Impressions: Watchmen: The End is Nigh

As an avid follower of the Watchmen comic series, I felt it was my duty to partake in the movie that was released only a few weeks ago. I found it to be both a compelling and accurate translation from comic to silver screen, and subsequently became more engrossed and involved in the Watchmen fandom. Being knee-deep in an exploding fandom means one of three things: you may become annoying, you may make a lot of enemies, and you will spend a good lot of extra money that you probably don’t have. I have fallen prey to each tenet of said fandom, but I am not filled with remorse.

Though it must be one of the most lackluster brawlers I have experienced as of late, I found myself slogging through The End is Nigh simply because it’s branded with the iconic “WATCHMEN” logo in indomitable yellow lettering. The draw of a familiar brand is a frightening one, as it has lead a perfectly stable gamer in her right mind to spend cash she really doesn’t have just to satisfy the lull in her system for want of more Watchmen. Who watches the Watchmen? I do, apparently.

Developed by Deadline Games, most famous for Total Overdose, Watchmen: The End is Nigh is the poster child for what is wrong with expanded universes. Rather than taking the source material and building upon Alan Moore’s masterpiece, the video game adaptation mangles the legacy into something that can be better understood by preteens and simple-minded individuals who likely laud Rorschach as the “awesome loose cannon.” Overlooking the bigger picture and his sociopathic tendencies has turned Rorschach into the newest, trendy Joker-like figure to be plastered onto hoodies and to become a hero for the “extreme” youth. The End is Nigh attempts to supplement Watchmen’s storyline with new and far less interesting material that only serves as a backdrop for a lackluster beat-’em-up. The game, meant to be played in multiple, episodic releases, serve as a prequel to the graphic novel.

The End is Nigh, as a prequel to the events seen in the comics and movie, is set in the late 70s before the passing of the infamous Keene Act. Rorschach and Nite Owl II are acting as vigilantes, taking out baddies here and there, much to some citizens’ chagrin. After listening in on a police bulletin, the pair travel to Sing Sing prison in order to calm a riot that has erupted. After discovering the prison riot had been incited simply to cover up the escape of The Underboss, the duo becomes entangled in a twisted (but bland) plot that ends up revealing the Comedian as the mastermind behind a number of government scandals initiated by the United States government. While what’s here could be compelling storytelling, it ends up feeling like cheap action-flick fare. It’s nowhere near as engaging or intellectually-stimulating as the source material ended up being, focusing more on the gritty, brawler aspect of the story as well as the seedy underbelly of the world of crime.

The game is prefaced with some gorgeous comic book art, which is quite impressive in its rich, colorful visuals. It brings to mind the recently-released animated graphic novel that brings the comics to life. Gamers can choose to play as either Rorschach or Nite Owl II, the characters most newcomers to the franchise will likely identify with much more easily. As either player, it’s possible to pull off a string of combos in order to rack up chains. The higher number of combos equates to more damage being dealt to unassuming enemies. Once you’ve mastered chaining combos together, then you may as well have experienced the game in its entirety. There is literally nothing else to do rather than wander around the glut of each environment, pressing the occasional switch to satisfy the co-op element, or collecting power-ups for the character you have chosen to play as. The monotonous task of clearing out each area of palette-swapped baddies never improves, not even with progression throughout the game.

If it weren’t enough that all the gameplay requires of you is to button mash through waves and waves of enemies, the dialogue is so laughable and vulgar that it’s highly advised you play with the volume low enough so that anyone in your home won’t have to be subjected to such nonsense. While the Watchmen actors (Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earl Haley, the best from the film) have reprised their roles to provide voices for Rorschach and Nite Owl II, the dialogue is so ridiculous that it’s a shame Len Wein (Wolverine) was involved even slightly. Every word that slips out of Rorschach’s mouth is a hardened remark about the state of vigilantism, with a mousy retort from Nite Owl, who would rather see the sunny side of every situation.

The enemies aren’t much better. Though each stage varies in design for each enemy to take down, they all spout the same tired insults over and over, with varying degrees of profanity sprinkled throughout, as if the target audience couldn’t handle simple taunts or advances other than the F-bomb or comments directed toward one’s mother. It detracted from the experience for me, and left me cringing at the sheer idiocy of some of the recorded voiceovers. Really, they could have done much better. There are only six true stages to battle through, though there are planned installments to purchase separately of this first chapter. The fact that you can play through the entire first chapter in under 4 hours is appalling.

It’s clear that the only reason for the bloated $20 price tag is the fact that Watchmen fans will purchase the game simply out of curiosity and to fill that tiny place in their heart that’s devoid of Watchmen goodness. However, with bland, uninspired brawler gameplay, a story that asks more questions than it answers, and ridiculous dialogue, I feel Watchmen: The End is Nigh is one to pass up, especially for its asking price. If you’re a Watchmen fan with $20 to burn, rather than Rorschach’s moody tirades and Nite Owl II fleeing behind him, awkwardly decking the baddies, buy the paperback graphic novel. You won’t feel as though you’ve wasted your time so, and you’ll still be getting that Watchmen fix.

Available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC platforms.

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