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Joystiq Review: Watchmen: The End Is Nigh

Justin McElroy

Before we get to the review in earnest, I'd like to address the die-hard Watchmen fans, the ones who fall asleep with their nose in the book every night and who are positive that the upcoming film will be incapable of capturing the book's dark yet occasionally cheerful nihilism. Watchmen: The End Is Nigh is everything you fear from an adaptation, and anyone who tells you differently is not and has never been your friend. Run far, far away.

... OK, with those nerdlingers gone, let's talk about Watchmen: TEIN's merits as a game, shall we?

Gallery: Watchmen: The End is Nigh | 23 Photos

With the price of most retail releases set right at $60, it seems value isn't really a question when reviewing a game. The price is what the price is, so why debate how much bang you get for your buck? For better or for worse, the same can't really be said for downloadable titles. In terms of pricing, it's still the Wild West as soon as you exit through the doors of Gamestop, and like it or not, price is an issue.

It's all sort of brain-numbingly fun for about 30 minutes, until it becomes mind-meltingly dull.

Let's accept that, yeah, with a $20 asking price, Watchmen: The End Is Nigh goes in with one arm tied behind its back. It should come as quite a testament, then, to the sheer tedium of the game that I quickly forgot how much was being asked for it, and was instead stunned that so much development effort and cash would be spent on a game that's so very, very boring.

TEIN begins by letting you choose whether you'll play as demented vigilante Rorschach or the much more upstanding Nite Owl. Savor that selection screen, friends, because once you've selected your hero, the die is cast and you better be braced for three hours of punching.

Light attack or strong, it doesn't really matter, they both seem to be pretty effective. You can occasionally do a finishing move with a timed button press, or you can just keep punching the guy instead. You can do a counter attack to disarm an enemy, so you can punch ... but with a bat. (Full disclosure: There are also kicks.) If you are unsure of which of the punch buttons you're pressing, don't worry, as that information is displayed on screen every time you do it to help you string together combos. Yeah, it's very immersive. It's all sort of brain-numbingly fun for about 30 minutes, until it becomes mind-meltingly dull.

Okay, so there are a couple of other things happening. Rorschach gets a profoundly unenjoyable lock-picking minigame and Nite Owl can occasionally shoot a grappling hook. A few times per level, you'll have to press "A" to open a gate for your teammate, though I refuse to classify that as "gameplay." I'm pretty sure the developers are just testing to make sure you haven't trained a baby or beloved family pet to mindlessly pound the "X" and "Y" buttons.

But that's not the big surprise. What shocked me was just how much work was put into nearly every other facet of the game. It's the best looking XBLA release I can remember, it's got impressive voice acting and the combat animations are brilliant, especially those of Rorschach, who fights with a sort of visceral, wrestling-inspired style that almost (but not quite) makes the hours of punching bearable. There's even a cool conspiracy story underlying the whole thing.

The presentation work feels like Warner Bros. desperately trying to justify a weighty price tag, but its efforts are clearly misdirected. I'd actually consider dropping two sawbucks for a sub-3-hour experience. What I can't abide is paying $20 for a game that made me wish it was even shorter.

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