Darkwatch Preview

God blast you.

In America, vampires are usually well-dressed thirty-somethings who hang out in bars, wear expensive shades, and make lots of bad puns. These chic, glamorous socialites have been so done to death in the last few years that it’s been easy to forget about all the other cool vampire types, like lesbian vampire chefs, vampire geeks, and the unforgettable Yara-Ma-Yha-Who of Australia.

The Yara-Ma-Yha-Who (in the off-chance that you’ve never heard of him) is a little red vampire with suckers on his fingers and toes who lurks in fig trees and victimizes aborigines. Legend has it that if you stop to rest under a fig tree with a Yara-Ma-Yha-Who in it, the little bugger will leap down and clamp his suckers onto your body, draining your blood. Then he’ll split for a while, leaving you weakened and dazed. Later, he’ll come back, swallow you whole, drink some water, take a nap, and then regurgitate you. Did we mention Yara-Ma-Yha-Who was aboriginal for Olsen twin?

Luckily, the Yara-Ma-Yha-Who’s attacks aren’t fatal. After regurgitation, you’ll be slightly shorter than you were before and will enjoy smoother skin. If you got captured and regurgitated too many times, you’d shrink until you were the same size as one of the little beasts and either turn into a furry forest creature or a Yara-Ma-Yha-Who, depending on who you listened to.

While the undoubtedly cool Yara-Ma-Yha-Who makes our Lestats and Blades seem kind of generic, he isn’t the only interesting new vampire in our lives. A new Darkwatch demo from Sammy Studios suggests that vampiric unlife in the wild, wild West was pretty damned exciting, too. If the playable build is any indication, Darkwatch might also reinvigorate the anemic console first-person shooter genre with its intense, in-your-face action, awesome vampire powers, and thought-provoking moral dilemmas.

Darkwatch chronicles a half-breed vampire’s quest for vengeance upon his creator, the vampire lord. While we’re not exactly sure what a half-breed vampire is, we do know that this one is named Jericho Cross. Ironically biblical name aside, Jericho was a master gunslinger in life, and now he’s a member of Darkwatch – a secret society of vampire hunters. With the help of this shadowy agency, Jericho is determined to reclaim his humanity from the vampire lord, even if it means becoming a beast in the process.

The short demo Sammy fired our way took us through two of Jericho’s missions. The first was to purge the damned from Boot Hill Cemetery. We began the level with nothing but a wicked-looking revolver that could either be fired round by round or rapidly. While the revolver lacked great stopping power, it represented the perfect opportunity to toy with Darkwatch‘s cool hit-detection system. Enemies shot in the arm were disarmed – literally – but kept on coming. Chest shots were great for stopping them in their tracks, and gave us the perfect opportunity to line up headshots or leap away.

Next, we played with a few sticks of dynamite and a crossbow that launched exploding bolts. The bolts embed themselves in whatever they come in contact with, be it an enemy, the ground, or a tree stump, only to explode moments after impact. The ghouls, not entirely devoid of intellect, would scatter if a bolt stuck anywhere near them. Since we were constantly facing throngs of enemies, the crossbow bolts were great not only for dispatching foes, but also for providing us with some breathing room.

Then we figured out that we could scare enemies in one direction and lead their flight with a stick of dynamite for gooey results. Darkwatch isn’t just a game where you shoot zombies – it may be the first game where you actually herd zombies! This whole vampire-cowboy thing is making more sense by the word.

A burly jump and double-jump makes zombie herding even easier, allowing you to float softly and descend to the ground more gradually. As a result, we could herd one group of zombies with bolts and dynamite while keeping out of range of another group until we were ready for them. Darkwatch isn’t just a game where you herd zombies – it may be the first game where you actually juggle zombies!

We make it sound silly, but in truth, we dig the ability to stun and scare enemies rather than incessantly shoot and strafe. Darkwatch is fast-paced like most first-person shooters, but possesses enough unique mechanics to give it a new flavor.

After herding, juggling and annihilating the lurking skeletons and zombies, we detected the scent of innocent blood. Tracing it to its source, we found a woman hiding behind a large cross with two gaping fang marks on her neck, and were thus introduced to the game’s Judgment Engine. In Darkwatch, your decisions don’t only affect your reputation, they also affect the powers you gain. If you make evil decisions you gain evil powers, and vice versa.

We obviously decided to drink her blood and promptly gained the ability to enter a Berserker Bloodlust mode in which we could do brutal damage with melee attacks. A horde of zombies and tougher enemies were immediately unleashed upon us, whom we viciously tore through using our newfound powers. Just what the doctor ordered after a long, hard day of zombie juggling.

After purging Boot Hill, we hopped on Jericho’s scary steed to pursue “The Iron Horse,” a train bursting with undead activity. Though there wasn’t very much to the riding portion, we eventually boarded the train and were treated to a short but violent jaunt down several corridors full of the creeping dead.

Both levels looked and sounded terrible…in a very, very good way. Complete with a consistent and striking macabre aesthetic, a blazing framerate and wonderful sound effects, Darkwatch matches its dark style with sweet delivery.

Jericho’s quest through the hellish Wild West might not be finished, but it’s already a lot of fun. We have no idea what final dimensions the moral and developmental aspects of Darkwatch will take by the time it’s released, but we’re hoping it’s as depraved as its vilest players, as noble as its most virtuous, and fun for all in May 2005.

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