This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood.
Prologue: Premium Programs
This month, we're asking for your support through our premium programs via The Escapist+ and YouTube Memberships. Your support allows us to continue making the content we want instead of chasing algorithms or the latest trends. Plus, you get a bunch of perks like ad-free viewing via The Escapist+ on our main website, early access on YouTube via YouTube Memberships, and bonus content like our monthly Ask the Creators video series, where we answer your burning questions. Thanks in advance for your continued support! Guilt, guilt, bat eyelashes, bat eyelashes, etc.
Hey, people who like pen-and-paper role-playing, stop dazzling the world of fashion with your presence for a moment and listen. Have you ever thought that the campaign you're part of might work really well if adapted into a book or video game plot? Well, apply this simple test: go to literally anyone in the world and tell them about the most interesting thing that's ever happened in your game. Shortly, you will notice that their eyes appear to be focused on a point six feet behind your head, and they keep saying things like "Uh-huh." and "Right." and "If you don't stop talking, I'm going to scrape out my own eardrums with a teaspoon handle, you tedious, tedious fuck." For you see, nobody gives a shit about your imaginary heroics outside of the players directly involved, and the cloud of in-jokes, body odor, and Cheeto dust in which you meet, and anyone who says otherwise is either trying to seduce you or sell you a car.
The point is, Werewolf (HRUUH) The Apocalypse (HRUUH) Earthblood - fucking hell, that is the last time I read the full title out! - plays like a case of someone adapting their pen-and-paper role-playing sessions, in that it's full of contrivance, pointless characters, and repetitive environments because the DM either had Alzheimer's or a very limited set of room tiles. WereThePocBlood concerns Cahal, a gruff, hairy dad who looks like the breakout character from a popular reality TV series about gay motorcycle repairmen; he is a werewolf in a setting that's basically the premise of Captain Planet except with werewolves instead of diverse, go-getting teenagers, and where all issues are resolved by turning into a monster and tearing the enemy to coleslaw instead of summoning a demigod far too smug for someone wearing tiny red pants.
I mean, the writing's certainly about as complex as Captain Planet, pointlessly excessive gore aside, because it mainly centers around an evil polluting corporation who are ravaging the Earth, not for wealth or to meet the needs of an ever-growing, ever-complacent humanity, but because they are being literally controlled by an evil monster and are actively trying to destroy the world. So yeah, the story's about as nuanced as hammering a six-inch nail through your forehead. Cahal is part of an eco-terror group working against SuperMegaGloboTech; his wife gets killed on a raid, he goes a bit bananas and kills someone else, leaves the pack in shame for five years, but then he comes back 'cos he has to finish the fight, or possibly because the game world doesn't consist of anything other than the facilities of the evil corporation and one werewolf hideout about a minute's walk away from all of them.
If it hasn't become obvious yet, Werewolf: The Pocky Arse Blurp isn't a very good game; it's a game of midrange budget from a European studio, and is very much what one should expect of midrange Euro-jank that wants to eat at the AAA table but only got as far as the stealth and the action and couldn't manage the open world, the crafting, or the collectibles. But even for midrange Euro-jank, I struggle to think of any game whose core gameplay is more completely at odds with the themes of its plot and abilities of its main character; I mean, here's this dude who can turn into either a rampaging wolf monster or a lithe normal wolf that can dash through the wilderness faster than an enchilada through an elderly relative's digestive system, and then he spends most of his time crouching behind cubicle dividers in cramped metal rooms, like a scoliosis sufferer queueing to go on Space Mountain.
Every cocking part of this game takes place in some kind of industrial environment consisting of a string of sectioned-off metal rooms containing an arrangement of cubicle dividers and patrolling guards; it's like playing Pac-Man, except when you get caught, you can't continue until you've smashed up the arcade cabinet with gardening equipment. It's a classic case of using open combat as punishment for fucking up the stealth, and Crikey O'Dogballs, does it feel like a punishment, because combat is very woof-- I mean, rough.
The physics of it all feels completely off; everything starts moving around like a fast-forwarded video of balloon animals in a centrifuge, and all you mostly do is mash "Light Attack" and hold on for dear life as you combo around the room like a runaway lawnmower in a doggy daycare. And you can barely tell what the fuck's going on 'cos of the particle effects and bits of pancreas flying everywhere, and a camera that frequently daydreams and points at the wrong thing because someone was describing their D&D campaign to it earlier. And yet, combat's still really easy, because that’s what happens when you take a high-energy, high-impact fighting style that'd probably serve you well if you were a Dynasty Warriors character and have us do it in a small, enclosed room full of meat piñatas.
So a good question to ask would be why one should bother going out of one's way to stealth through the game when one can rip through the guards in ten seconds flat, and no guards in any subsequent arena will be alerted because I guess the evil corporation sold everyone's two-way radios to add soundproofing to all the walls, or indeed, why we should bother with trying to find the secret computer rooms where we can deactivate, like, one security camera, thus using three minutes of work to delay by two minutes the frequently inevitable descent into ten seconds of combat. Unless we're the game's mum and want to encourage its ambitions to be an immersive sim, which is admittedly adorable.
There's a small handful of bits in the game where you can complete optional scavenger hunts and dialogue puzzles to get past certain areas without fighting, and I'm like, "D'aww, look at the little puppy that thinks it's Deus Ex. And look at that adorable upgrade menu with, like, nine things on it. Yesh, you're an RPG, aren't you?" Only if "RPG" now stands for "Rip, Pulverize, Gouge". I guess it's pretty liberating to listen to some NPC fuck telling me he can get me the key to the next area if I find his cat's deworming medicine, knowing that at any moment, I can smash the "oh, fuck it" button and turn his and his cat's bowels into fucking party streamers.
Oh, but that might go against the theme of the story about staying in touch with your humanity and not giving into your animalistic frenzy, and I wonder if the story and the gameplay designers were working in the same building, because from a gameplay perspective, giving into the frenzy is the tops, and the solution for basically everything; I mean, in the prologue, going Frenzy Mode is what ruins Cahal's life and alienates him from his tribe, and seems to be the incitement for a character arc, but then in gameplay, you can go Frenzy Mode as much as you like. "Hey, your 'Alienation From Humanity' Meter is full; remember to use it on as many humans as you can! Why not buy an upgrade to get double damage from your alienation from humanity?"
All janky design and dull, repetitive levels aside, it just feels like a game really at odds with itself. "Well, how would you fix it, Yahtz?" Well, I'd have added some kind of consequence for using Frenzy Mode too much, like reduced XP or a bad ending. Or, focused on cathartic combat and chucked the humanity-questioning stuff in the recycle bin. Oh, wait! Even quicker solution: chuck the whole fucking game in the recycle bin and play something else! "Be serious, Yahtz." Sorry; I meant to say "compost bin".
- Who's a good boy who is: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Basically imagine a game along the lines of that game Dark but with less gameplay and more licensing budget
- Still waiting on the Captain Planet gritty live action Netflix series