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Thursday, August 25, 2005

I'll Be Damned

Darkwatch came from Gamefly recently. Oddly, it came before Haunting Ground, which was higher in my q, but there's been oddness between the Fly and the post lately it seems.

I kinda remember some early hype about Darkwatch, and then silence, and then I barely heard it was released. In fact, it was looking up some coop games that I realized it had been. Some might say that's a tad ominous.

To say that Darkwatch has taken notes from Halo would be putting it politely. Two weapon inventory system, off-hand grenades, obstacle orientated AI and even a ghostly female voice whispering in your ear. Flattery and all that, much of what they've lifted from Bungie actually works pretty well. They've also gussied up some impressive uses from the Havok physics engine.

It's when you depart from those mechanics that the game slips a little. For one thing, the only thing they seem to have stolen from Valve is a laconic main character. Cutscenes are in full force and are sometimes not very pretty. They don't resemble the game engine sometimes, they occasionally break the action and sometimes even feel a little non sequiter. There are times that the AI defaults into morbid stupidity, even keeping their back to you while you plugging them in the back.

What Darkwatch adds to the table - a unique power system, choices between good and evil, and the occasional horseback battle - is something of a mixed bag. The good/evil paths don't feel tied to the story and there isn't much opportunity to play with the possibilities - so it's unlikely it will add much to replay. The horseback missions are well developed, even if the starkly vacant backdrop makes it feel unfinished. The power system is probably the best concieved as obviously some real thought went into their design and I haven't noticed any yet-another-physics-demo powers yet.

Overall the production value is quite good - the designs and artwork are extremely attractive on the PlayStation 2. Not God of War pretty, but fairly close at times. I haven't gotten far into the game yet, but the missions and level design seem at least average. The whole horror/western mashup is done pretty well. It's a twist of flavor for a genre dripping in science fiction motifs.

Basically, Darkwatch is easily worth a rental. I've added it to my library partially due to the cooperative mode, which I collect obsessively. It's a solid start for a franchise with just a couple of stumbles. I'd love to see a sequel with better cinematics, improved AI and more innovative mission design ... just so long as the art and new mechanics can come along for the ride.

1 comment:

Winkyboy said...

Say, I'd love to hear your list of co-op titles sometime... I'm always big into team play.