Watchmen’s sole gaming effort is still mediocre but not as blasphemous in 2019

It’s fair to guess that there weren’t ever that many people excited about releasing Watchmen: The End is Nigh. For developer Deadline Games, it was one last gasp as it tried to secure a publisher for their other works. Publisher Warner Brothers saw it simply as a movie tie-in, a marketing tool for a more important release. For series creator Alan Moore, the game was a tragedy on top of a thousand tragedies. Despite all that, there is some potential to casting Moore’s heroes in a traditional beat ’em up. Given more time and polish, The End is Nigh could have been great. As it stands, it’s just one in a long line of ill-conceived spin-offs of this beloved graphic novel.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh | Channeling the Crimebusters

The End is Nigh covers two events the original Watchmen text only hints at. Both occur during the days of Rorshach and Night Owl teaming up to take on crime on their own. We see and play in the lead up to the riot depicted in the film that would end supers in the modern era. The setup in each episode is actually pretty good, with fitting comic book-style cutscenes. The voice acting is halfway there, with Jackie Haley giving us more of his star-making performance as Rorshach. Sadly, Patrick Wilson is asleep at the wheel reprising Night Owl, and his dry musings are only the first hint of the tedium to come.

The brawling sections of The End is Nigh come within a hair’s length of carrying the whole production. This isn’t a long game, clocking in at around five hours if you’re not rushing through. For several of those hours, the punching and kicking are delightfully over the top. You can spam moves all day, including an overpowered throw where you can toss a row of bad guys off a ledge like a scene from Robocop on loop. In a more complicated game, this simple combat would be a downside, but here it does what it needs to do. Deadline Games were putting the “Arcade” in Xbox Live Arcade, and that worked well enough.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh | Lockpicking it apart

Watchmen The End is Nigh Lockpicking

With a core that works, it’s the little things that truly bring it up. Indeed, this beat ’em up dies a death of a thousand punches. Environments repeat constantly to the point where it’s easy to get turned around after every fight. Recycled animations are also a problem, although that’s more a fault of the genre rather than any individual entry. Enemies are the same lineup you’d find in NES Hockey, generic dudes distinguished only by their weight class. More variety in any one of these categories could have seriously propped up the combat, but there’s none of that here.

What can’t be saved is Watchmen‘s absolutely vile lockpicking minigame. This is still mostly an outdated trope in 2019. Developers have learned that players usually don’t want to repeat a simple puzzle over and over in the middle of their action game. In 2009, this was the type of variety that you had to work with. You have to set individual tumblers in place with a pick that’s as sensitive as the movement in a Platinum game. Make one wrong move and you start all over, and you’ll do that fifteen times your first time out. When the act of opening a gate is the most complicated part of your superhero title, you should probably rethink your design choices.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh | Turning back the Doomsday Clock

Watchmen The End is Nigh Goofy Nightstick

All this is to say that this 2009 licensed game probably deserves the reputation it got upon release a decade ago. Playing in 2019 on PC with all the settings turned up, the graphics still look pretty spiffy. Just try to avert your eyes from the rigid faces whenever one of our heroes is talking. If you’ve got something to put on in the background, it’s not a horrible use of your time, but there’s that feeling that you might have if you’re a fan of the source material. That sad realization that comes from playing the game, or really taking in any of the new Watchmen material to emerge in the last few years. Beloved characters like Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan fit perfectly into that original work, but some masterpieces just don’t expand well into a franchise.

Adding new tertiary characters and motivations for Night Owl and Rorshach doesn’t enhance your enjoyment of the graphic novel or the 2009 film. Alan Moore tells such a singular story that any additional weight brings it crumbling down. The End is Nigh is the least egregious of these additions, as it doesn’t really interfere with what comes afterward. However, it’s also entirely unnecessary because of that lack of interference. It’s superfluous, both in its plot and in what it accomplishes in character building. You could even interpret it as fan fiction, although it would be fiction crafted by a writer with a severe lack of creativity.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh | Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.

Watchmen The End is Nigh Red Door

As a big fan of Alan Moore’s seminal work, I look on in disgust at some of the new twists and turns DC are stuffing into his mythos. Integrating these characters into the DC Universe is fine, but pretending that they’re continuing on from the classic tale in any meaningful way is an insult. We live in an age of unnecessary sequels, and that really makes The End is Nigh a lot less inoffensive than it once was. When compared to Doomsday Clock and all that malarky, it’s a harmless romp that stays in its lane and knows how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things.

This all comes at a time where a new Watchmen series is about to premiere on HBO. That iteration shows more promise, and it’s the type of revision that a video game version of Watchmen needs to be. Instead of trying to find new mysteries to solve in the graphic novel, HBO’s show is taking the characters and themes and telling a new story; one that better reflects our modern age. Amazon Prime’s The Boys already accomplished this beautifully, creating a parallel story to its source material that fans and nonfans can enjoy together. A future Watchmen video game has to come along and take this approach. Punching goons as Rorschach is still a thrill these days and not as insulting as it was in 2009, but it’d be wonderful to have some meaning behind those knuckle sandwiches.