Darkwatch Updated Hands-On

We get hands-on with a new two-level demo of Sammy's upcoming first-person shooter.

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Sammy Studios visited the GameSpot offices with a playable PlayStation 2 demo of Darkwatch earlier this week. The demo contained only two partial levels, titled Boot Hill and Iron Horse, but it gave us an opportunity to try out a number of the game's different weapons and vampire abilities, explore two previously unseen locales, and, of course, kick the rotting asses of the undead.

 Boot Hill Cemetary: not a nice place to be.
Boot Hill Cemetary: not a nice place to be.

The first level that we played was Boot Hill, which, as you might expect, takes place in a creepy cemetery. The environment was as interactive as it was spooky, and we were able to get a feel for lead character Jericho's revolver taking shots at destructible headstones and bodies swinging from trees. Unlike the default pistols in many first-person shooters, the revolver in Darkwatch really packs a punch, and it's incredibly satisfying to see Jericho fanning it when you hold down the trigger button for any period of time. Jericho will be able to carry only two weapons at any one time, and the only others that we found in the cemetery were a crossbow (with bolts that explode within a couple of seconds of being fired) and some sticks of dynamite (which can be carried in addition to your two regular weapons). The crossbow was an intriguing weapon--although it was possible to hit the enemies with it directly and watch as they ran around like headless chickens waiting to blow up, the most effective way to use it was actually to fire at the ground close to enemies. The enemies were intelligent enough to run away from both the explosive bolts and the dynamite, but with practice we found that it generally wasn't too difficult to corner them. The explosives also came in handy when Jericho's health got low, as we were able to force approaching enemies into a temporary retreat for valuable seconds, allowing his blood shield to replenish.

The blood shield basically works much like Master Chief's shield in Halo (a game that Sammy Studios is clearly lifting a few ideas from), recharging itself over time. Jericho's health bar, on the other hand, can be restored only by collecting the "blood clouds" that will appear whenever you kill an enemy. The blood clouds also contribute to a third bar that, when it's full, allows Jericho to use any special vampire powers that he's learned. The demo didn't afford us access to any such powers initially, but toward the end of the Boot Hill level, we were awarded one based on our choice of action in one of the game's many "blood judgment events." This particular event involved a woman named Gretchen who was infected and needed to either be put out of her misery or cured, which Jericho is able to do by essentially sucking out the infected blood. In the finished game, the decisions you make will have consequences as you progress and interact with other characters, but in the demo it really just determined which of two special powers we'd learn. Saving Gretchen's life granted us the "vampire silver brand" ability, which made our projectile weapons powerful enough to perform one-hit kills for a period of time, while ending the poor dear's suffering in a far less politically correct way allowed us to learn the "blood frenzy" ability, which temporarily powered up our melee attacks.

At the end of the Boot Hill level, or at least the shortened demo version of it, we were confronted by two different boss characters who appeared at different times according to our choice in the blood judgment event. For us, flying banshees with psychic blast attacks were first on the menu, and once they'd been disposed of we were introduced to an "oozer"--a bulbous vampire who has consumed far too much blood, and whose attacks involve the projectile-vomiting (spitting, if you prefer) of acidic blood from a great distance. The bosses in the demo weren't challenging in the slightest, unfortunately, and were reduced to blood clouds with only a handful of attacks. We've been assured that their counterparts in the finished game will be much tougher and will require a lot more thought to defeat, though.

The first part of the second level, Iron Horse, started out as a third-person sequence in which Jericho is chasing a train on horseback. We were able to maneuver the horse around the train using the left analog stick, while using the right stick to aim at the numerous bad guys who were taking shots at us from the train's roof and windows, and at the undead riders who occasionally showed up. Once all the enemies had been dispatched, we were able to pull up alongside the caboose and board it at the touch of a button. At this point the game switched back to its first-person perspective, and we were told that we needed to fight our way toward the front of the train. Most of the enemies on the train were the same scythe-wielding skeletons that we'd been killing in the Boot Hill level, but there were also a number of vampire hunters on board armed with the same weapons that we were using.

You'll find plenty more enemies to shoot at inside the train.
You'll find plenty more enemies to shoot at inside the train.

As we navigated the train's numerous cars, we were able to liberate a number of weapons for our own use, including a shotgun and a sniper rifle. The shotgun was deadly at close range, and like most of the weapons in the game it had a blade attached to it that made it a very effective melee weapon. The butt of the sniper rifle also did a pretty good job of bashing undead heads that got too close for comfort, but the weapon really came into its own when we found ourselves standing on the train's rooftop turret, leaning in and out of cover and taking shots at the undead riders chasing the train. Had we opted to ignore those enemies, they'd almost certainly have caught up with the train and started shooting at us through windows later on. The demo didn't actually allow us to make it all the way to the front of the train, ending after we introduced a large number of enemies to the dangerous end of a steam-powered Gatling gun emplacement.

Darkwatch is currently scheduled for release on the PS2 and Xbox early next year, and it's definitely a title that we'll be keeping our eyes on in the coming months. We look forward to bringing you more information as soon as it becomes available.

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