Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood is bad. And I don't just mean the title. I didn’t expect the game to be good, since it looked like a budget release and has a Metacritic in the 50s, but I thought it might be a decently fun little B-game, kind of like The Order: 1886 with much lower production values. I had fun with that game and thought I might enjoy this one too. It’s a stealth/action game with some semi-open world exploration and a story based on the World of Darkness, an IP I have a fondness for. It seemed like it would be a pleasant little diversion between larger releases.
It was not.
So what is Werewolf, as a game? It’s a stealth action game based on the White Wolf tabletop RPG Werewolf: The Apocalypse. You play as Cahal, a middle aged Werewolf with almost no body fat as he battles to avenge his wife and fight against an evil corporation that seeks to corrupt and destroy the world in service of The Wyrm, a supernatural force at the heart of the Werewolf lore. The tutorial mission has Cahal and his pack engaged in some light sabotage at a base belonging to Endron, the evil corporation who serves as the game’s main antagonist. Things go bad, tragedy ensues, it’s all obvious and cliché stuff. Cut to five years later and Cahal who clearly hasn’t been drowning his sorrows in carbs because he’s still absolutely shredded despite being in his 50s and living the kind of lifestyle that doesn’t let you establish a good gym routine, is now some kind of ecoterrorism mercenary, driving around the country doing the same exact stuff he was doing before, but, for money. During your first mercenary mission you find out that your old pack is being targeted by the evil corporation and you go back to Tarker’s Mill to try and save them.
Gameplay revolves around 3 different forms that Cahal can take. There’s the lupus, or wolf, mode where you can stealth around and take out enemies by sneaking up behind them and then, for some reason, shifting to human form to knock them out. There’s the homid mode, where you interact with manmade objects like doors and computers or talk to people, as well as use a crossbow to kill enemies silently at range or sneak up behind them and stealth them wolf style, and there’s the Crinos, or full on werewolf, mode where you engage in combat. The Lupus mode is used for stealth and it mostly works, though the stealth mechanics are bad. Enemies in this game are absolutely brain dead and follow very basic stealth patterns, sometimes walking back and forth between a couple locations but mostly just standing still and waiting for you to take them out. Playing as a human mostly just involves hitting switches, though you are forced back into human form every time Cahal talks to one of his companions on his ear piece, which is frequent. Occasionally you can turn into a human and walk around in the open talking to people. The last form is Crinos, also known as full on werewolf, which you turn into whenever someone hurts you in wolf or human form, where you don't even have a life meter because the only penalty is being forced to turn Crinos and fight. This can lead to to hilarious moments where everyone is aware of you but you are still "stealth" killing people because you aren't forced to change until you get hurt and you can't be hurt during a stealth attack animation.
The game’s blend of styles sounds fine on paper, but in implementation it’s all deeply flawed. The wolf gameplay is beyond boring, mostly involving just avoiding the red circles on the ground cast by cameras and walking up behind enemies to hit square, which, again, inexplicably turns you into a human for the takedown. Even worse, you can’t do a takedown on the tougher enemies, so all you really accomplish is getting rid of a few enemies who you could kill in a single hit anyway. You can stealth through some areas and avoid combat if you want (and the game doesn’t give you XP for combat, so there’s really nothing to gain from it) and you do gain rage (which powers your special moves) from taking people down, so it’s not totally pointless, but there’s nothing satisfying about it. The main purpose to stealth is to damage “reinforcement doors” where new enemies come out, which reduces the health of those enemies. I can honestly say that playing as the dog Shadow in Dead to Rights: Retribution gave you more to do and a better experience, and that was a mediocre game from over a decade ago.
Human form is also used for stealth and mostly overlaps with the wolf, except it lets you fire the crossbow (to take out enemies or, more usefully, cameras and turrets) and interact with doors and computers. There’s not a lot of gameplay there. The main time you’ll actually stay a human is either when you’re back at the hub and talking to NPCs, or forced into the form to open a door or talk on your earpiece. There are segments where you’re playing as a human and “infiltrating” enemy areas and they are often incredibly stupid looking, like in a side mission where you interrogate a female scientist in a lab at a dam. Cahal wears a tactical denim vest and looks like a member of a motorcycle gang. The fact that the guards don’t interrogate him at all when he’s walking around the office, and that the woman buys his ludicrous claim to be a member of corporate security, just makes the whole episode seem absurd. I’ve worked in a corporate office, and if someone who looked like that started asking me questions and told me they worked for security I would have immediately called actual security to my office (in this case they were literally standing 10 feet away) or at the very least demanded to see credentials and have their identity confirmed. The game is full of bad story beats like that, such as when you show up back at your pack and your daughter is angry and standoffish towards you because of your absence. That’s fair enough, but like 90 minutes of playtime (and maybe a day or two in game) later she’s warmly telling you how glad she is that you came back, and all it took to restore the relationship was murdering a couple hundred of her colleagues at the evil corporation where she’s working undercover, and painting the facility’s walls with their blood. Characters have no consistency, and almost all the writing seems like it was done by a non-native speaker, full of awkward constructions and things nobody would ever say. The dialog feels bad and amateurish in a way that reminded me of bad games from the early PS3 era. Facial animation is terrible, and while the voice work for Cahal and other main characters is okay, some side characters definitely feel like they had Ned from accounting come down to read them rather than hiring a legitimate voice acting. At times it verges on so bad it’s good, but the quality of the main voice cast prevents it from rising/falling to that level. I will give the game credit for its dialog choice wheel, which represents what Cahal is thinking rather than offering a direct path of what to say, but since you only get two choices and nothing that you say actually matters in the game, it may get partial credit but it still very much earns a D for its dialog sections, along with everything else. There’s just way too much talking for a game that doesn’t do it well. Worst of all, the game is incredibly dour and self-serious. Characters have no sense of humor or even much character to them. It’s all presented as dry as stale dog kibble.
Playing as the Crinos should lead to visceral, impactful, combat as you shred puny humans as this hulking beast. Instead it just feels sloppy. The camera makes it hard to see who’s shooting at you, your character has no weight or momentum, instead just being kind of slow when you’re in damage mode and…somewhat faster in agility mode, and the animation is stiff and canned, with none of the interruptions or variations when you get hit that you expect from a modern game. There are a lot of moves available to Cahal, but none of them feel good and it’s hard to predict who Cahal will target or what exactly what he will do when you hit a button. Cahal is constantly swarmed by enemies in most encounters and I found myself wishing for a lower number of tougher foes that I could focus on. This happens from time to time in fights against supersoldiers, mechs or evil werewolves, called Black Spiral Dancers. These fights are slightly better, but suffer from the same issues of stiffness and bad animation that the rest do, and enemies basically ignore your swipes (though they take healthbar damage) and swipe right back, so it looks terrible and amateurish, as this 9 foot werewolf beats on this 6 foot muscle bound guy who doesn’t even flinch, and the muscle bound guy slashes the werewolf, who also doesn’t really respond, while both their health bars go down.
This is a $50 2021 release that looks like a cross between an early PS3 and early PS4 game, even though I was playing on PS5. Character models and environments are at about the level you’d expect from a game circa 2014, nowhere near the level of something like The Order, but probably acceptable at the dawn of the 8th generation. Not ideal for a 9th gen game, but understandable for a “budget” release. Animations, on the other hand, are terrible. In conversations characters just stand around while their mouths move. There’s no body language or movement, except for some recycled animations of people pointing at one another that often doesn’t work at all with what’s being said. Even when someone hands you an item they don’t animate doing so, they just verbally tell you they’ve given it to you. In combat none of the moves seem to connect convincingly and everything feels stiff and awkward. I’ve played through games like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (both I and II!) and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West in recent years, so I have very recent knowledge of what 7th generation action games were actually like, not just hazy memories from a decade ago. They animated and played a lot better than this does. While hitting weaker enemies sends them ragdolling around, larger enemies simply don’t react at all to your attacks and the only indication you’re even connecting is a little sound and their lifebar dropping. Double Dragon on the Nintendo Entertainment System had better visual feedback from a landed attack.
Werewolf also has blatantly unfinished animations outside of how enemies react to you, such as when you swap the label on a shipping crate and the old one disappears replaced by the new one without any animation, like in a bad PS1 game. Or when reinforcements emerge out of a door by…just appearing in front of a darkened doorway as if by teleportation…like you’re playing a bad PS1 game. There are other visual issues like clipping problems and collision detection failures. I understand that this game didn’t have the budget of something like The Last of Us Part II and couldn’t feature carefully animated smooth interactions for every activity in the game. But most other games, even low budget games, have figured out how to deal with those issues over the past 25 years. Werewolf doesn’t bother doing things like creating a short off screen hallway for enemies to emerge from, or having enemies appear behind you where the camera can’t see them. It just plops them into the environment and has them start fighting you.
In addition, although the game’s environments look half-passable, they are monotonous and boring. This is a game about Werewolf warriors of Gaia and though there are a few small wilderness areas you spend the vast majority of the game in the blandest office and industrial facilities imaginable. It’s not just that they’re not as high fidelity as in a 9th gen game like Watch Dogs: Legion, it’s that they’re flat out boring. Concrete industrial facilities and gray cubicle farms are bad environments to build your game around. I understand that it makes sense for the story they’re telling (the banality of an evil corporation; they look just like your workplace) but that story is bad and cliché too, and some visual pop would go a long way to making the game feel a little less dull. There’s a real sense of relief when you return to your forest hub and get to be in an area with some more color and interesting geometry. That’s thematically appropriate too, of course, but you don’t need to force the player to spend 80% of the game in ugly environments just to get across the message “corporate facilities bad, nature good.” Your themes are not that deep, bro. It’s also worth noting that the game’s “open world” hubs have the werewolves living about 100 feet away from the evil corporation’s facilities, and it all comes off as absurd and unrealistic. At least that means it’s easy to move on to the next level, but they’d probably have been better off with some kind of loading screen between the two places to indicate that you’ve gone some distance, rather than going from your daughter’s bedroom directly to the enemy pumping sites and traveling about the same distance as I do in real life when popping down to the corner store to pick up some bananas.
The game is also wildly behind the times when it comes to dealing with sex and race. Cahal’s wife gets murdered in front of him at the start of the game, which causes his exile, and his daughter being in peril is his main motivation for returning and most of what he does during the game. The way that story resolves gives the daughter zero agency and made me angry at the writers. Later in the game Cahal rescues a Native American pack leader, and then teaches her and her pack the right way to be a werewolf, and given the ways in which the game uses Native American imagery and just the fact that it’s 2021, having a white guy as the literal savior of a pack of Native American werewolves is just outright offensive. It’s clearly not the game’s intention to be racist, or sexist. Cahal’s best friend is a black woman computer hacker and the game has a lot of messages about how humans and werewolves should co-exist, but like everything else in the game this attempt is deeply flawed.
I mentioned Dead to Rights: Retribution in reference to the game’s wolf segments, but honestly that game is a blueprint for what I wish this game had been. Dead to Rights Retribution was not a top tier 360 game, and it knew it. It was a mid budget action brawler with a dumb story, and while on the surface it also played things straight it at least let you do fun and wacky things like bite enemies in the testicles as the dog, or disarm bad guys and shoot them in the head in cool, gory sequences. Werewolf has executions, but they’re not visceral enough to matter, and have the same choppy animation that everything else does, making them visually hard to follow. Dead to Rights had flamboyant gangs of bad guys and some variety in environments. It was a dumb, fun, time, which was what I was hoping to get here, but didn’t. Werewolf is just too bad and takes itself far too seriously.
Is there anything good about Werewolf? At times when you’re exploring a naturalistic area it can look nice. It has some basic RPG elements so it can mildly fun to unlock new skills or attributes, and XP is awarded for story advancement or hunting down “spirit” collectables in the environment, which generally hang out near some piece of nature or Native American culture like a plant growing through the floor of a warehouse or a little stone statute on someone’s desk. Finding collectibles is always at least a little satisfying. The game isn’t a miserable experience, though it’s something of a slog, and as you gain abilities and adjust to the controls it gets marginally better. It’s not buggy or glitchy or frustrating (in fact it’s very easy) so there are time when you’re playing and the dialog isn’t so bad, and you’re in one of the better environments searching for a spirit so you can get a useful upgrade, when it rises to the level of an okay time.
You can see the bones of a better game underneath this. Based on the structure (with lots of story and some sidequests woven in) it seems like at one point it might have been intended as an open world game or a full RPG and been cut back to the mostly linear action title it is. If it were a little more open and the combat and…everything else…felt better then I could see this being a decent time. The concept of a werewolf game blending stealth and bloody action with a story about taking down an evil corporation isn’t inherently a bad one, and no aspect of the game’s gameplay is conceptually flawed, it’s just bad in its execution. If the guards pathed a little better. If the enemies reacted to your hits in combat. If the environments were more interesting. If if if.
There’s no reason to play Werewolf. I’m a casual fan of the source material, but while it’s woven throughout the game’s narrative, it’s not used in an interesting way. You’ll hear terms like Garou and Penumbra but nothing of value is done with them.
I’m sure the people who developed this game didn’t set out to create something terrible. They had good intentions and it seems like time and budget made it impossible for them to complete their vision. Maybe Covid played a role. Maybe the Wyrm used its powerful minions to prevent them from finishing the game and getting their environmental message out there. It doesn’t really matter. There’s no point in playing this game. I spent about $30 on it and that was a complete waste of money.
There are so many good games out there that all of us haven’t played that there’s just no reason for a product like Werewolf. I can probably name 100 PS3/360 games that are more entertaining and interesting; even mediocre ones. While game design and tech continues to move forward, it’s not at such a fast pace that the games of the past are made irrelevant. I’m sure that part of the intention of not making it easier to play older games is to drive sales towards games like Werewolf, but that’s not good for the industry in the long run. My experience with Werewolf has made me more hesitant about buying AA games with mediocre reviews going forward. $30 is not a lot of money and 10 hours isn’t a huge amount of time, but I could have been playing one of my backlog games I’d actually enjoy. I certainly got more out of even a mediocre game like Homefront than I did out of this, and that was 6 months ago, not ancient history. Werewolf was clearly intended to take advantage of the 9th gen launch window and put out a substandard product that people would buy to have something for their new machines. I guess I fell for it, even though I waited for a sale. But just being a 9th gen game doesn’t actually mean anything if it’s bad. I still have a lot of better games in my backlog that I can play, and I’d be much better off playing them than spending any more time with games like this.
And the name is really dumb.