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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
High Moon Studios
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-8
August 16, 2005

 Written by John Scalzo  on February 02, 2006

Review: Good night vampire John Boy

World War II. A covert military operation put together by some dude named ?Tom.? Some burnt out and desolate future? usually involving demons, aliens or demon aliens. The First Person Shooter has several very distinct archetypes that have made it the genre of choice for a huge portion of the gamer community. Don't get me wrong, when done right there's nothing wrong with any of these settings. But when a game like Darkwatch comes along, like an old horse, FPS formulas get put out to pasture.

Darkwatch takes place in the old west and puts players in the spur-heeled boots of one Jericho Cross. Jericho's an old hired gun who gets a tip about one last big score, a mysterious train chugging through the desert with some very valuable loot in a safe. Jericho boards the train and is instantly attacked by zombies. Being the strong, silent type (seriously, in a game filled with voice acting and FMV, none of it belongs to Jericho) he fights his way through the horde and opens the safe. But it's not treasure awaiting the old gunslinger, it's Lazarus, a vampire king that quickly turns Jericho into a bloodsucking fiend.

From here Jericho is recruited into the Darkwatch, a posse of gunfighters that protect the world from all the demons and ghouls and evil that we don't know about. This is where the fun begins as Jericho gets outfitted with a bevy of deadly implements and lots of cool vampire powers.

They might look like standard pistols, shotguns, rifles, crossbows and rocket launchers (I swear), but they have a Darkwatch twist. Each weapon doubles as a melee weapon and dynamite is available every time you turn around. But you have to make your choices count because Jericho can only carry two weapons at a time. Thankfully, ammo is plentiful.

But even if it weren't, the one thing Darkwatch does right is melee combat. If a monster gets too close it just takes a quick flick of the Square button swings whatever weapon you have like a club and pops the top of any encroaching zombies. It's ridiculously fun, in fact, every weapon should come equipped with a six inch blade on the end for zombie killin'. And if you ever get sick of bustin' skulls, you can use your guns to blow away your enemies limb by limb until they're just a bouncing torso. Of course, head shots result in a satisfyingly bloody mess as well.

Jericho's vampire powers will come in handy as well and he earns one just by being turned: Vampire Jumping. Pressing Triangle will send Jericho skyward and pressing it twice will send him even higher. There's nothing quite like being surrounded by a gang of ghouls and then pulling a Superman out of there all the while raining exploding arrows on the mob below. Blood Vision will also be used quite often as this red-tinted view of the world highlights monsters in a bright white light and outlines any and all weaponry that can easily be lost in the shuffle. There's nothing quite like shooting a bomb out of a zombie's hand at fifty paces with Blood Vision.

Other powers will come your way as the game progresses and which powers you get depend entirely on how naughty of a vampire you will become. Throughout the game Jericho will meet people that have been infected with vampirism and souls that have been damned to Hell. In these instances Jericho can choose to kill the afflicted people or spare them and release their souls from the vampire curse. Killing sends you down the path of Evil and special powers like Blood Frenzy (increased melee strength), Black Shroud (a shield) and the Soul Stealer (long range killin' of everything). On the other hand, the path of Good rewards you with Silver Bullet (guns cause moire damage), Mystic Armor (a shield) and Vindicator (long range killin' of everything). As you can see it doesn't really matter which path you choose.

Darkwatch also features several levels on horseback and one on the back of the Darkwatch Coyote (think a souped-up ATV). The horseback levels are fun as they are basically like an old fashioned rail shooter. Jericho doesn't move as fast or as responsively as say an Arwing in Star Fox, but it works. However, the Coyote handles like you'd expect a car designed in the 1800s to handle. Let's just leave it at that.

Darkwatch is completely linear. No mission objectives or key hunts, making it out alive is your only goal and that's incredibly refreshing. I'm tired of having fifteen different mission objectives that often make no sense. For some, this lack of "depth" might be a problem, but not for me. I want vampires and monsters and ridiculously wild firefights with twenty enemies at once without missing a beat. And Darkwatch delivers.

And don't think for a second that these firefights will be anything less than intense as the demons will duck for cover, flank you for a better position and they aren't afraid of using the gunpowder barrels that are everywhere to their advantage. Often, the ghouls will try to stand between you and the barrels so a misaimed shot will hit the gunpowder, killing yourself as well as the ghouls. They're already dead, what do you care? But they're clever. For brainless zombies, they know a lot of tactics and it makes the battles all the more fun.

Above all else, the presentation of Darkwatch is just beautiful. The old west has never looked better. The monsters look appropriately gross and the dusty trails and ghost towns are appropriately dusty and... er... ghosty. Some of the levels have that "same old, same old" feel to them (how many zombie infested desert canyons are there really?), but it looks great.

And the sound and voice acting is even better. The Reapers squeal. The Banshees scream. The rumble of a fat slug called an Oozer charging towards you. It's awesome. The sounds come from everywhere and before you know you're swarmed by these things on all sides. There's even a little bit of the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (the "hoo-woo-hoo" that is always in westerns). And while Jericho doesn't have much to say, other Darkwatch regulators will fill in the gaps (including one that is both voiced and modeled by Rose McGowan).

Bottom Line
After they were recently purchased by VU Games, High Moon announced that they were working on several new projects, all of them for next-gen systems. If there's a god (who hates vampires), one of them will be a sequel to Darkwatch. For anyone looking for something a little different out of their First Person Shooter experience, Darkwatch is that game. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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