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CBR Plays “Watchmen: The End Is Nigh”

by  in Video Game Comment
CBR Plays “Watchmen: The End Is Nigh”
Screenshots from “Watchmen: The End is Nigh”

In the video game industry, a production that uses licensed intellectual property has more demands put upon it than a production that uses original IP, and less time to make a game that meets those demands. The average development cycle for a licensed game is twelve months, and the challenge is compounded by the expectations of fans of the source material. And the demands of the fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen” are beyond compare.

Although “Watchmen” inspired an era of more “adult” themed work, the graphic novel really made its impact not through sex and violence, but through its sophisticated execution. As such, the book’s audience naturally expects a sophisticated film and a high caliber video game. In order to deliver such a product in time for opening weekend, Deadline Games & Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment made “Watchmen: The End is Nigh” a downloadable title. The game has over eight hours of play, and is the first episode in a series.

“Watchmen: The End is Nigh” is a prelude to “Watchmen,” the upcoming film directed by Zack Snyder, and will be available for download on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in March 2009. The game will also be available on Windows PC, and is Rated-M for Blood, Violence, and strong language.

All the episodes are part of a major story arc, although each stands on its own. The story of “The End is Nigh” takes place ten years before the film. Richard Nixon is not president of the United States (yet), and The Keene act, which bans superhero activity, is a few years away from being passed. Rorschach and Nite Owl have partnered up to fight crime, and in keeping with the graphic novel’s universe, they fight members of the Knock-top gang, the Underboss’ minions, and visit familiar locations like the Rumrunner bar. The duo eventually uncovers a criminal conspiracy, and other Watchmen characters also make cameo appearances.

Screenshots from “Watchmen: The End is Nigh”

When we tried out “Watchmen: The End is Nigh,” we decided to play the Prison Riot chapter as Rorschach. This was one of six chapters, and you have the option of playing as either Rorschach or Nite Owl, with film actors Jackie Earl Haley and Patrick Wilson providing their voices for the game. The chapter opens with an animated sequence scripted by original “Watchmen” editor Len Wein. The sequence is in Dave Gibbons’ art style, with the color palette from the graphic novel. After the opening sequence, the game switches to the film’s palette and CG/live-action style, with the prison bathed in a red light and the heroic duo exiting the Archimedes owl ship.

In single-player mode, the A.I. controls your partner, but the game can also be played in Local Co-op with two players acting as both characters. Both heroes use a button combination fighting system, with moves that mirror their personality. Rorschach is an uncompromising, brutal vigilante, consistent with the graphic novel, whereas Nite Owl is a more traditional superhero. Rorschach’s moves are group-centered, but his finishing move – “Rorschach’s rage” – is a back-breaker directed toward a single opponent. In addition to combat, Rorschach has the ability to pick locks, which the player will execute in optional puzzle games.

Nite Owl’s fighting system is just the opposite, with the abilities of his powered body armor meant for group combat.

Button mashers will actually have to develop some skills, as the encounters get more complex as the episode progresses.

“Watchmen: The End is Nigh” will be available for download in March.

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