Night has fallen over the Old West. Up on Boot Hill, where the graves of gunslingers, train robbers, and their innocent victims are interred, something is stirring. A man cloaked in black with a red eye that burns with the fires of Hell also awakes in moonlight, for the sun would burn his vampire body to ash. He is Jericho Cross. He knows that when night falls, the dead arise. Yet he also bears the silver skull badge of the Darkwatch, and it is his duty to put these fiends back into the earth for good.
No World War II unit or superhuman soldier slaughtering hordes of aliens this time. Here comes a premise that hasn't been done to death a dozen times or more, though the basic gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a console first person shooter. Actually, the basic controls feel ripped straight from Halo, from the "walking on ice" feel of the character movement to the two levels of zoom on the sniping rifle. This is far from a bad thing though. It feels as if the developers studied what had come before them in the FPS genre, and decided to stick with what works, rather than trying to reinvent what doesn't need reinventing. This also makes Darkwatch immediately accessible, and readies the player for all the little twists it has in store.
A couple other options were borrowed from games outside the FPS genre. There's a Bloodrayne-esque Blood Vision, which causes enemies and scattered weapons to glow white, to be better spot them, while everything else is painted in blood. There are also Fable-like choices between good and evil. In the first level of the demo, Jericho stumbles across a woman infected by the undead. You can either save her life...or finish her off. Saving her will earn you a special brand that will enhance your firepower for a limited time, while putting those vampire fangs to their intended use will net you a powerful melee attack. This choice also has other effects on the game, as in the first level you face different enemies depending on if you saved her or murdered her.
Weapons are your not quite standard far. The hammer of the starting gun can be fanned for a rapid fire shot, the crossbow shoots out explosive bolts, while the shotgun and the sniper rifle... well, so far they pretty much work as you would expect them to. The designs of these weapons, however, are pretty unique, covered in gleaming blades that get put to use in melee attacks. Double jumping is something I've never seen in an FPS before, but I have a feeling it won't be the last. Springing up onto a high ledge to toss a stick of dynamite down on enemies, or to leap up into the sky only to come down blasting truly makes your feel superhuman.
What is this strange, pleasingly fluid sensation that I haven't felt on a console in so long? Unlike some other FPS games, Darkwatch runs at 60 frames per second, dipping only during the gattling gun sequence at the end of the second playable stage. Not only does this make character movement and aiming feel more natural and precise, enemy animations are even more impressive then they already are, as they lurch to one side when you blow off an arm or stumble and fall face first into the dirt when you take off a leg. Yes, Darkwatch has location specific damage that's not only pleasing to watch, but has a direct effect on gameplay, since headless snipers are very poor shots.
Don't I have anything negative to say? Well, right now it's mostly a matter of unknowns. The demo only had two short portions of two different levels. It's hard to tell at this point how satisfying the entire single player portion of the game will be, and if the levels that follow will keep the concepts fresh and interesting. Multiplayer wasn't available in the demo, so I can't say now how well that will play out, or even if it will be worth playing at all.
Though it's hard to be negative when you're handed a demo like this one. Darkwatch is thrilling on so many levels that the cruel thing is it makes you feel like a vampire who has just had his first taste of blood, only to be left thirsting for more.