Darkwatch (PlayStation 2) review
"Jericho Cross, an outlaw in the wild west, holds up a train one night in an attempt to rob it of any treasure it may hold. However, he soon finds out that what is in the train is slightly more than he bargained for. By holding up the train, he unwittingly released a vampire lord, who curses the west, filling it with blood-hunting demons and monsters. So...it was a bad move. "
Jericho Cross, an outlaw in the wild west, holds up a train one night in an attempt to rob it of any treasure it may hold. However, he soon finds out that what is in the train is slightly more than he bargained for. By holding up the train, he unwittingly released a vampire lord, who curses the west, filling it with blood-hunting demons and monsters. So...it was a bad move.
The idea may seem original - a unique mix between the wild west and vampire lore. However, it's not altogether the first meeting between the two. Two things actually sprang to my mind while playing the game. The first was "John Carpenter's Vampires", the 1998 film which was set in the deserts of the west, and followed a team of vampire-slayers, slaughtering through hoardes of blood-suckers. The second was Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series of books, mainly due to the portrayal of the Gunslinger character. Darkwatch follows in the same vein as these horror stories...and adds a lot more shooting. A LOT more shooting.
Now, to be honest, I'm not exactly a fan of first-person shooters on consoles. Because of this, I was interested to try Darkwatch to see if it could perhaps change my mind on the issue. Within even a few minutes of playing, I found that I was pleasantly surprised. The aspect of the game which I immediately picked up on was the atmosphere. There's a certain dark, dreariness about the game which fits in nicely to the theme. At times, I found it hard to tell whether there was a serious, sadistic streak through the game, or a lighter, cartoony feeling. Either way, it didn't matter. It was a good feeling. And it worked for the particular storyline being played out.
The first level begins just before you've broken the vampire out of the train. And just your luck, the train is owned by the Darkwatch, a team of vampire-killers who were transporting the vampire lord through the West. With you through part of the game is Cassidy, a member of Darkwatch, who is obviously not too pleased with what you've just done. Basically, you've just signed yourself up for Darkwatch duty. And so follows the game, and your adventures in the haunted west.
There's four levels of difficulty which you are free to choose from at the beginning of each mission. Now, for the casual gamer, it's easy enough to play through most of the levels on the default setting, but hardcore gamers may find this a bit timid, and find themselves pumping up the difficulty to add a little more of a challenge. The controls are probably as simple as they could be - the right analog stick moves your vision (there is no inverted directions by default, although this can be turned on in the options screen), the left analog stick makes you run, R1 is shoot, circle is reload, square makes you whack something with your gun, and triangle is the jump button. You get used to the controls very quickly.
You're thrown into the action immediately, as you make your way through the train carriages, shooting any skeleton-type enemies you come across. There are a few things to crouch under and jump over, so this level acts as a sort of basic training as well. The nice thing about the combat, is that it's actually very satisfying to kill these enemies. These skeletal little enemies you encounter first let you (well...they don't exactly let you) shoot their heads and both arms off, if you aim well enough. Of course, enemies get larger and more powerful as you progress through game, and soon you find yourself facing large blob things which spit out purple acid, and wailing banchees which fly annoyingly above you which you desperately try to blast their heads off. There's a total of 10 different enemies, excluding the final boss.
Weapons are also surprisingly varied as you begin with your "Redeemer Revolver" and collect such things as a Carbine, a Range Rifle, a Shotgun and even a crossbow which shoots timed explosives into the enemies. There aren't an abundance of weapons, but there's enough. It's certainly a lot better than a lot of shooting games where you can pick up about three different types of shotgun, each of which seem identical apart from perhaps an extra inch on the barrel or a finer shade of mahogany along the handle.
To split up the first-person shooting action, there are a few horse-riding levels where you find Jericho mounted on his black, undead horse (strangely enough, named "Shadow"). These missions require you to follow a train along a track, while shooting other undead-riders off their horses. One requires you to also shoot certain parts of the train in order to bring it to a halt. There's also a section of the game where you drive a gun-mounted metal "car"-thing around the enemies territory, obviously blasting nearly everything in sight. These levels are a good break, and add a bit of variety to the gameplay.
As you make your way through the game, and achieve certain goals, you'll be rewarded with more abilities. Four of these abilities are "good", four are "evil", and they help you progress through the game much easier. Along the way, you'll encounter dying souls who are victims to the vampire lords curse. You are given a choice whether to do the good thing, and grant these souls their freedom, or the evil thing, and consume their souls for your own good. Either way, you get more power, and the idea of this is to build a picture of your overall stance on the side of good or evil. Because of this, it isn't recommended that you swap from one side to the other through the course of the game (although nothing will stop you). However, this whole feature in the game seems to be a little bit wasted. It seems to have little, if any, effect on what you do, or what events take place as a result of it. It certainly seems to have no impact on the storyline and at the end, you look back on the decisions you made and think "What the hell was the point of all that!?"
Now, structurally, this isn't a complex game by any means. It's basically a matter of working your way through the 17 missions until completion. There are no sub-missions, there are no hidden items which your forced to go back and collect. Once you complete the 17 levels, that's it - it's finished. Which, in a way, is nice. It's what people generally think of as a proper "game". It's a refreshing change from the likes of Grand Theft Auto, where you find that once you work your way through the whole story, you're still only about 25% through the game. Although it could have been longer, the game generally did not disappoint towards the end. The climax of the game, the hellish fires and the growing number of enemies, makes you feel like you did deserve to finish the game at that point. And hey, if you enjoyed it that much, just play it again! There was a little talk of Darkwatch 2 rumours on the horizon at one point, and also a Darkwatch film is being talked about, so it may not be too long before Mr. Cross is stalking the undead once again through the Haunted West.
Darkwatch is a fun, action-packed first-person shooter that certainly entertains and creates little in the way of puzzles - or thinking of even the most primitive type. If you like the Wild West, or Vampires, or if you like the Wild West AND Vampires, then you may want to consider giving it a go. It's a good solid shooter with some memorable moments and a storyline to keep you gripped.
Community review by harvester (April 11, 2006)
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