Darkwatch Impressions

We check out the latest PlayStation 2 version of Sammy Studios' bloodsucking Wild West shooter.

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During a recent visit to Sammy Studios' E3 booth we were treated to a behind-closed-doors demonstration of Darkwatch, a first-person shooter currently in development for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Set in the Wild West of the 1840s, the game will see you stepping into the cowboy boots of Jericho Cross, a train robber who gets a whole lot more than he bargained for when he unwittingly breaks into a train belonging to a secret vampire-hunting society known as Darkwatch.

The backstory to the game, as relayed to us by a Sammy Studios representative, sees Jericho breaking into the train and proceeding to open the iron casket he finds there. The casket doesn't contain the gold that Jericho was hoping for, though, and when he opens the casket, he succeeds in releasing the lord of all vampires--whom the Darkwatch had finally managed to incarcerate after more than 200 years of trying. During the chaos that ensues, with Darkwatch agents battling the undead on board the train, Jericho is bitten by a vampire and starts to turn into one himself.

Fortunately for Jake he's found by the Darkwatch, and he agrees to do whatever he can to help them in return for a serum that, while not a cure for his transforming into a vampire, will slow down the process significantly. In the meantime, the character you'll be playing the game as remains human but, like the titular character from the Blade movies, has a few vampire abilities and moves in his repertoire. The moves we were shown during the course of our demonstration included unnaturally long vampire jumps, the ability to harvest blood (the game's only currency) from bodies by walking through "blood clouds" that appeared above them while they were fresh, and a great-looking "blood vision" effect that, when activated, made the whole screen look as though it were being viewed through a pulsating bloodshot eye and highlighted any undead characters that might otherwise have been difficult to spot.

The mission we were shown, which will be one of the first in the game, required Jericho to make his way to "Hangtown" to rescue people trapped in a church there. The first portion of the level was played using a third-person view since Jericho was mounted on an undead horse. From the saddle Jericho was able to shoot at enemies, have his trusty steed perform its own melee attacks, and just plain old ride over the top of the enemies if he felt like it.

When Jericho arrives in Hangtown he finds that it's already overrun with undead, and so the fun begins. We saw four Darkwatch weapons in action during our demo: a pistol, a rifle, a sniper rifle, and a powerful four-barrel shotgun. Each of the weapons in the game had a melee attack as well as a standard firing mode, and we noticed that the shotgun even had a blade attached to its handle.

All of the enemies in Darkwatch take location-specific damage when you shoot them, meaning that if you shoot a zombie in the arm that's the limb that will be damaged or, as appeared to happen more often than not, fall off completely. By aiming at specific limbs or using headshots, you'll be able to kill your undead enemies with only one or two shots as opposed to the five it'll take to knock them down if you just hit their chest. It's even possible, as we were shown, to deliberately target whichever arm of an enemy is holding its weapon so that when that arm falls off, the enemy, although still walking, is unable to do you any serious damage.

In addition to the garden variety Wild West zombies frequenting much of the level, we got to see a number of "keggers" charging towards Jericho at one point--keggers being the Darkwatch equivalent of suicide bombers it seems, complete with barrels of TNT and lit fuses on their backs. There really wasn't much left of those guys once they were shot, but the rest of the enemies (and townsfolk for that matter) exhibited excellent rag-doll physics courtesy of the Havok engine employed in the game's development. Similarly impressive physics were on display throughout the town--stray bullets hit light fittings, furniture, bodies hanging from trees, and the like.

Features being talked about that we didn't actually get to see in action during our demo included a reputation system that will purportedly see townsfolk reacting differently to you according to your previous actions, and online play, which Sammy hopes will support somewhere between eight and 16 players on both consoles.

We'll bring you more information on Darkwatch, which is currently scheduled for release toward the end of this year, as soon as it becomes available.

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