Giant Bomb Review1 Comments
Watchmen: The End is Nigh Review2
by Ryan Davis on
Watchmen: The End is Nigh looks great, but the co-op elements are poorly thought-out, and the simplistic action gets old well before this brief, bloody brawler is over.
Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a dark and violent beat-'em-up based on Zack Snyder's movie adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen. It dutifully captures the gritty visual style of the source material, but it ultimately seems like a waste of the license. Watchmen certainly features enough brutal violence to work as bloody pulp, but it was the way it injected the complications of reality into the simple good-versus-evil world of comic book superheroes that originally made it so seminal. Even if you don't hold Watchmen dear, The End is Nigh is a lumpy, uneven thing. The production values are strong, particularly for a downloadable game, but the action is repetitive and it features a two-player co-op element that, despite being presented as core to the experience, feels awkwardly wedged in.
As a prequel to Watchmen--taking place more than a decade before the main Watchmen story arc--The End is Nigh expands a bit on the existing fiction, showing the working relationship between Nite Owl and Rorschach that is mostly just alluded to in Watchmen. The game kicks off with the duo trying to help quell a prison riot, which leads them on a chase after the criminal character The Underboss through the alleys, rooftops, and sewers of NYC. The plot advances between chapters in a simply animated style that vaguely recalls the look of the graphic novel, eventually culminating in a twisty surprise that recalls the grand conspiracy at the center of Watchmen. The conundrum here is that you need to be pretty familiar with the source material to appreciate most of the twists and turns in the story here, though if you are, the game telegraphs its biggest surprise. Either way, The End is Nigh is definitely more about beating up loads of dudes than it is delivering a compelling narrative.
You can play as either Nite Owl or Rorscach, each of whom has his own fighting style, set of attack combos, and some unique abilities, such as Rorschach's lockpicking and Nite Owl's grapple gun. These abilities only come into play a few times over the course of the game, but they can force the two characters to take different routes for short stretches. Nite Owl has a “charge” meter that you can use to electrocute nearby enemies or unleash a stun grenade, while Rorschach's got a “rage” meter that lets him attack more quickly or bull-run into enemies, knocking them down. Nite Owl isn't as capable at dealing with groups of enemies as Rorschach, and his cleaner fighting style isn't nearly as much fun to watch as Rorschach's crazy, all-in, mad-dog approach to brawling, making it decidedly more fun to play as the psychotic Rorschach.
Regardless who you play as, though, the action still boils down to punching in one of a handful of canned combos. You can button mash for the first few chapters, but it's not too long before enemies start blocking these random attacks, forcing you to rely on a handful of canned combos. You'll unlock more combos as you progress, but I eventually found myself using just one or two repeatedly, occasionally triggering one of the special moves when things got too hectic.
The End is Nigh also makes some curious choices concerning how the two-player dynamic works. When playing solo, you'll be accompanied by whichever character you don't choose to play as, and that choice sticks with you for the duration of the game. There's no hot-swapping characters, and if you want to play as the other guy, you have to start a whole new game from scratch. While the AI seems to be active and engaged, it's neither a liability, nor does put a huge dent in the swarms of enemies. Not having to rely too heavily on an AI partner seems like generally a good thing, though if you want to play The End is Nigh with a friend, you can only do it locally. On top of that, the game opts for a split-screen perspective, which is functional, though it definitely has an effect on the frame rate. After spending a couple hours beating up two sizes of enemies in groups of varying size, The End is Nigh wraps up with a fairly dull boss fight.
I feel an urge to cut The End is Nigh a little slack here, as even with its brief runtime, its production values are quite sharp. The environments aren't huge, and there's a distinct issue with enemy variety, but there's a grimy dampness to everything and moody lighting that really makes it look like the comic book come to life. There are plenty of great little touches too, with the constantly shifting ink blot on Rorschach's “face” standing out in particular. While the fight animations get repetitive real quick, they still pack a good, visceral punch, with blood and teeth spraying at nearly every enemy encounter. Both Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley provide the voices for their respective characters, and they sound fine, though the banter is a little stiff. More distracting is the fact that the game pulls up the same “it's on!” music cue every time a fight jumps off.
It's got some slick looks, but Watchmen: The End is Nigh does not feel like a fully formed game. There is some hint of a potentially fun brawler here, but $20 is too much for what amounts to some comic book tough talk and broken bones.