From the first moment I saw Altered Beast way back in the late 80s, I thought the idea of shapeshifting into a ferocious beast was just neato. And there are few things better than shifting into a giant angry wolf. Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood is not the first time there was an attempt at bringing the World of Darkness style werewolves to their own action video game, and after four canceled games over the decades by several different publishers, developer Cyanide has finally delivered on the promise of supernatural canine carnage.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood is an action adventure game with some role-playing elements and a focus on stealth. I would even go so far as to say it plays a lot like a brawler—if you choose to ignore the stealth elements. There are skill trees and dialogue options, but it doesn’t feel like there is enough freedom of choice to call Earthblood a true roleplaying game—which is, perhaps, ironic considering the source material. But there are plenty of enemies to smash and slice into pieces as well as a few different flavors of werewolf. It’s definitely not a perfect game, but it seems to do what it sets out to do, even if it all feels a little underwhelming, or even like something for a few generations ago.
In Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood you play as Cahal, a powerful Garou—which is what World of Darkness calls werewolves. While there is a little bit of a learning curve in regards to the lore, there is an intro video that explains who the Garou are, and what their purpose is. The gist is: you’re nature’s guardians, fighting against a corruption known as the Wyrm, who uses mankind to help destroy the earth and nature. Endron, a large multinational oil company and paramilitary organization, serves as the main antagonist. Of course they’re up to no good, and to protect Gaia Cahal has to go on a mission of revenge with a story that’s ultimately about redemption. Despite its origins as a storytelling tabletop role-playing game, Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood doesn’t do a great of job telling its story. Stilted voice acting and strangely rigid facial expressions broke my immersion in a story that is mostly schlock set to death metal. But if the combat is fun, that’s good enough for me. Unfortunately, that’s not so great either.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood has two major modes of gameplay: stealth, and all-out action. Stealth is only necessary in some cases, but if you wanted to sneak around in Cahal’s lupus form, avoid guards or silently take them down, you can do this. The stealth mechanics are rudimentary, however, and mechanically clunky. Sneaking is automatically toggled when appropriate—though you may choose to break stealth at any moment to turn into a rage-fueled wolf. This was occasionally available in dialogue options as well—instead of negotiating, you can convince NPCs through bloody wolf murder. Negotiating is often an option as well. You can get more abilities to help with stealth maneuvers, as well as a silent crossbow to take down foes—but even with the options it doesn’t feel engaging. In Cahal’s Lupus form—essentially a large wolf—he can sneak into ducts to bypass enemies, and he can change back into human form to manipulate security systems—like opening doors and turning off cameras. This may sound like there are multiple ways to approach problems, or that the levels would be semi-open—but they’re not. There is usually one linear solution, with the occasional optional quest. More often than not I would forgo sneaking and turn into a giant human-wolf murder machine.
Combat in Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood is fast, visceral, and feels almost like something from a bygone era. Much like games from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation, most fights are stand-up brawls—button spam and your health versus the hordes of enemies and their health bars. Combat is done in a humanoid wolf form called Crinos. In Crinos form, you have several combat abilities, and two stances—heavy and fast. Heavy allows you to have more health and do more damage, but you’re slow. The more agile stance allows you to strike quickly and run faster—but at the expense of health. Each stance has its own abilities, which can be upgraded as you earn spirit points.
Combat is also a bit rudimentary, and is mostly a button spamming affair, though it’s not entirely mindless. This is due to the different types of enemies. Some of the lesser enemies can be killed with little resistance, but as Cahal gets closer to the Wyrm he will have to face stronger and smarter foes. Some enemies can reduce your total health with silver bullets, wear formidable exo-suits, or are even infused with dark corruption—but most strategies involve mainly attacking, dodging, and building up the rage and frenzy meters to unleash powerful attacks and abilities. You can pick up enemies, throw them or execute them to generate more frenzy. Once your frenzy bar fills, you can enter into a frenzy mode which sort of combines the two stances to make a fast and heavy hitting temporary mode that comes at the expense of being able to use your abilities.
I had some pretty high hopes for Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood. I can’t say I’m exactly let down, because while my hopes were technically fulfilled, the results were unimpressive, and only moderately fun. If it was somehow positioned as a retro-style 3D arcade beat ‘em up, this review would probably be different. But it so earnestly bills itself as a serious action role-playing game with a dark and dramatic story about redemption, and it all just comes off as hokey. I’ve played so many games in the Vampire: The Masquerade setting, I was hoping its werewolf counterpart would be as intriguing, but Werewolf: The Apocalypse—Earthblood has been a letdown. Once the appeal of turning in to a giant wolf wore off, I was just left with my disappointment.
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