Review by PTooie
Darkwatch, a standard FPS in an old west, horror setting
Darkwatch is the story of an outlaw who unknowingly unleashes a demon and gets himself turned into a sort of vampire. The story is really nothing worth writing home about but what is there, is told very well though pre-rendered cut scenes as well as story bits done with in-game graphics. As I said, the story is very straight forward, not many twists and turn and certainly nothing unexpected. Still, overall it's better than most other FPS games which pretty much have no story. At least Darkwatch had something to keep me playing. One of the games strongest points is the way it mixes old west with new technology, with vampires and undead. It creates a very nice atmosphere and playing environment, especially for fans of horror or vampires in general. In fact I think this is probably the best reason to pick up Darkwatch, the theme.
Gameplay is very standard FPS, even the weapons are the same things we have seen countless times. They may look a little different but we still have the pistol, dual pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, crossbow and missile launcher. Each can also be used as a melee weapon and each have varying damage. There are a few nice additions like the crossbow which has explosive heads. Implant them in an enemy and watch it run around for a few seconds, followed by a very nice explosion. Fun to watch but personally I found the crossbow to be the least useful weapon. In fact I stuck most of the game with just the shotgun, dual pistols and sniper rifle. You can carry only 2 weapons at a time and an explosive, only one kind in the game... the dynamite.
The enemies are made up mostly of zombies and skeletons. Some have guns, some dont, some are semi invisible, some not. These make up about 70% of all the enemies you encounter. By the end of the game I was honestly getting tired of shooting these things... hey, there goes my 400th skeleton shot. Other enemies include a flying banshee, a big fat slob who spits "stuff", snipers and some hooded maniacs with axes and shotguns. As for bosses, there are none, well except the main bad guys, two to be exact and these bosses offer up pretty much the only challenge in the game. Thanks to the auto generating shield and plenty of blood canteens, you hardly ever have to worry about dying.
To break up the standard FPS action, the developers decided to throw in some horseback riding and also one level where you drive an armored dune buggy. Not something you'd expect in the old west, but since there is lots of technology throughout the game, it doesn't feel out of place either. Both horseback and dune buggy levels are pretty enjoyable, too bad there werent more of them. There are 2 horseback levels and the one dune buggy and neither is very tough. I consider them more like mini games... ride the horse and shoot at enemies. And why is it the guns in the horseback levels have unlimited ammo???
Another special feature of Darkwatch is the good deed vs. bad deed angle. As you're progressing through the game, you'll have opportunities of doing good and bad deeds. No this is no Knights of the Old Republic. Here they basically ask you to pick good or bad. They even label which is the good or bad choice. Choosing one over the other doesn't really change the gameplay but it does accomplish two things. Each side has its own vampiric powers, 8 in all, plus there are different endings. Since the game only takes 4 to 5 hours to complete, this choice gives it some replay value. The vampiric powers include powers such as the silver bullet which kind of slows down time and give your own weapons more power, a limited armor and even the vindicator which wipes out the surrounding area of most enemy types. Other special features worth mentioning... as a vampire you have a super high jump. You can also activate the blood vision which pinpoints the enemies as hot spots and also give your weapons some extra power. This is sort of like the heat vision in Splinter Cell. Yes, Darkwatch borrows an awful lot of ideas from different games. Yep, you guessed it theres even a stationary turret gun you can use.
The graphics are average at best for XBox. There is no 480p support or widescreen, something unthinkable for an XBox game, an XBox shooter no less. Thanks to this omission, everything looks low resolution. Add to this low resolution textures and some questionable ragdoll physics and you have something that looks more at home on the PS2 than XBox. At least the frame rate is solid, with no noticeable slowdown. Making up for the lack of technical merit is the excellent visual style. But the problem with relying on style alone is that it will only impress western or horror fans. Overall it just doesn't stack up very well with the other XBox games in the graphics department.
The sound on the other hand is excellent, with great voice acting, nice sound effects and full Dolby Digital support. There are some really good names to be found in the voice acting... Rose McGowan, Jennifer Hale, Michael Bell to name a few. They spent the extra money hiring talent and it shows. Too bad the same effort wasn't spent on the presentation/graphics. But the excellent sound and music, which has a very nice western theme, definitely help immerse the player in the action and story.
GAME LENGTH: 6.0
Darkwatch is a very short game. It will not take you more than 5 hours to play through the entire story mode. Yes, you can replay as the opposite side (good/evil) but it's still the same levels, same enemies. You just get different powers and a different ending. The ability to replay any complete level adds some replay value however. There are some nice memorable levels in the game and being able to replay through them at harder difficulty is nice. Still, overall a very short game.
Overall this is a very hard game to recommend. Best thing to say is that if you're a western and horror fan and you are a big FPS fan, chances are you will like Darkwatch. On the other hand if the theme isn't your thing, the action alone is not enough to win you over and perhaps a rental is in order. Being a short game, a rental if probably the best idea anyway. You do get XBox Live support but since I haven't tried it, I won't comment on this feature. I usually play games like these for the single player. And for those who have shot 1000 zombies and still want more, you can replay each individual level at varying difficulties and unlock different goodies.
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