Zombies and cowboys. They're cool aren't they? While we certainly didn't flay our faces off and munch on a packed lunch of brains when we were kids, we did on occasion strut around with cap gun and stetson, reliving the not-so-wild west. It's only when you get older that you truly appreciate the comic appeal of stumbling, mumbling, animated corpses, so we're amazed no other developer has recently crossed these genres. Because when done well, as is the case with this game the end result is awesome.
Darkwatch, the debut title from the suitably named High Moon Studios, doesn't bring anything especially new to the FPS genre, and although we loved the dark and dingy environments, it doesn't look anywhere near as nice as a lot of other shooters out there either.
No, what really did it for us was the sheer accessibility and playability of the game. The cool back story does it no harm either. Jericho Cross is a wayward gunslinger who accidentally unleashes Lazarus, leader of the vampires and all-round nasty guy. After being bitten by Lazarus, Cross starts to display distinctly unnatural traits, which is where the game starts getting interesting. Blood Powers are gained when Cross sufficiently builds up his blood meter. You're frequently given moral choices throughout the game, the outcome of which governs which kind of
Blood Powers you'll learn. There's no real discernable advantage to either moral path and their associated powers, but it at least provides plenty of replayability value. The powers are very satisfying to unleash too; just hit the White button when your meter is full and you'll become temporarily immune to damage, develop seriously tough melee skills, or be able to make an entire screen of lost souls do your bidding.
The Havok physics add to the already frenetic gameplay; it's fun enough just to blast your way through waves of zombie cowboys, scything skeletons and wailing banshees, but shooting individual limbs off, before sniping their head clean from their torso as the body sways, then crumples under its own weight, is just brilliant. Certain scenery is destructible, and an enemy's body will comically tumble from a high vantage point when sniped. The game engine runs smooth and fast, and there are no dodgy collision issues at all.
Breaking up the on-foot action is some fun third-person horse-mounted gunplay, which again is done surprisingly well. Your character is a bit slow to rotate in the saddle, which slows up the otherwise breakneck pace, but it's a nice change nonetheless. Multiplayer features some great deathmatch maps, and Live is well catered for, boasting game modes for up to 16 players.
It may come across as rough and ready, but what Darkwatch tries to do - providing plenty of gory laughs and thrills - it does well. The best zombie/cowboy action game out there!
A solid and robust blaster that's tons of fun. Helped no end by the excellent Blood Powers and top multiplayer.