 game Descent used a fully 3D polygonal graphics engine to render opponents (previous games had used sprites). It also escaped the "pure vertical walls" graphical restrictions of earlier games in the genre, and allowed the player six degrees of freedom of movement (u
        • Yeah agreed to an extent, but what sounds interesting is if the said large ship could itself be controlled to go wherever you want, ala the old 'Elite' games, but still have the playability of FPS, where you can interact with other players, etc. I.e. some open-endedness that promotes exploration, while being realistic with the technology.

          I cannot stand scripted games, and more more can you do with just frag fests?

          • There was once a game like that, then it was released and sadly it had dated graphics and the computer systems of the time could not support that level of processing, the name was Battlecruiser 3000 BTW.
    • one word, Katamari
    • I feel the same way about entertainment in general -- Nothing new has happened since the radio. And don't give me that HDTV tripe, I've been listening to the radio since the 1920's, all they did was add pictures.

      And the fax machine is nothing but a waffle iron with a phone attached!
  • What about:

    The Ghost... Goes WEST! []

    Long live Ed Wood.
  • All of you are replying saying how crap Darkwatch is and it sounds like you have never even played the game! You can't take this one review and then piss all over it just because one person says it's not that good. I happen to love the game and I'm not ever really a FPS fan. The art is great, the guns all have melee and multiplayer is so fun!
  • I think you've gotten confused from all the mergers and spinning off of studios and crack smoking, Zonk. High Moon Studios is what was once Sammy's United States development studio. They were spun off shortly before Sammy merged with Sega. The Guilty Gear series is developed by a Japanese company, Arc System Works, and published by Sammy (and recently Sega) in Japan and the US. In other words, the developers of Darkwatch had exactly jack to do with the Guilty Gear series.
  • Ah yes, the vampire-western! I get it, they have taken two trite, overused stereotypes and merged them into one. But why stop there? Let's throw more cliques into the mix. All that's left to do now is merge in alien-horror, some demonology, and swords-and-sorcery. And some high-kicking martial arts. And nazis, gotta have nazis. Once they've mixed all that together, we can have this sort of omni-genre sludge that will satisfy entertainment needs for years to come.
  • I know this game isnt inovative or AAA but 6/10? Its a fun game that can be played a few times, and the multiplayer while not great is good enough to kill some time, its fast paced and clean. 7.5/10

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard