Let’s get something straight: werewolves are cool. Sometimes scary, yes, sometimes strangely sexy (thanks for that, Twilight), but always cool.
Which is why it is almost criminal that there are so few werewolf games out there. Sure, lycanthropy can be a feature in some games, like Skyrim, but that doesn’t really scratch our itch for a game whose core is: you are a werewolf. Shapeshift and kill things. Grrrr.
Enter Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood (referred to hereafter as Earthblood for the sake of brevity), brought howling to your screen by developer Cyanide, and publisher Nacon. Earthblood is based off of a popular tabletop RPG, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and like Vampire: The Masquerade it’s a part of the World of Darkness series.
In Earthblood you step into the shoes/paws of Cahal, a hulk of a man with killer tats and facial hair who is also, shocker, a werewolf. He’s part of a clan of other lycanthropes who are waging an eco-terrorist war on massive, corrupt corporations pillaging the earth for monetary gain.
The opening cutscene is unmatched in badassery. Scenes of environmental devastation and pollution flash as wolves race through a seemingly time-stopped Endron (that’s one of the big-bad companies) complex in the woods, snarling and growling past machines ripping up trees and workers shifting tanks of oil, making their way to our protagonist in the center of the facility. All of this is set to a thumping thrash metal backing track that just makes you want to go out and rip apart some corporate planet-abusers. It’s awesome.
The setting is cool, contrasting the deeply natural and spiritual forests that Cahal and his kin congregate within with the bleak, metal and concrete of the Enderon facilities that invade the wild. Everything is underpinned by this ethereal, spiritual but dark atmosphere.
The game does a good job of letting you into the rage Cahal feels watching the world burn, giving you all the incentive you need to go and tear it up lupus style. Unfortunately, this adrenalin doesn’t translate so well to gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad. It’s fine, enjoyable, great in places. But just… “meh” most of the time.
Stalk your prey
Missions are a combination of stealth and hack-n-slash mechanics. Cahal has two forms (besides his human form) that he can transform into. The first is the Lupus form, which is just a plain ol’ wolf. You’re fast and small, dodging guards as you infiltrate plants and outposts. You can crawl through air ducts and transform back to your human form to silently take guards down from behind. Which all sounds pretty cool in theory but in practice…
In the three hours I played last yesterday, stealth just felt unsatisfying. Most stealth-action games give the player the choice between those two things. You’re as able to finish a level killing no-one as you are massacring everything in sight, though this often changes the ending, like in Dishonored. You’re rewarded in different ways for how you choose to play.
In Earthblood, you don’t get a choice at first, at least not in the missions I’ve completed so far. Probably for the sake of narrative, you’re locked into stealth for the beginning of a mission. If you get caught, even if it’s just by one guard, you lose. Guard turns around, sees you peeking your wolfie head round a vending machine and BAM, you’re treated to the fastest “Game Over” screen I’ve ever seen in a video game. No chance to take him out before he sounds the alarm, you’re just done. As well as that, these stealth sections feel artificial. Enemies look like they’re trying not to see you, staring at boxes or the corners of the room. I don’t feel like I’m skillfully avoiding detection, rather that I’m just doing exactly what the game wants me to do.
Tear it up
Fortunately, missions eventually let you shift into your main werewolf form, named the ‘Crinos’form, and tear enemies apart. The game switches to hack-n-slash mode, functioning kind of like a Devil May Cry or God of War game. There’s a simple combo system, a few special abilities, even a Frenzy bar that fills as you fight and can be used to temporarily boost your strength (a la Devil Trigger). All of this can be upgraded through a skill tree, the points for which are gained by finishing missions, killing enemies, and finding specific collectibles.
However, combat has its issues. Grunts fold after one hit, rendering your combos pointless, and harder enemies don’t last much longer. Boss fights are few and far between, though the one I managed to get to in my few hours playing was quite the experience. Yes, it’s satisfying to stomp a planet-pillager into a puddle of blood with your big, hairy foot, but not when they all look exactly the same. I’m hoping enemy variety will open up as I progress further into the game.
Combat suffers from the same problem as stealth: you’re forced into it. At first, at least. You don’t get to decide when it happens, there’s just a point at which the story says, “okay, now you can kill stuff”. From then on, if you get caught sneaking you can fight your way out. But only from then on.
The game is lacking story-wise too. In the first twenty minutes we’re introduced to a bunch of people that Cahal knows intimately, but we don’t, which makes it incredibly hard to care about them. Characters also all have this sort of stiff, waxy quality to them, not something I’d expect from a next-gen game. A critical part of the story is that someone is killed (still in the first twenty minutes or so) and this sends Cahal into a murderous rampage that leaves him so ashamed that he exiles himself from his clan. Clearly this is important. But it’s impossible to connect to when the player has literally only seen this aforementioned character on screen once for about half a minute. The story jumps five years and we’re just expected to know and understand every new face Cahal is hanging out with now.
“You should know me better”, says Dusk, Cahal’s new bff in one of my first interactions with him. “Should I?” says I.
Earthblood is undeniably cool. The music, the atmosphere, the concept. There’s nothing offensively bad in it. But so many pieces just don’t fit together correctly, or are simply more “meh” than anything else. I’m hoping that this is just down to it being the early stages of the game. If transforming into a werewolf is enough of a novelty for you that you can forgive the “meh”ness of the rest of the game, that’s great. Otherwise, maybe wait for the reviews before you leap to get your paws on this.
- Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood was previewed on an Xbox One. Code was supplied by the publisher.