- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Watchmen, The End Is Nigh, the Complete Experience (from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $49.99).

Based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ groundbreaking comic-book miniseries and acting as a prequel to director Zack Snyder’s recent cinematic homage, the third-person action game offers a pair of players the chance to watch the movie and then control heroes Nite Owl and Rorschach. The duo fight the worst of New York City through two numbingly violent adventures delivered with an old-school brawler punch.

What’s the story? From the manual: It’s Oct. 13, 1972, and terror is running rampant in the streets. The Underboss and his minions have escaped prison, and a deadly conspiracy begins to take shape. Masked vigilantes Nite Owl and Rorschach work to save the day.

The duo get back together on July 30, 1977, just days before the superhero-smothering Keane Act goes into effect, to find a missing girl named Violet Greene.

Play the role: In solo mode, a player controls either Daniel Dreiberg, the second iteration of Nite Owl, or Walter Kovacs as Rorschach. Together they punch, kick and brutally beat their way through Sing Sing prison, back alleys, a dock, warehouse, amusement park and brothels against foes such as the Knot-Tops gang, bikers, prisoners, dudes in disco attire, cops and the Twilight Lady.

Get to the action: It’s a button-mashing orgy for most of Chapter 1, with the player repetitively taking out foes and unlocking multiple combination attacks. There’s still plenty of slugging in the game’s second chapter, but blocking skills also get a workout.

Additionally, each character possesses a variety of combat tactics, finishing moves and a few talents. Control Nite Owl for less visceral attacks, including using an electrical suit and stun grenade while the much meaner Rorschach can grab objects, preferably crowbars and bats, to hurt opponents. Nite Owl also can use a grapple to get up buildings quickly, and Rorschach picks locks through a slightly complex minigame.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): Owl’s cape flowing during fights to the point of almost strangling him; Archie (Nite Owl’s ship) landing at a dock on a rainy night; Rorschach’s ink-blot mask changing shape; Nite Owl and Rorschach fighting through waves of rioting punks on burning streets.

Violent encounters: Profanity spews like Shakespearean sonnets from the thugs, and blood spills with nearly every blow while both heroes, especially the brutal Rorschach, deliver justice. Final moves not limited to bone-cracking and electrocution add embellishment.

Once the player enters Chapter 2 and finds himself in adult entertainment establishments slugging scantily clad woman with reckless abandon, the game free-falls into very R-rated, Quentin Tarantino territory. In fact, the gratuitous, desensitizing violence obliterates any thought of the sociopolitical themes or cerebral subtleties found in the original source material.

Read all about it: I must assume serious comic-book fans already have the Watchmen series in some format. If not, DC Comics has been republishing the trade paperback ($19.99) by the bushel. Lazy readers can buy “Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic” on DVD ($19.99) and just watch the panels come to limited life, complete with narration.

Pixel-popping scale: 7.0 out of 10. The game melds two types of visuals to dazzle players. First, illustrated motion comic cut scenes help propel the plot but do a poor job of re-creating artist Dave Gibbons’ classic style. Next, the atmospheric action comes to life through a too-realistic imagining of the film with lifelike characters taking an incredible beating. The bad news is some of the environments are difficult to navigate and just too dark to appreciate.

Extras and unlockables: Players can take a break from the pummeling by watching a separate Blu-ray disc in their PS3 that contains the 186-minute, high-definition director’s cut of the movie hosted by Zack Snyder. The game disc also features background on the film, and the package includes a miniposter timeline of the Watchmen mythology.

Star power: Two of the movie’s actors, Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, lend their voices to the game. Mr. Haley delivers another insane performance with such ridiculously memorable dialogue as, “It wouldn’t take much to send the whole city into convulsions and vomiting blood.”

Multiplayer: The split-screen cooperative mode stifles the appreciation of the game’s visuals but gives a pair of friends in the same room the chance to rough it as the vigilantes. Also, finish the game to unlock a mode in which the two characters fight each other. I do wish developers had created more playable characters from the Watchmen stable.

What’s it worth: Although Watchmen: The End Is Nigh, the Complete Experience adequately begins to blur the ever-converging lines among comic, game and movie, it never quite delivers a multimedia knockout. Basically, the game portion has its moments but is too short, without enough variety, and Warner should have included the already-published motion comics disc to allow players to fully appreciate the deep back story of the sequential-art masterpiece.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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