First Impressions: You're a vampire, you're dressed like a cowboy, you ride a black horse, and you've got a huge arsenal of weapons... sounds like a good time.
At one point touted to be a next generation title, Darkwatch, which is now slated for this generation's consoles in May, crosses the ever-popular mystique of vampires with a western/cowboy theme. The game takes place primarily from the first-person perspective, but will have some third-person sequences on horseback.
You play as Jericho Cross, a Darkwatch agent who has been changed forever after a bungled train robbery. Now, Jericho uses his new vampire abilities for the shadowy Darkwatch group, but he must also face the challenges of being a vampire ? much like our friends Kain or Raziel from their respective games. Obviously, this balance will play heavily into gameplay as you will have to make choices, based on whatever urge overtakes you. Such as the theme of many games these days, your choices (good or bad) will affect what you can do and how the game plays out.
Fighting alongside other Darkwatch agents, Jericho will take the fight to other (presumably worse) nocturnal creatures that have overrun various towns, cemeteries, mountainsides and valleys. The action primarily takes place from a first-person perspective and features some tried-and-true gunplay. There will be a solid array of weapons to use, such as pistols, rifles, sniper rifles, explosives, and even melee attacks. Jericho will also have access to certain ?vampire powers? over time; these include a jumping ability that allows you to vault across large gaps (or building rooftops) with ease, and a skill called ?blood vision? that lets you use a Splinter Cell type of night vision (through a vampire's eye, though) to view hidden enemies. These powers are in limited quantities though, and rely on the consumption of blood from downed enemies and, if you so choose, innocent bystanders.
Some of the gameplay does take place from a third-person view, as you will often ride your horse into a town or, as in one level, chase after a speeding train. While on the horse, Jericho wields his gun in both hands and picks off enemies as they approach the hulking steed. In principle, this looks to be a nice diversion from the first-person gameplay that will surely dominate most of the action.
The levels will definitely take on a desolate Western theme, and each is bathed in darkness to convey the murky nature of the story and its protagonist. The buildings in each town are often broken down and rotting, and you will be able to duck in and out of them for cover or for a better shot at a hard-to-reach target. Many of the town locales are almost completely abandoned, and only a scant few humans remain. The majority of the towns' inhabitants will be in the form of undead that pop out of the ground and often employ group tactics in order to overwhelm you. For some of these situations, you will find Gatling gun emplacements that will fit the bill for mass destruction. There definitely could be some issues in Darkwatch with enemy repetition, as many of the levels shown feature the same one or two baddies, but it is interesting to note that there will be vampire hunters armed just like you that are out to collect a bounty on your blood-sucking ass. Additionally, many of the levels will have boss characters so hopefully these foes provide an inspired climactic fight.
As mentioned above, some of the choices you make will affect how the game plays out. In some cases, the effect will be directly apparent in the level you are playing, as helping a villager and his family early in the level might open up a shortcut later on (as he returns the favor for helping); however, if you decide to gun down the villagers and suck their blood for strength, you may be slightly powered up but the shortcut will not be opened and the gunplay may be extended. Either way, your actions will impact a ?judgment? system within the game that, apparently, has consequences for your adventures ? or misadventures.
Darkwatch looks very good right now, and much of this can be attributed to the moody, dark lighting, and the sense of sleekness about the main character. Many of the environments look tattered and run down, which is the type of look one would want the towns to have. Character models looks fairly well done, but the repetitive enemy designs may be a bit of a sacrifice in order to have more on the screen at one time. Weapon and explosion effects look good, and the vampire powers are also very creative in their visual style ? blood vision looks very original.
The sound of the game will be important for establishing the atmosphere for the story, as will a level of pathos for the fallen Jericho Cross. So far, the sound effects are very effective in setting the tone for each situation, particularly the whirring din of windy silence in each town. No real music has been shown so far, but the few notes throughout certain action sequences are very effective. Voice acting will also be a key factor to crafting an effective narrative, so hopefully Darkwatch has a good script and gets some good reads (and even though he's done like a million and 1 V/O jobs, I think Tony Jay would be perfect for some sort of narrator or elder figure, but the game might opt to go for more unknown talent).
There is also the inclusion of Xbox Live support in Darkwatch, and you will be able to play a variety of individual and team-based modes for up to 16 people. Standard XBL features such as friend lists, scoreboards and matchmaking will be available, and presumably so will XBL 3.0 features. Hopefully this component gets some attention (unlike other recent Western shooters, ahem, Red Dead Revolver) and provides players with something to come back to after the main story is done.
This is definitely one to look out for and I could see it becoming a sleeper hit, provided the presentation aspects hold up and the story immerses the player.