It would be fair for you to assume that Watchmen: The End is Nigh (XBLA, PSN, PC) sucks, given the checkered past that movie tie-in games have, but surprisingly enough, it doesn't. It's a well-built beat-'em-up that does its best to stay true to the Watchmen aesthetic. It treats the characters with respect, and delivers gameplay that isn't terribly original, but is certainly competent. So The End is Nigh isn't the terrible travesty that you were expecting - but it is very, very disappointing.
The game takes place before the action of the graphic novel and the movie, when Nite Owl and Rorschach were still patrolling the streets, ridding the city of scum. You can play as either character, or team up with a friend for some split screen co-op action. The gameplay is pretty standard beat-'em-up fare: enter an area, wait for a screaming horde of generic enemies to come rushing at you, pummel the snot out of them, move on to the next room. Occasionally you have to flip a switch or clear an obstacle, but most of your time will be spent swinging your fists.
When it comes to combat, both characters control nearly identically. You have two attacks, heavy and light, that you can string together to form combos. As you progress through the game, you'll pick up tokens that unlock new moves, usually just in time for you to encounter even stronger enemies. Although using specific combos in strategic ways - like softening up a biker so that you can throw him into his friends - will make the game easier, you can get by almost as well just by mashing buttons with gusto.
Every so often, you'll put enough of a hurt on an enemy to set him up for a finishing move, at which point a button icon will appear over his head. Hit the appropriate button and you'll perform a devastating killing move; Rorschach's are particularly brutal. The finishing moves are fun to watch, but they feel completely random. You're never sure when you're going to be able to do one, or which one you'll be performing.
Though combat is largely the same for both heroes, they do have a few character-specific abilities. Nite Owl uses his suit to bolster his strength, letting him raise gates and do a powerful attack that pushes enemies away. He also has a grappling gun that allows him to scale buildings - Rorschach envies it so much that he asks for one of his own, a nice nod to the source material. Rorschach, meanwhile, can pick locks, scuttle through narrow openings, and tap into his pent-up rage to become more deadly in combat. The differences don't do much to make the characters feel distinct, though. Nite Owl may scale a building then run across rooftops while Rorschach scuttles under a gate to duck down an alley, but the end result is the same. The pair's special abilities feel like afterthoughts and not that special at all.
As a brawler, End is Nigh fares pretty well; there are plenty of combos to learn and the AI is smart enough to keep things challenging. Where Nigh falls short is as a Watchmen game. Clearly, a lot of effort was put into capturing the look and feel of the source material - the story is told through graphic novel-style cut scenes that mimic the book reasonably well, and Nite Owl and Rorschach look great. As much as the game may look like Watchmen, it simply doesn't feel like Watchmen. You could drop practically any pair of bad dudes into Nite Owl and Rorschach's spots, and the game wouldn't feel any different. It has no real grit, no soul, no gravitas. Whether you love or hate the Watchmen graphic novel, you can't deny that it has a unique sensibility and feel to it, which the game completely lacks.
All of which could perhaps be forgiven if the game wasn't a whopping $20 - an outrageous fee for such a relatively short, simplistic button masher. There are far better games you can play to satisfy your urge to thrash gangs of ne'er-do-wells, and there are certainly better ways to satiate your Watchmen cravings.
Bottom Line: Though it's a decent enough beat-'em-up, Watchmen: The End is Nigh doesn't feel particularly in touch with its source material. While it's not a terrible game, it feels empty and hollow when compared with either the book or the movie from which it draws its inspiration.
Recommendation: If you're desperate to find a way to express inner Rorschach - you know who you are - then you might enjoy yourself. Otherwise, you'll just be bored. Save yourself the twenty bucks.
This review was based on the XBLA version of the game.
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