Watchmen: The End is Nigh expanded the lore of a beloved comic and the movie
Nearly 35 years after its initial launch, Alan Moore’s and David Gibbons’ seminal 1986 comic series Watchmen has once again entered the public spotlight thanks to the currently ongoing HBO television show of the same name. The HBO series functions as a present-day sequel to the original comic, with older versions of iconic Watchmen characters such as Adrian Veidt and Laurie Juspeczyk joining a new generation of masked vigilantes and criminals.
HBO’s Watchmen show naturally builds upon the unique version of our world that Moore and Gibbons created so many years ago, a world so infused with subtle sci-fi components that ordinary people deciding to wear masks and fight crime is actually one of the least strange things to happen.
However, HBO’s show isn’t the first time publisher DC Comics has attempted to expand Watchmen’s world beyond the scope of the original work. In fact, another such effort was the 2009 video game Watchmen: The End is Nigh, created by developer Deadline Games as a companion to the divisive Zach Snyder-directed Watchmen film adaptation from that same year.
In retrospect, Watchmen: The End is Nigh was much like most other movie tie-in games of the era, i.e. shoddily constructed and clearly meant to cash in on the preexisting popularity of the property it was attached to. However, rather than just rehash the events depicted in the comic/movie, Deadline Games chose instead to tell an interactive prequel story set several years before the movie’s (and, by extension, the original comic’s) timeline.
Watchmen: The End is Nigh was set sometime in the early 1970’s, before the passing of the 1977 Keene Act that outlawed all masked vigilantism. Within the timeline of the game, the ‘Crimebusters’ group, which consists mostly of second generation heroes like Daniel Dreiberg (a.k.a. the second Nite Owl) and Laurie Juspeczyk (a.k.a the second Silk Spectre), is still active. Fans of the comic may recall the Crimebusters were founded after the disbanding of the Minutemen, a group which included heroes like the Hollis Mason (the original Nite Owl), The Comedian, and Laurie’s mother Sally Jupiter a.k.a the first Silk Spectre.
Across a series of episodic chapters, players could control either Nite Owl (who functions as a Batman-esque martial artist complete with a cape and owl-themed gadgets) or the noire-style hero Rorschach (who functions as more of a brawler). The End is Nigh allowed for both solo and local co-op play (the game’s AI controlled the other hero when playing solo), but the gameplay itself consisted of little else other than corridor-based brawling and light puzzle-solving.
Nite Owl and Rorschach each had their own unique fighting styles and moves befitting their characters, but they both also utilized the same basic combo strings, counter-attacks, and other combat maneuvers to dispatch the groups of nameless thugs they confronted. Indeed, judging it by its simplistic combat mechanics and shoddy visuals alone, it’s easy to see why The End is Nigh got such poor reviews when it first launched.
To its credit, Deadline Games did manage to work a few clever touches into the game’s presentation. The actors who portrayed Nite Owl and Rorschach in the Watchmen film, Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley, both reprised their roles for The End is Nigh, and the game even used Rorschach’s penchant for keeping a journal (a recurring theme in the comic) as an in-universe way of conveying tutorial messages and hints.
However, for every clever little touch existing Watchmen fans spotted, there was another element of The End is Nigh that showed just how little effort was put into refining its gameplay. As one laughably poignant example, Rorschach’s “default” movement state had him hunched over with his hands in his pockets (as he’s often depicted in the comic). He’d immediately revert to this state the moment combat was over, leading to some jarring transitions where he’d be wildly flailing his arms around attacking enemies one moment and suddenly brooding with his hands in his pockets the next.
Enemy of my Enemy
If there was one redeeming element of Watchmen: The End is Nigh, it was the extra context the game provided to the original comic by allowing players to directly experience events and meet characters that had only been referenced in passing within the pages of Watchmen itself.
As they worked through each of The End is Nigh’s six chapters, players crossed paths with named villains like The Underboss, Jimmy the Gimmick, and The Twilight Lady, none of whom actually appear in the Watchmen comic. The cynical and psychotic vigilante The Comedian also made a cameo in the game, as did real-life figures like FBI associate director Mark Felt and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (expanding on Watchmen’s unique portrayal of the Watergate Scandal, an event which, again, was only referenced in the comic).
During The End is Nigh’s climax, a disagreement over whether to let a villain go or kill them forced Nite Owl and Rorschach to fight each other, with the victor determining which of the game’s two endings the player saw. No matter which ending the player earned, the fight and subsequent fallout between the two heroes was meant to explain why Nite Owl and Rorschach are estranged in the Watchmen comic.
Blessing in Disguise
Watchmen: The End is Nigh may have been a mediocre game created mostly to support a mediocre movie adaptation, but the contributions Deadline Games made to the existing Watchmen canon, however small, cannot be refuted. Over the years (and against the wishes of original creator Alan Moore), Watchmen has slowly grown beyond the scope of the original 1986 comic, in some cases for the better and in others for the worse.
The End is Nigh is, for now, the only time DC has ever taken Watchmen into the realm of video games, and there’s really no reason to expect it will ever do so again, even with the overwhelming popularity of the HBO show.
The folks at Deadline Games may not be proud of how Watchmen: The End is Nigh ultimately turned out, and in regards to the game’s interactive elements and visual polish, they really shouldn’t be, but they can rest easy in at least one regard.
In a time when its original creators were hesitant to release new supporting works and movie-makers were busy butchering its sacred source material, Watchmen’s sole video game outing to date fleshed out a world that fans were desperate to know more about. It’s just a shame that the game lived and died pretty much as quickly as the film adaptation to which it was so closely attached.