Available :Spring 2005

Darkwatch Conference Call #1 © Sammy Studios
By: Cory Casciato

A dusty wind blows down the deserted main street of a remote frontier town. From the shadows steps a mysterious gunslinger, alert for signs of danger. Wary eyes watch him from behind shuttered windows, fearful and resigned. As the moon disappears behind a cloud, a keening wail rises, reverberating through the night until the air itself seems ready to shatter under the oppressive noise.

Suddenly, a ghostly shape materializes at the far end of the street, rushing the gunslinger as it shrieks its blood-curdling scream. Pulling his 24 shot revolver from beneath his duster, Jericho Cross mutters disgustedly under his breath, “Banshees. I hate banshees...”

Darkwatch is a story-driven, action-packed, first person shooter coming soon for PS2 and Xbox from Sammy Studios. Emmanuel Valdez, vice president and creative director of Sammy Studios, explained the world of Darkwatch and what this game will offer fans.

The game puts you in the shoes of Jericho Cross, a train-robbing outcast that ends up fighting the forces of darkness. As the game begins, Cross has decided to rob one last train but ends up getting more that he bargained for when the train ends up belonging to Darkwatch, an ancient organization dedicated to defending humanity from the ravages of all manner of supernatural beasties. When he blows open a vault he expects to contain cash he instead frees a vampire lord held within. He’s rewarded for his act by being bitten by the fiend, transforming him into a half-vampire. His partially undead nature gives him certain powerful characteristics that lead Darkwatch to recruit him in their fight, with the promise of restoring his humanity.

Darkwatch’s setting can be described as Vampire Western, an intriguing mix that promises to bring a whole new meaning to clichés of ghost towns and hard-bitten heroes. Valdez explained it as a Jules Verne-inspired steampunk take on the Old West mixed with the vampire/undead mythos.

The organization Darkwatch exists within a secret headquarters where it crafts unusual weapons for its struggle against the forces of darkness. Besides possession of advanced (for the time) weapons like rocket launchers and steam-buggies, Darkwatch utilizes the remains of its enemies in novel and gruesome ways. Vampire skins, bones and blood are all put to good use in crafting weapons, armor and alchemical experiments.

The game will offer lots of variety in enemies, vehicles and objectives. Besides the obvious vampires, you’ll get to face off against skeletal reapers, flying banshees, “keggers” (skeleton suicide bombers), “oozers” (over-stuffed vampires that explode like a blood-filled piñata) and undead prostitutes, among others. Valdez promised around 24 distinct types of enemies for the final game. Those enemies will be driven by wily AI that will react to your actions and the changing conditions within the game. For example, enemies will run away from a lit stick of dynamite if they have room or cower in fear if they have no place to run. You’ll get to drive around in a heavily armed, steam powered buggy called the Coyote and ride a vampiric horse called Shadow. And if all that skulking around at night gets to you, there will be some levels played in full daylight, although you’ll lose the benefit of your vampiric powers during those stages.

Further separating Darkwatch from your basic run-and-gun shooter is a system of judgments based on actions you take. In certain circumstances, such as coming across a villager that has been vampire-bit, you are faced with a choice. Choose good and help them heal, or choose evil and finish them off. These choices will affect additional powers you can utilize, somewhat like in Star Wars: KOTOR. Little touches like these could go a long way to setting this game apart from the pack.

Like any self-respecting first-person shooter Darkwatch will offers some extensive multiplayer mayhem. Both systems will offer a multiplayer component, but only the Xbox version will have online capabilities. Up to 16 players will be able to battle over Xbox Live and the team is planning to fully utilize the strengths of the platform to deliver an exciting and satisfying experience.

Sammy Studios has put a lot of care into crafting a rich background and deep story to go along with the unusual setting. They’ve tapped a powerful, but underutilized setting (the Old West), given it a nice twist (vampires) and addressed some of its obvious shortcomings (weak-assed weapons) with a relatively plausible explanation (steampunk technology controlled by a shadowy organization). The developers seem to know what makes a good action game tick and they promise to deliver on the essentials of tight control, intelligent AI and slam-bang action. If the game fulfills its promise they could have a bona fide hit and the birth of a powerful new franchise on their hands.