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Killer Apps – Games that Killed Their Developers: Watchmen The End Is Nigh

Last week 38 Studios went under after releasing their first game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.  Even though the game was rather good, the struggling developer still wasn’t able to get enough financing to repay the state of Rhode Island for a large loan they’d received to develop the project.  But pinning their hopes on one game isn’t the only way that a developer can go under.  Sometimes an otherwise healthy company can be slowly worn down by a series of flops with the last game being the proverbial last straw.  Then there are the companies that specialize in mediocrity and set themselves up to collapse with their first truly terrible game.  In Killer Apps, each week Player Affinity will take a look at the final game put out by a now defunct company.  We’ll start with a game that couldn’t possibly go wrong:  Watchmen The End Is Nigh.

How could this not be a surefire hit?  It’s adapted from a franchise with a massive horde of fanatical fans.  The designers were allowed to use the likenesses and voices of the actors from the movie.   The cutscenes were written by Len Wien who edited the original comic.  Dave Gibbons, the artist also contributed too. 

It was made by Deadline Games, a Danish studio previously known for Total Overdose and Chilli Con Carnarge.  Both of those were competent shooters, but the company hadn’t had a huge hit.  Surely getting their hands on major franchisee like Watchmen would change their fortunes…

Oh the irony that they are called “Deadline Games”. Watchmen: The End Is Nigh was made on a strict deadline to release at the same time as the Watchmen movie.  While the developer did meet their deadline, the game only offered a couple of hours of play.  In fact, one of the Achievements is beating it in under 80 minutes (Something easily accomplished).

A second Watchmen game arrived a few months later to coincide with the DVD release, and once again, Deadline Games brought the product in on time, but offered an even shorter experience and few additional features.

Both games had two playable characters plus local co-op and some collectible items that extended replay, but even when put together they barely offered enough playtime to keep players occupied for a couple of evenings.

There was a lot of fun packed into those few short hours, though. End Is Nigh is a beat’em up and lets gamers control either Rorschach or Nite Owl as the duo pummeled their way through swarms of goons in the 1970’s.  It was very true to the comics and movie, even exploring a subplot about the Watergate scandal (Yes, Deep Throat makes an appearance).

Players could not switch between the characters, so this meant that the other hero would be controlled by AI or another player through local co-op.  Alas, there was no online multiplayer.

Each character played differently with his own set of combos and special moves. The combo system required careful pacing, and players who mastered it could string them together for flashy attacks (And achievements).  Hardcore fans probably won’t care for the way that Nite Owl wears an electric Taser suit that was never depicted in the comics, but this helps differentiate the two characters in terms of how they fight in the game.

This skillful use of the combos wasn’t really necessary, because players could just hammer their way through most of the game and exploit a couple of cheap “grab” moves.  There was only one difficulty level, so once the advanced fighting techniques were mastered, the game became much too easy.

At times the two characters would split up with each using a set of movement skills; Rorschach could pick locks and climb up rain gutters as he did in the movie.  Nite Owl had a grappling hook and night-vision goggles. It’s very easy to see the potential in this sort of gameplay, but there were also lots of sequences where one character had to just wait around doing nothing while his partner climbed over some obstacle.

But climbing around on rooftops is only one small part of being a masked vigilante.  The meat of the game was punishing doers of evil!

The violence was brutal, and the graphics were terrific.  It included finishing moves that would let players viciously bring down enemies with cool cinematic moves full of blood and teeth flying.  If an opponent fell to the ground, the heroes could gang up on the poor bastard and kick him while he was down.

The second game kicked chivalry to the wind by putting this crimebusting duo up against the employees of a high-end brothel, and that meant that many of the enemies were half-naked dominatrixes.  Everyone’s favorite Objectivist, Rorschach, would merciless beat these sexy female enemies just as badly as he did the male foe. It’s still lots of fun to rampage through a brothel listening to Rorschach’s dialog.  The developer did not compromise on giving fans an authentic Watchmen experience.

For bonus fun, the brothel level even let players pick up sex toys and use them as weapons against fat guys in leather underpants.

But all of these great features still weren’t enough.  The short length, repetitive action, and lack of online multiplayer kept away everyone but hardcore Watchmen fans.  Making matters worse, the first game arrived at the cost of twenty dollars, and the second game was fifteen.  A steep price for a game that had to surmount the stigma that all licensed games are terrible.

Eventually they were released together on a disk at the price of twenty-dollar, but the damage was done.  Had both chapters arrived on a twenty-dollar disk the week that the movie hit theaters, this would have sold by the truckload.  Players and critics would have been a little more likely to excuse its flaws if it offered a cheaper and longer experience right when fan frenzy was at its highest.

Sadly, none of that happened.  The game received poor reviews, didn’t sell well, and the developer had to shut down production of its next game Faith and a .45, then went out of business altogether.

Buying a copy now won’t reanimate Deadline Games, but Watchmen: The End Is Nigh definitely deserves a second look from gamers, especially now that it can be easily found for less than twenty dollars. This game was criminally underrated from the start, and much like Rorschach, I stand firm in that view, and will “Never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon”.

Next week in Killer Apps, I’ll take a look at Hydrophobia, the game that drowned the studio Dark Energy Digital.


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