In theory, Watchmen: The End is Nigh, should be able to overcome the typical woes of movie-game development due to its distribution method. As a downloadable game, it doesn't need to offer the depth expected out of a retail box. However, it's clear that The End is Nigh simply isn't ambitious enough to do the franchise justice. Although much emphasis has been placed on the game's expansion of the franchise's canon, the core game experience simply isn't very satisfying. It can be summed up in just three words: beat-em-up.
The End is Nigh certainly does a lot of things right, and it's these dressings that make the game worthwhile for Watchmen fans. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous; the dark, rain-drenched cities of the graphic novel are accurately recreated in the game. Multiplatform digital releases very rarely, if ever, look this good. Each chapter begins with an animated introduction that fleshes out this prequel's story. While the production values don't match those of the Watchmen digital comic, these animated shorts do an admirable effort in recreating the look of the original graphic novel. Fans will certainly appreciate being able to see Rorschach and Nite Owl as crimefighters, not the condemned outcasts they become in the original story.
While it's easy to get swept away by the impressive presentation, the gameplay is thoroughly uninspired. Players can play as either Rorscach or Nite Owl, but the choice seems largely inconsequential. Ultimately, all players have access to are a generic combination of punches and kicks. Nite Owl can do electric attacks, and Rorscach can enter a "rage mode." However, these attacks are neither visceral nor cinematic.
Our preview featured only one kind of enemy: generic thugs that can also punch, kick or grab your character. Perhaps more enemy types will appear in the later areas of the game, but what we've seen so far has been disheartening.
The gameplay of The End is Nigh cannot get any more primitive. The beat-em-up genre hasn't progressed very far over the years, and it's clear that The End is Nigh makes no effort in changing the status quo. We're disappointed that some obvious features, like online cooperative play, won't be included with the game's release. Another obvious feature that's absent from the game: cooperative attacks. Although two players can play the game together offline, the lack of cooperative attacks limit the multiplayer aspect of the game. There's no way to do combos in tandem, nor is it possible to attack the same enemy with the two heroes. The multiplayer aspect is, essentially, two single player modes that happen in tandem.
Considering the entire game can be beaten in less than two hours, WBIE is going to have to price this game quite delicately. (Certainly nothing more than $10!) From what we've seen so far, Watchmen fans may want to keep their eyes on the game, not because of the gameplay, but because of the impressive production values and compelling story.