DARKWATCH, Capcom/High Moon Studios
This stylistic action game offers all of the standard elements of a good first-person-shooter -- a great story line, a large inventory of interesting weapons and lots of bad guys to kill -- plus an unusual fusion of Wild West scenery and vampire combat.
Players take on the role of Jericho Cross, an outlaw looking to make one last big score by robbing a fast-moving train. Unfortunately for Cross, he picked the wrong train to heist: Blowing up the locked vault on board releases a vampire lord, Lazarus Malkoth, who bites Cross and turns him into a vampire as well. Lazarus then starts raising the dead and wreaking general havoc across the frontier, so Cross -- newly recruited into the Darkwatch secret society -- must track him down to redeem his soul.
The game follows the general conventions of its genre but throws in some useful changes. For example, the usual six-shooter, shotgun and crossbow can be redeployed in hand-to-hand combat. You can knock down zombies with the butt end of your shotgun, then slice their heads off with the crossbow's bladed front. Other key instruments of destruction include rocket launchers and dynamite -- plus such vampire powers as enhanced vision and a double jump that lets you attack from above.
Darkwatch's enemies list would fit well in any horror creature feature: gun-slinging skeletons and floating sirens to TNT-packing suicide bombers and what we can only describe as a set of grotesquely fat, vomiting masses. They don't let up; just when you think you've killed off the last wave of enemies, another swarm arrives to attack.
Unlike most multiple-platform releases, Darkwatch's versions offers different features. The PlayStation 2 release inexplicably leaves out online game play, but offers split-screen offline competition against one other player, plus access to a PS2-only level. Xbox owners, meanwhile, can play the usual death match and capture-the-flag scenarios against up to 15 other gamers on Microsoft's Xbox Live online service. The replay value that adds helps offset Darkwatch's major defect, a disappointingly quick finish (less than 10 hours) to its single-player mode.
-- Tom Ham
PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50
GRAFFITI KINGDOM, Hot-B/Taito
No, Graffiti Kingdom is not about kids competing to see who can tag more buildings with spray paint. This rated-E-for-everyone title challenges you to draw your own hero -- animal, vegetable, mineral, robot or vehicle -- then take him, her or it into the cartoon world of Graffiti Kingdom to battle the demons that have invaded it.
Graffiti Kingdom's graphics owe nothing to any other game we've seen. Everything here looks as if it was crafted out of paper, from the buildings to the various critters. After a painful but brief start playing as Prince Pixel -- one of the most thoroughly annoying and stupid characters ever created -- you soon learn how to draw yourself a new identity or adopt that of another creature.
Then it's time to venture through this world and begin slaying its demons. With success, you acquire new powers that you can add to your creatures by drawing onto them. For example, draw a set of wings and they can employ the "fly" power you just earned. You can even enable your character to breathe fire -- a handy talent in a world made entirely out of paper.
Learning how to draw new creatures does take a great deal of practice, between having to wield an onscreen pen with the controller's joystick and remembering to assemble newly-drawn parts in the right order . My first five attempts looked so pathetic and sickly that they could never survive, then I accidentally drew a dragon backwards -- so it kept running the wrong way. My first success came with a crab creature that ran sideways and whacked at people with his huge front claw.
The best training for this game may involve digging an old Etch A Sketch out of the attic; if you were a wizard with one of those back in the day, you can live like royalty in Graffiti Kingdom.
-- John Breeden II
PlayStation 2, $30