Though opinions are sure to vary on the “Watchmen” film, it’s unlikely anyone will complain that Zach Snyder stretched the material to fill two-plus hours. But Warner Bros. has done just that with “Watchmen: The End is Nigh,” turning the dense and cerebral comics classic into a distressingly shallow videogame in which there’s nothing for players to do but beat the living crap out of everyone they see. Production values are impressive for a downloadable title, but the gameplay and plot don’t connect or have the heft the source material deserves. Geeks of all stripes are more likely to watch the Watchmen than play it.
In an effort to avoid the pitfalls of games rushed to meet a movie’s theatrical release, WB split this title into two downloadable episodes, with the first coming out alongside the film and the second with the DVD. It’s a smart move, since turning “Watchmen” into a game is probably an even greater challenge than a movie, given the need to provide players with something compelling to do in the world of the dialogue-heavy and action-light comicbook series. Developer Deadline Games’ solution is to flash back to the ’70s, a time full of political intrigue when playable heroes Nite Owl and Rorschach were busy cracking skulls as a crime-fighting team.
Perhaps leery of attempting to write anything that would be compared with Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed work, “The End is Nigh” simply recounts how the Watergate scandal was avoided in a world where Richard Nixon remained president well into the ’80s, a bit of revisionist history mentioned briefly in the comic. In a refreshing nod to the maturity of its source material, the game never talks down to its audience, making reference to historical figures and events without explanation.
But Nite Owl and Rorschach are ignorant pawns in a conspiracy, resulting in a gameplay experience so separated from the narrative that players will be left at the end wondering why they bothered. The story, which doesn’t add much to what “Watchmen” readers already know, is told through a series of sequences animated in the comicbook style, only a few of which advance the plot.
The actual game consists of old-fashioned brawling, inspired heavily by games like “Double Dragon,” popular when the “Watchmen” comics came out in 1986 and ’87.
Controlling either Rorschach or Nite Owl — or, when two friends are in a room, both at once — players fight their way through hundreds of anonymous goons on their way to a destination where, inevitably, they discover the information they need is one more step away. It doesn’t take long until the game becomes painfully repetitive and flat-out boring.
The controls are smoothly implemented, giving each character a unique and diverse array of fighting moves. Rage-driven Rorschach punches and breaks arms with deliberate brutality, while idealistic Nite Owl uses electric shocks and acrobatics to take out enemies as efficiently as possible.
Game is impressively designed, with sharp graphics, fluid animation and appropriately dismal cityscapes that far outdo most downloadable titles. The look and sounds are unmistakably “Watchmen,” even if the tone and content are not.