Tapping into the vein of a comic book opus, Watchmen: The End is Nigh faces odds nearly as insurmountable as the ones shouldered by its big screen brother. Can a series, said to be impossible to be converted to film, be just as difficult to translate into a series of bits and bytes?
The End is Nigh doesn’t dig into the thick literature of the graphic novel, but around it, instead opting to dally in the days of fearsome twosome Rorschach and Nite Owl. It all starts with the duo answering a prison break call seemingly orchestrated by crime lord Underboss. But when the big cheese pleads the fifth, mysterious developments unfurl, leading to revelations about murdered FBI informants and clandestine assassinations carried out by a funnily familiar figure.
The story promises at intrigue and authenticity, featuring a script penned by Watchmen editor Len Wein. But there’s simply no soul; story sequences are limited to brief animated segments bookending each chapter, and the plot plays it a bit too safe. It’s bolstered, however, by spirited voice work from the movie’s cast, and truth be told, it’s more than what you’d normally expect from a beat-‘em-up. But in terms of a story-driven hook meant to wrangle in fans of Alan Moore’s quill, it just isn’t here.
Falling in line with classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, The End is Nigh is a 3D brawler that has you dishing out justice as either the gadget-enhanced Nite Owl or the rough-and-tumble Rorschach. You can either go it alone with an A.I wingman, or bring a second offline player along for the split-screen, cooperative ride. Online support does not exist.
Progressing through each stage isn’t quite as linear as its side-scrolling ancestors, but it comes pretty close. Objectives boil down to splitting up, teaming up, or beating up whatever is in your path. The game makes a few shy attempts at dynamics, with flighty Nite Owl grappling sections and locks for Rorschach to pick, but mostly, each stage borrows heavily from the same boring design template, and the repetition sets in quick.
Unfolding over six levels, it all leads up to a cliffhanger ending meant to segue into the next downloadable chapter. It’s a seemingly respectable number, but each level is so short that the game can easily be conquered in a few hours. It’s a game with few complexities and even fewer frills. Replay value comes at reliving the experience through the mask of your partner, but with negligible differences between each campaign, the effort isn’t worth it.
As to be expected, combat comprises the major make-up of The End is Nigh. Drawing on a mix of light and heavy strikes, throws, combos, and counters, the game can actually feel pretty enjoyable at first--especially when silencing foul-mouthed fools with the blunt end of your fist.
Over the course of each level, you’ll earn character-specific abilities that highlight the individual aspects of your selected hero. For Rorschach, that means harnessing rage in brute force, while Nite Owl makes use of crowd control gadgets.
The two definitely have their own nuances, but the variety doesn’t carry the game long. Gang fights are simply relentless, and it doesn’t let up with its lazy scenarios. Hit a switch, and a pack of goons spill out. Open a door, and hey, check it out, goons.
A single boss fight at the end serves as a meager cherry on top, but as it stands, it has less variety than beat-‘em-ups from years prior. At least Ninja Turtles had a hoverboard and more than two different enemy types.
On a primal level, The End is Nigh provides some decent moments of brawling, but you’ll pretty much have to leave your IQ at the door to sustain any sense of gratification.
With impressively rendered environments, character models, and lighting effects, it’s almost hard to forget that The End is Nigh is a downloadable title. Accentuated by animated cutscenes mimicking the handiwork of Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, the game makes good on delivering a visual package faithful to its source material. Moments of iffy collision detection, severe framerate drops in multiplayer, and bits of teleportation are damning chinks in the armor.
Then there’s the audio, which borrows not only the sound of the movie but its actors as well. Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earl Haley’s pipes fit well, though the dialogue sometimes borders on ludicrous.
Though largely lacking in ingenuity, Watchmen: The End is Nigh proves that if licensed games can’t be good, they can at least look good. The gameplay has a life expectancy of about 45 minutes, and at a pricey $20 for just a few hours of play, it probably should have been released for five bucks and used as a promotional tool for the flick.