Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Hands-On

We get our first look at this brawler based on the beloved graphic novel.


Watchmen: The End Is Nigh

As a story about flawed superheroes coming to terms with a world in which their services have become increasingly unwanted, Watchmen is widely regarded as one of the greatest works in the history of comics. In fact, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that it's the greatest comic book ever made. But what takes a bit more courage than a simple statement like that is adapting Watchmen, with its mature and intricate storylines, and turning it into an action brawler, as is the case with the upcoming episodic game Watchmen: The End is Nigh. We recently had our first look at the game, which is being made by Chili Con Carnage developer Deadline Games, at a recent Warner Bros. Interactive press event.

"Give me smallest finger on man's hand. I'll produce information. Computer unnecessary."

As the first entry in what's purported to be a series of downloadable episodes, Watchmen: The End is Nigh will narrow down its focus to a pair of characters from the graphic novel's cast of six primary heroes. Those two are Rorschach, he of the trench coat and ink-stained white mask, and Nite Owl, whose superpowers include adept engineering and a supreme awkwardness around women. The story takes place in the decade prior to the graphic novel, before masked vigilantes were outlawed, and will be told in the form of fully voiced 2D cutscenes that flank each of the game's six chapters.

Whereas the graphic novel is heavy on character advancement through introspective dialogue and ample flashbacks, the gameplay in The End is Nigh is all about busting heads. It's a pure brawler with a control scheme that doesn't try to weigh you down with too many abilities. You can kick, punch, block, and charge a special meter that lets you trigger a few character-specific special abilities. In Rorschach's case, he'll go crazy with rage, gaining the ability to bull-rush enemies twice his size and fight with a marked increase in speed and power. Nite Owl instead uses a charged-up kinetic armor that lets him unleash electrical attacks.

A few differences exist in the character's combat abilities aside from their powered-up states. For one, Rorschach fights with a different code of ethics from Nite Owl. No, we're not talking about Rorschach's hatred for anything remotely communist, but rather a dirtier combat style that lets him pick up objects such as bottles and crowbars to smash against enemy heads without the slightest bit of guilt. Nite Owl uses a more restrained combat style that focuses less on melee rage and more on deliberate, trained combat techniques. Rorschach does better against groups than Nite Owl, and the latter will often call for help when surrounded if you're controlling Rorschach in the single-player mode. However, the ability to play via local split-screen co-op is also there for the taking.

Visually, Watchmen far surpasses most downloadable games. Nothing about its graphics are scaled back; the urban alleyways that made up the chapter that we played looked great, with rain puddles on the ground reflecting occasional lightning and some fairly slick combat animations mixed in as well. However, the enemy models were repeated with a distressing level of frequency, and most of the buildings blended into one another just as easily. The audio was more consistent, with solid voice acting featuring several actors from the film, along with good sound effects.

"What's happened to America? What's happened to the American dream?"

With its focus on combat, something that was never a huge part of the comics, it's hard to say that this upcoming Watchmen game will immediately win over fans of the original graphic novel. Rather, it strikes us as the sort of game that will appeal more to those who've been introduced to the adventures of Rorschach and company through the upcoming movie, which is due for a simultaneous release alongside the game. Like the film, the game should at least offer a more easily digestible Watchmen experience than the novel's 400+ pages of deep introspection, naked blue protagonists, and elaborate pirate-themed subplots. It's due for release this March.

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