In today’s Apocalypchicas Watch we look further into one of the platforms the Watchmen franchise expands its universe through – namely the video game Watchmen: The End is Nigh Part 1 & 2.
So this week I got my hands on the video game and played it all the way through.
Now you might think “what? I didn’t even know they made a video game!”, and it actually makes a lot of sense, because it became a flop.
Commercially it was scheduled to be released matching the movie’s calendar: Part 1 of the game was release when Watchmen hit the theaters, and Part 2 was released when the DVD came out. Here we already face one of the problems, that most of the video game tie ins to big franchises face (which is also generally applicable to other types of tie-ins, especially tie-in novels). The video game was not really popular and the developers Dead Line Games, a Copenhagen based game company, filed for bankruptcy the same year it was release, thus Watchmen became their very last game.
The gameplay was okay but nothing new or revolutionary. Like other action-brawlers, you play with different fighting techniques whether you choose to play as Rorschach or as Nite Owl. Their style matches their persona. Rorschach is a true brawler; he plays dirty and picks up the villains own weapons after disarming them. Nite Owl have a more technical style of fighting as he is equipped with electric gadgets and knows Kung Fu. If you are two players you get the opportunity to play the game co-op, which also give you the possibility to experience the levels differently as Rorschach and Nite Owl often split up and each make their own way through the levels. Another nice thing about the game play is that you often have to actively work together with your partner, otherwise you are outnumbered by the villains. Contrary to many games, the other villains don’t just stand and stare, but actually help each other out during the fight. So you must do so too.
Levelwise the game is bad… really bad. The levels are very boring, repetitive and extremely predictable maze design. The level of freedom is very low as each level is a fixed path, mostly just made up of squares with a pretty graphical layout. There is nothing hidden to discover in the levels and only one way to get through the level.
The game would have been so much more entertaining if they had put some work in the details of the level design, so you could get more immersed into the game world. Given its a detective storyline I find it strange that you cannot do any forensic work in the game. You just fight your way through the same set of gangbangers on and on, and whenever something important happens in the story there’s a cutscene.
The only extra the game gives the player besides just beating up the bad guys is a few mini-games where Rorschach coaxes locks.
Generally the game could do with much more drillability in order to get properly immersed into the universe. Because of the way it is built up you always keep a distance to the characters and the world around them.
Storywise the game is actually good. It ties up a lot of loose ends from the movie: it explains why the Keene Act was passed and why Rorschach and Nite Owl stopped being partners. The villains of the game are all canon mentions from the graphic novel (Underboss, Jimmy the Gimmick (p. 168) and Twilight Lady (p.217)). The original narrative of the game gets the chance to expand the universe, by letting the player explore the stories of very briefly mentioned minor characters.
An interesting aspect of the game is the grande finale. The outcome of fighting the Twilight Lady is actually optional, as the game offers you two different endings: When you finally defeat all of the minions, the final battle with Twilight Lady begins. However, this battle splits the two partners. Rorschach is willing to kill her, while Nite Owl’s more nuanced morale (and old affection) won’t let him do it. This results in a intense battle between the two partners. The player gets to choose the fate of Twilight Lady, depending on whether it is Rorschach or Nite Owl who wins the battle. If Rorschach wins, he kills Twilight Lady. If Nite Owl wins, he slams Rorschach through the glass roof and spares the Twilight Lady’s life ordering her to leave the city forever. No matter what happens to Twilight Lady – living or dead – the story ends with Rorschach and Nite Owl ending their partnership. Rorschach works alone underground and Nite Owl partners up with the Comedian, leaving the player just around the flashback in Watchmen where Nite Owl and the Comedian tries to stop the riot in the streets.
All in all, the game has potential, however the gameplay and especially the level design seem very rushed in production and become very repetitive. As a player you do not really do anything in the game other than beat up the henchmen with different moves. At every corner a generic group of henchmen shows up – you beat them – and behind the next corner practically the same group shows up again and you beat them – again. For the same reason, you eventually get tired of hearing Nite Owl say “Here they come Rorschach ready or not”.
It seems like they focused too much to make a good prequel story for the video game while completely neglecting every ludological aspect in a game that makes you want to care about the story at all. If the gameplay and world does not suck you in and lets you explore it, a good story in the cutscenes can seem completely irrelevant.
Concludingly I will say that Watchmen: The End Is Nigh is a waste of potential. If they had not rushed the release to match the cinema and dvd release they might have made a game that could have kept an ongoing interest in the Watchmen universe.
If they had made a good quality game that could gain some actual popularity they could have expanded the video games with sequels exploring more of many the character’s past history. Combining a well designed game play with a more open world/sandbox game design they could have distributed extra knowledge and clues for the hardcore fans to search for through the levels getting deeper into the storyworld while enjoying playing the part as a vigilante.
Who knows maybe the video game could have made Watchmen a true transmedia franchise that would have continued to this day, had they not rushed it through to fit a time schedule. After all, the commercial market for video games alone in the US was 22.41 billion dollars in 2014 and 155 million americans play, thus an enormous group of consumers to miss out on.
One can only wonder if it would have made a decisive difference.
List of references
“Dead Line Games Går Konkurs I Dag” Computerworld.dk
http://www.computerworld.dk/art/51716/deadline-games-gaar-konkurs-i-dag (accesed 24th of april 2016)
- Watchmen: The End is Nigh Compilation. Deadline Games. Playstation 3.
Entertainment Software Association. 2015. “Essential facts about the computer and video game industry”
http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ESA-Essential-Facts-2015.pdf (accessed 24th of april 2016)