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Darkwatch (Xbox) artwork

Darkwatch (Xbox) review

"From Dusk Till Derp"

Darkwatch (Xbox) image

Darkwatch shows promise in its preliminary phases. It opens up with a rugged outlaw named Jericho Cross robbing a train and inadvertently unleashing a vampire lord, Lazarus. Not long after their initial encounter, Lazarus transforms Jericho into one of his own kind. What ensues is a wild battle against undead forces atop the zooming locomotive and a horseback rail shooter stage as you pursue Lazarus by the ghostly light of the moon. Of course, the villain escapes, thus initiating your quest to slay the ancient one.

From the chase sequence, you might expect the game to segue into some nasty firefights and depictions of diablery and slaughter. At first the game delivers, pitting against swarms of skeletal baddies and undead snipers amidst an Old West cemetery. They even throw out a Gauntlet-style enemy-spawning "tree" for you to destroy, for variety's sake. A frantic fight it might be, but the altercation concludes with a modest amount of effort. With a few well-placed blasts from your revolver, some handy pistol-whips, and a bit of vampiric magic, all of your foes hit the ground in pieces. Eventually, you enter a mineshaft, and there same events begin to unfold in an endless cycle...

Darkwatch (Xbox) image

Darkwatch's campaign is fairly predictable. Now and then, the game sends you through a corridor with perils and pests lurking behind shadowy corners and obstructions. When you're not offing Lazarus's cronies, you can use one of your vampiric abilities to detect heat signatures, thereby locating tortured souls. Once you've spotted one, you can either release him or damn him, netting you either "good" or "evil" points, respectively. Snag enough such points allows you to unlock powers, such as a force field, life-draining magic, or spells that boost your melee or long range damage. Once you've completed the obligatory corridor section, you'll enter yet another closed area similar to the aforementioned cemetery.

The game's rail tends to lead you from one arena to another, either to fight off a set number of adversaries or to destroy another helping of the demonic trees. The bottom line is that game basically consists of repeating the same few tasks ad nauseam. There are no brilliantly designed, fully fleshed stages. Every level is pretty much standard Old West fare with a straightforward design and enough arenas to make you think that Darkwatch may have been an Unreal Tournament clone at some phase in its development.

Darkwatch (Xbox) image

This is not to say that the game is without some saving graces, as it boasts an impressive bestiary. Sure, there's an abundance of leaping skeletons, but you'll also face bariatric demons, shrieking banshees, gun-slinging revenants, and humanoid reptiles called "Vipers." What's impressive about these creatures is not only their ghastly designs, but their chemistry. Each beast serves a role, be it either to distract you or to act as their squad's main offense. Explosive Keggers, for example, are perfect for drawing you attention, as they tend to kill you with a single blast if left alone. While you're working on them, a more powerful beast might swoop in for a few choice hits, or snipers could nail you from afar. Those nasties might cause you to ignore approaching skeletons, who can be troublesome in larger numbers (i.e. if you don't destroy them quickly enough). As you can imagine, some enemy group configurations lead to outstanding, frenetic battles.

Unfortunately, such altercations are few and far between. Most of the time, you'll find yourself picking off skeletons and occasionally spinning around to fell a banshee or a sniper. Some of the rougher monsters tend to make brief appearances, seldom appearing in a large enough quantity to pose a major threat. In the end, nearly all of Darkwatch's gun fights are the same.

Part of what makes Halo an enjoyable experience is the franchise's lore. If you think about it, a horror-themed Halo-style game could be excellent, assuming it were properly executed. Capcom definitely had an opportunity there to create just such a title with Darkwatch, yet they dropped the ball in that realm as well. Once you reach the mines I mentioned earlier, the storyline stagnates. There are few narrative developments and almost nothing to add to what could have been a rich, sinister mythology starring all manner of ghouls. Instead, we watch Jericho predictably join the Darkwatch (a society of monster hunters), embark on a wild goose chase, follow a few MacGuffins, meet the game's shallow, obligatory, one-dimensional T&A leading lady named Tala, and save the day in expected fashion. In other words, the narrative is almost entirely comprised of ho-hum material. Heck, there's even an awkward, not-in-any-way-sexy sex scene that starts with Jericho and Tala discussing business, only to sloppily flash to Tala buck naked in the rain, pressed against a fully clothed Jericho. He looks down on his partner, still donning his usual ugly, stoic expression, except with ten percent more "oh face." Instead of engaged in the euphoric throes of coitus, he looks more like he just passed a light fart and alleviated a minor stomachache. It's not every day that I witness fictional screw that makes me uneasy--and this is coming from a guy who loves Troma movies.

Darkwatch (Xbox) image

...and yet, I still can't say that Darkwatch is a terrible game by any stretch. Mediocre? Sure. Bad? Not at all. More than anything, it feels like a horror-based FPS that Capcom slapped together to cash in on the success of Halo. This is evident in the game's apparent lack of commitment from the developers: plain level designs, average storytelling, a dull mythology, and derivative mechanics. Now I understand why gamers and journalists stopped talking about this title less than a year following its release.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 11, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Darkwatch review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Germ posted October 14, 2014:

Still have the demo disc of this for PS2. Always wondered if it was worth playing, but was never curious enough to take the plunge. Thanks for the review!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 14, 2014:

No problem. Thanks for reading! I bought this game when it was still kinda relevant and dragged me feet on finishing it (having finally gone through it earlier this year). So don't worry, you're not alone on having difficulty mustering the want to play it.
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honestgamer posted October 14, 2014:

Darkwatch was the first game to grace the cover of an issue of Hardcore Gamer Magazine, which you might recall I wrote for, and I always thought it looked interesting. I never got around to trying it myself, though. In any event, the cover art always evokes remembrances of that time... for me.

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