Darkwatch: Curse of the West (PS2)

  • Developed by: High Moon Studios
  • Published by: Capcom (US) & Ubisoft (Europe & Australia)
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter [FPS]
  • Released: August (US) & October (EU) 2005

Intro:

Vampires, the wild west, and gothic steampunk style designs merge together to bring one of the coolest looking games of it’s time, in my opinion at least. Darkwatch: Curse of the West, or simply Darkwatch, was a game that quickly caught my attention when I saw it sitting there on the shelf of my local game retailer, for it’s badass cover image and the intriguing concept of it’s plot.

Being a huge fan of all things supernatural and gothic, especially the concept of vampires, among other undead creatures, this game seemed perfect for me. So I bought it, took it home and loaded it up asap, and I honestly can’t remember how long I sat there playing the game, because whilst the campaign is roughly 5 hours long, I remember constantly dying from the aggressive AI’s and even though I was frustrated, I was loving the designs of the game as a whole.

Plot:

You, the player, take on the role of outlaw gunslinger Jericho Cross, in the American Frontier during the late 19th Century. After a train heist gone wrong, Jericho is turned into a Vampire and forcibly recruited by a secret monster-hunting organization known as Darkwatch.

The train Cross was trying to hijack was transporting an imprisoned Vampire Lord known as Lazarus Malkoth, who is unwittingly set free by Jericho’s mistakes. After being bitten by Lazarus, Jericho Cross must now survive the transformation whilst also maintaining his sense of humanity, through moral choices that will empower him with new vampiric abilities based on which path he chooses. He is introduced into the organization by Cassidy Sharp, who meets a terrible fate at the hands of Lazarus shortly after, but whose spirit lives on to help Jericho maintain his humanity throughout the campaign.

In the end, after fighting through hordes of enemies, and after the showdown against Lazarus, Jericho is given one final choice; to rid the west of Lazarus’ curse, or to become the curse itself and continue his evil deeds as the new Vampire Lord. Should Jericho choose to end the curse, Cassidy may rest in peace as her soul transcends to the afterlife, but if Jericho chooses to become the curse, then he must fight the soul of Cassidy and condemn her to fading away into nothing.

Gameplay:

Darkwatch is a first-person shooter, which I think was the best choice for a game of this style. The FPS mechanics are fairly smooth and the crosshair mechanic is dead on with accuracy, but the challenge lies within the aiming of said crosshair as the analog movements, even with sensitivity alterations in the options menu, feel a little fiddly at times, as I personally seem to have trouble with the aiming compared to other games, but maybe it’s just me.

There are a seven weapons to choose from in most mission types, with an eighth weapon being added in the torture chamber mission in the form of a melee staff, but all these weapons have awesome and unique gothic steampunk designs. From the Redeemer Pistols to the Rail Rocket, these weapons all have their uses depending on situations of the missions. These weapons will be your best friend and closest ally when facing the horde of different enemy types heading your way from all different ranges.

Riflemen for example will shoot at you from long distance, meaning you’ll want to look for a Carson Range Rifle (essentially the sniper rifle of the game) or at the very least a Blackfish Carbine Rifle as these give you more accuracy at a longer range. For enemies such as Gunslingers and Reapers, the Redeemer Pistols and Dual wield Warmaker pistols will do just fine. Keggers and Banshees will go down pretty quick with shots from the Crossbow, which fires explosive bolts instead of plain old steel bolts. The Vipers, Bandito’s and Oozers are no match for the Argus shotgun and of course all of the enemies are certainly doomed if they get hit with a shot from the Rail Rocket, but I prefer to use this for boss battles and getting rid of Mark of Evil trees that spring from the ground and spawn countless enemies until you destroy them. Just two or three shots from a Rail Rocket and that tree is done for making the wave of enemies end sooner rather than later, and preserving your secondary weapon’s ammo.

You can only wield two weapons in this game which is slightly annoying but of course this all adds to the challenge. The game’s AI, even on easy mode is aggressive and the number of enemies in the levels means that you really have to keep moving and watch your health and ammo as you play to ensure you don’t die constantly.

Dual Wield Pistols

As a vampire, Jericho has certain abilities that he can gain from the path you choose when faced with certain good and evil choices within the plot and throughout each level. There are certain plot points where you will find weak and dying innocent bystanders, who got caught up in all the chaos unfolding before your eyes, and you must decide if you want to be good and set their souls free, or be evil and drain them of their very life essence. Each path has it’s own unique abilities to help you throughout the game against the enemy AI. Choosing good will unlock abilities such as Silver Bullet, Fear, Mystic Armor and Vindicator, whilst the evil decisions will unlock Blood Frenzy, Turn, Black Shroud & Soul Stealer. These are known as Judgement Powers, and will eventually decide the fate of Jericho in the end of the story, whether that be ending the Lazarus curse or becoming it.

Besides your Judgement Powers, Jericho is enhanced with other powers that aid you, such as the Vampire Jump which acts as a double-jump system, allowing Jericho to reach higher ground and use the environment to his advantage. He also gains Blood Vision, which when activated, acts as a sort of thermal vision that highlights enemies and items within Jericho’s line of sight. This helps the player look for enemies before he’s reached them, as well as helping the player to find items such as weapons or blood canisters (health pickups) throughout the level that they might not notice otherwise. The Blood Vision also acts as a zoom in mechanic for the FPS aspect of the game.

Example of a gun highlighted by Blood Vision

Design:

There are so many awesome designs within this game, be it the weapons or the monsters, there is so much to love about the overall aesthetic. With concept designs being inspired by ‘Blade’ and ‘Army of Darkness’ but being toned to be darker than both, the game brings to life a great mixing of genres that fit well together, and remained unique for its time.

The enemy types keep the game somewhat fresh as you never know (unless you’ve played it before) which enemy types are going to be lurking in the levels, and their appearance genuinely gives you a sense of the horror aspect within the games setting.

Whilst the reapers, who are essentially the goons of the game become overused in each level, along with the gunslingers, it’s nice to see a change of pace when the Oozers appear, since their design is polar opposite to the skinny skeletal beings that you see on every single level. The Bandito’s, much like the Oozers, are also a change in aesthetic as well as adding to the difficulty of the game as these two enemy types attack you with both melee and ranged attacks, making them harder to avoid.

Checkout this gallery of just some of the enemy types;

Soundtrack:

The main theme for the game is Ennio Morricone’s main theme from the film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, though it was remixed to ensure it fit more into the horror themes of the game, whilst the other 29 tracks of the games Original Soundtrack were co-composed by Mike Reagan, a veteran film and game music composer, and Asdru Sierra, front man for the Latin Grammy-winning indie band Ozomatli, who bring together a score that enhances the experience and in itself tells the story of a conflicted character who faces not only difficult choices but also difficult enemies.

Multiplayer:

Oh yes, this game also had split-screen campaign as well as an awesome online competitive multiplayer death match for up to 16 players. I have played split-screen campaign before and have also played the death match multiplayer but only with one other player, and I have to say it was great fun. Weapons are scattered about the maps as well as the power ups you would gain in Single Player, allowing you to quickly find and choose which powers and weapons you think would best be suited for taking down your opponents.

The split-screen campaign is great for two player couch co-op as you and a friend or family member, can shoot your way through the hordes of enemies and take down Lazarus together.

Overall:

Darkwatch: Curse of the West is a game that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good shooter on the PS2 and Original Xbox consoles. It’s got a great design and an interesting plot to boot, which overall lasts for about 5 hours, so unless you’re having a hard time defeating enemies, it’s very easy to complete in a day’s session.

I have always hoped there would be more from the series, as I learned there was due to be a sequel, and even a movie, as well as there being a short immediate-prequel comic in the July 2005 issue of Heavy Metal, titled “Innocence” which I will hopefully obtain and read one day.

I would love to see a revival/remaster of this game especially with the multiplayer mode being revived, since High Moon Studios who developed this classic, are now famed for more mainstream online multiplayer games such as Call of Duty from Advanced Warfare to Black Ops Cold War, as well as Destiny 2, meaning they have since become highly popular in the multiplayer section of the gaming industry.

With the success of the western shooter Red Dead Redemption and it’s recent sequel, as well as the success of horror games in recent years like Resident Evil: Village, I definitely think that now would be a good time for High Moon Studios and Ubisoft to revive this game and turn it into the franchise they originally hoped it would become, because if they do, I can imagine it would do very well amongst old and new fans.

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KRAD's Inaccurate Guide to Life

Keith R.A. DeCandido's mad ramblings

The Joker’s HQ

News, reviews and opinions on all things geek!

DCs Earth-9

Travelling the Multiverse

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