Watchmen - the comic book - is one of the artistic high points of the form. Watchmen - the movie based on the comic book - is a fairly close reproduction of the graphic novel, with some mostly forgivable divergences. Watchmen: The End is Nigh - the videogame based on the movie based on the comic - is, despite grand production values, the shameless cash-in that fans feared the film would be.
Set during the glory days of the film's heroes, before costumed vigilantes were outlawed, you play as Nite Owl or Rorschach (or both in co-op) in a case referred to in a couple of panels from the comic. You're on the hunt for Underboss, a typical mafia underworld type, and you'll take down as many thugs and gang members as you need to in order to find him.
The gameplay is similar to arcade-style punch-ups like Streets of Rage or Double Dragon; unfortunately, it is also just as shallow. Walloping countless and faceless goons into unconsciousness as Rorschach (or, if you’re the unlucky second player, Nite Owl) sounds satisfying, but the combat and combo system are not particularly deep, featuring just two buttons for light and heavy attacks. If all the punching gets boring, you can also build up a rage meter to unleash furious super attacks… or partake in the occasional, and occasionally frustrating, minigame. Ironically, the gameplay feels older than the 23-year-old source material.
The world you repetitively bash these foes in, however, is fairly well realized and pretty good looking. While based on the movie's costumes and slightly altered setting, the game manages to reference the comic’s details as well. For example, you encounter and fight Knot Tops, the street gang who played a big part in the original book, but were noticeably absent from much of the film. The cutscenes between stages play like moving panels straight from the pages – an appropriate and cost-effective decision. The story moments are okay, too, though some fans will cry sacrilege to hear anyone but Alan Moore putting words in these characters’ mouths.
The real breaking point for this innocuous title is the price tag. Yes, Watchmen is one of the best looking downloadable games we’ve seen (even if the lighting takes the murky color palette to nearly opaque darkness), and yes, the voice acting and production values are impressively high-end. Still, paying $20.00 for such a shallow experience just doesn’t seem right. We’d feel better recommending this title at $10 or $15, but $20 is simply too much for such monotony. Here’s hoping Watchmen’s problems, and its price, can be addressed for part two later this year.
Mar 17, 2009