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Darkwatch: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead

As I said a few months ago in my review of Oddworld: Stranger?s Wrath, the Old West has really been one of the most underused settings in gaming. Showdowns at dusk, daring train robberies... all things that could really translate into some great scenarios. Some games, like Red Dead Revolver and Dead Man?s Hand, tried to bring these moments to gaming and were generally successful, yet were hampered mostly by technical problems. Darkwatch, an upcoming FPS from High Moon Studios, takes the Old West concept and gives it a unique spin.

You are Jericho Cross, an outlaw who finds himself tangled up with the Darkwatch organization after a botched train robbery. After finding a casket which he believes is filled with gold, Jericho unwillingly lets loose the lord of all vampires, whom the Darkwatch group has finally managed to capture after a 200-year hunt. His encounter with the vampire lord brings in the game?s supernatural twist. Jericho is transformed into a half-human, half-vampire, giving him a set of vampire-enhanced powers to go along with his quick-draw skills. As usual, power comes with a catch, leaving Jericho susceptible to frenzied thirsts for blood.

Rather than killing him, the Darkwatch decide that Jericho?s new abilities may be of use to them. Though Jericho himself is a creature of the night, the Darkwatch group brings him into the group to fight the forces of darkness, making him the Wild West version of ?Buffy the Vampire Slayer,? only he doesn?t look nearly as good in tight black leather. In return for his help, the Darkwatch promise to provide him with a life-saving serum.

As you would expect, Jericho is still a relative newbie to his powers early on, so don?t expect to start off as an all-powerful ass kicker. Instead, powers are granted over time based on the decisions you make during the game, called ?Blood Judgments.? Think of these events as decisions between good and evil, with each offering you a different power based on how you choose. In the demo, Jericho comes across a woman infected with a disease. Killing her grants Jericho Frenzy, which gives his melee attacks a short boost. Sucking the disease out of her unlocks the Silver-Brand power, allowing Jericho limited one-shot kills. It?s possible to try and ride the fence between good and evil, though you?ll have to decide early on which path you want to walk if you want to unlock true power.

Blood Judgments won?t just influence which powers Jericho unlocks, but will also determine how other characters see you and open up different paths throughout the game. How much of an impact your choices will have on the story is still being closely guarded. However, just having the option opens up tons of replay possibilities. What is known is that you?ll be able to either keep good to your pact with the Darkwatch or allow yourself to become seduced by your newfound dark powers.

Taking a cue from Halo (but really, what FPS doesn?t these days?), Jericho possesses a Blood Shield that recharges after a few seconds of downtime. Under the shield is Jericho?s health, which can be replenished by absorbing clouds of blood that some enemies leave behind after Jericho dusts them off.

Though the game contains a few third-person elements, mainly involving horseback chases, the game is still mostly an FPS. One of the more noticeable differences, at least as far as the demo is concerned, is just how much power Jericho is given early on in terms of firepower. In the demo, Jericho has access to three weapons: his modified revolver, a crossbow, and some dynamite. The later two weapons pack a decent punch, but the revolver outright rocks, especially once you see Jericho quickly fan the shots, essentially turning the hand-gun into an automatic weapon spewing round after round all over the place. Talk about clearing a room quickly...

Holding on to a newer convention of FPSs, Jericho can only hold two weapons at once. Of the other two weapons, I found the crossbow to be the more appealing. While the revolver has power, the crossbow has range and a nice kick in the form of exploding bolts. It also features a scope, which is handy for taking out enemies from a distance. Taking them out from a distance becomes even more satisfying if you manage to nail someone and watch them run around waiting for the bolt to explode. If you?re lucky, they might even run towards some of their friends.

Graphically, Darkwatch looks great. More emphasis is placed on setting up the game?s dark, mysterious mood rather than pure polys. In order to do this, the game relies heavily on a palette of blues, grays, and blacks. You?ll also catch at bit of red every once in awhile, which means the action is really picking up. Still, the game is no slouch and offers some nicely modeled characters, including the provocative Tala, who is coming off a recent ?Playboy? spread.

Darkwatch will be available for both the PS2 and Xbox and features a full slate of online multiplayer options as well. Look for Darkwatch later in 2005.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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