By: Tristan Jones on November 11, 2005  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: PS2
Also available on: XBox
Publisher: Ubisoft
Players: 1 - 8
Year: 2005
OFLC Rating: MA15+
The Old West is something rarely touched upon in first person shooters nowadays. Horror is everywhere; it's basically what allows these games to be made. But the Old West, it's a prime piece of territory for a bit of bang-bang-your-dead and Ubisoft has done a great job in bringing the Old West (back) to life! You play as Jericho Cross, an outlaw who's decided to rob a particularly peculiar train only to find that it's inhabited by the undead and harbouring a powerful vampire known only as Lazarus. Unwittingly, you unleash Lazarus who in turn, takes you under his leathery wings and makes you one of his kind. From here on out, it's up to Jericho alongside the DarkWatch (a group of humans keeping the dead dead) to put Lazarus back in his place before he turns the Old West into Hell on Earth.

Darkwatch is one of those games you see in the shops and wonder about, you'll pick it up, have a look and probably put it back amidst the endless other piles of First Person Shooters. There's been little coverage of the game in the States, and even less here, so word of mouth isn't out there to help bolster it into view, which is unfortunate because Darkwatch is a hell of a lot of fun! Admittedly, the restrictive nature of the game is a little irksome at first, you can only carry two weapons at a time, the enemies are a touch repetitious and the pathways through the levels are very clear-cut. However, once you've gotten used to the controls and have done your first horseback mission, most of the troubles are out the window. Very few first person shooters have been as intense in their action as Darkwatch, most others allow for time to be taken to snipe enemies or take them in your own stead. Not here, my friend.

Enemies come thick and fast, so progressing through the levels becomes an exercise in wholesale slaughter pretty much every time. Several levels will have you cease fire only to reload or find a new weapon. A gripe some may have is that the enemies have too little variation, most of them being skeletons of one sort or another, but after playing through and finding yourself swarmed by the bastards constantly you forget that they all look the same and you just want to cut swathes through them. A neat feature of the weaponry is that, although you can only carry two different weapons at a time, they can all be used as melee weapons, and the physics engine employed when launching into a brawl with the enemy is both awesome and hilarious. Get the shotgun and you'll send more heads flying by using the butt of it over the barrel! Or grab yourself the crossbow and die laughing as your Deadite-inspired foes pack death a second time around!

The control scheme is the standard for FPS's, but the nature of the engine, the weapons and the enemies makes if feel a hell of a lot easier to deal with than a number of other titles that use the precision aiming set-up. The game is also broken up into other sections outside of the first person perspective. Within the first couple of levels you ride horseback to escape Lazarus and a horde of undead riders, and again sporadically throughout the game. Those who remember a game called Sunset Riders will have an idea already. You also get to control the "Coyote" which is basically a buggy with mounted gattling guns. Moments like these really are inspired little bits of pure fun, especially the horseback sequences!

In spite of all of this the single player campaign is rather short, playing through on normal difficulty experienced gamers could have it finished easily in a single sitting, and even if you aren't that good it'd only take you a couple more. Still that doesn't detract from the game's playability. It really is a lot of fun, just kinda short. There's a Good/Evil pathways option throughout the game to mix things up a bit, but it really doesn't change anything except the powers you earn as you progress. To provide balance though, the multiplayer section really does shine compared (Especially on Xbox) to most other titles out there now. The game features a neat co-op option along with the standard array of deathmatch games available to most Shooters out there. Still there's something about the nature of the visuals and tone of the game that makes these more appealing than the others (I mean, if you could be undead cowboys or army men, which would you choose?).

The visuals of the game really can't be ignored. Ubisoft have a track record of putting together a lot of really nice games (Beyond Good & Evil, Splinter Cell, the fantastic Prince of Persia titles and the stunning looking game of Peter Jackson's King Kong), and although the visuals are repetitious, they really are quite nice. The texture details aren't anything incredible, but they get the job done and the enemies all look fantastic. One thing this game manages to do incredibly well is maintain an excellent frame rate, which is often the biggest problem with FPS's on consoles.
The music also adds to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the game. Those familiar with their Westerns will pick up on the famous and borderline clichéd moments of scoring, and those who don't will still love the music, managing to capture the stereotyped essence of the Old West while also balancing it out with the macabre nature of the title itself.

All in all, DarkWatch is short and sweet. It has pretty much everything a shooter could want, the only exception being a great deal of depth and longevity to the story, but with a solid multiplayer section and a wagon-load of carnage it really these things can be overlooked by the casual trigger-happy gamer. More seasoned players may find themselves hungry for more but going unsatisfied. (Add an extra half to the score below; DarkWatch is just above the mediocrity).
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