From the Vaults: Darkwatch

Man, there are NOT ENOUGH games within the “Weird West” hybrid genre. With potential for a Deadlands series, I’m hoping to be proven wrong. In the meantime, I talk about Darkwatch!

Darkwatch
“Saddle up, cowboy!” – Tala, Darkwatch Operative.

Today we take a trip through an undead infested Weird West straight out of Deadlands! (Spoilers ahead)

Before Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare, the weird western video game wasn’t as heard of. Sure, you had a few examples here and there, but otherwise nothing. In this vast, unpopulated genre, Darkwatch strolls into town. This game is a truly unique one, at least as far as art direction is concerned. This only helps to lend to a truly atmospheric and unique experience. It creates a thrill of soaring across a wasted west complete with badass steampunk weaponry to plow through a hellscape filled with undead horrors. Not too many games can recreate that experience.

The story of Darkwatch is part spaghetti western, part Abraham Van Helsing! You are Jericho Cross, a ruthless outlaw whose looking for cheap loot and not afraid to take others down with him. Your last heist takes place on a weird train cruising Arizona. It’s cargo is not meant to be unleashed, but the cues of rampaging, living dead apparently don’t tip you off. Upon blasting the vault to bits, one of the Darkwatch elite try to stop you. After she fails, an ancient evil, Lazarus, emerges from the vault and unleashes Hell. Unable to stop the vampiric menace, Lazarus curses Jericho with vampirism. With no place to go, he is forced to team up with the Darkwatch, an order dedicated to keeping supernatural evil at bay, to rid the world of Lazarus before his undead plague consumes everything.

Throughout the game, it’s pretty obvious the developers were fans of Halo, which is by no means a bad thing. Some indications of this are the Warthog like Coyote Tank, Cassidy Sharp’s ghostly voice overs which mirror Cortana, quick swapping and melee with your guns, to name a few. In my opinion, this makes the game feel all the more familiar, but an avid fan of Halo might feel a tad removed from the experience with the many Halo homages in the gameplay. Hell, the “Chieftan” control scheme even syncs up with a more Halo approach.

One of the really cool aspects of this game is vampire powers, some of which you can unlock by either doing good or doing evil. You’re given the choice to liberate tainted souls and the like or condemn them to damnation for your own desires, leading to different endings. The resulting powers you unlock are appropriately thematic for your redemption or downward spiral into a monster. Besides unlockable powers, your vampiric abilities you’re given off the bat (no pun intended) are a blast to dabble with too. Double jump to leap to all sorts of heights, blood vision to act as a heat detecting scope for shot precision, and a regenerating secondary health bar.

The music in this game is pretty damn sweet. First off, the theme is a dark remix of Ennio Morricone’s opening for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, now twisted into a chilling weird western tune. The atmospheric somber tune after Lazarus kills your good buddy invokes bluesy cowboy rhythms by a desert campfire, at least in my opinion. As someone who was a fan of Hell on Wheels partially because of the music, you can’t blame me too much here. That track truly helped to forge a memorable part of the level.

Now, while I love this game, it isn’t without its problems. For one, the approach to saving is quite bothersome. If they were aiming for a Halo homage, they should have had a save & quit as save points function. Because this isn’t the case, leaving the game will require you to redo the level. I’ve personally found this out the hard way. Luckily, the game will temporarily save to the last point if you die. This sometimes includes parts of boss fights, as they’re pretty damn challenging alone. Another issue is a cheap trick that the game industry always gets away with… hordes of the same NPC character. The skeletons are a truly redundant enemy with the gunslingers only getting a slightly different coat of paint later on. At least the monotony is slightly broken up with tougher enemies like zombified Native warriors, puking fat zombies, and the dreaded shrieking banshees. Also, the unlockables are mostly just some neat concept art and other minor tidbits, while cool doesn’t really extend gameplay. On that note, I wish there was a book based on the art of Darkwatch, as the aesthetic is truly something to look at.

Do I recommend this game? Depends. If you’re patient enough and one hell of a fast gunslinger, you’ll enjoy this title. Hell, if you love Gothic horror storytelling and/or gritty westerns, I could recommend it on that alone!

This wild adventure in a warped west gets a 7.5 / 10.

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