Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is the kind of game that would have surfaced at the Xbox 360’s peak. You could probably name several high-concept, over-earnest action games that came out over this period, like Dark Sector, Binary Domain and Dark Void, and while they weren’t necessarily great, they were often fun and memorable. Well, perhaps we should add Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood to that pile, as it feels like it’s arrived from that other, simpler time.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse is reminiscent of games like Dishonored and the modern Deus Ex titles, where you are given a series of playgrounds to romp around in, and whether you complete them through stealth or combat is up to you. You can often slip into combat without intending to: triggering an alarm and moving the game into Infamous/Prototype mode. You become a hulking werewolf, and start wading through enemies like they were never there. This rhythm of stealth-to-combat is the beating heart of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood.
Before we jump into this dual approach to gameplay, let’s set the scene and give an overview of the moments between the gameplay. You play as Cahal, whose three standout characteristics are that he’s on the older side, a bit grumpy and, most importantly, a werewolf. He’s a member of a Caern – a tribe of werewolves that live together – who have found their territory invaded by a biofuel corporation called Endron. Almost all of the individual missions are a raid on this corporation, and you will navigate from the Caern to the factory sites in a semi-open world (later levels push into different hubs, but the pattern remains the same). Since Endron’s sites are fully working and established factories, you half-wonder why the werewolves are only getting pissy now.
Your wife and daughter, Ludmila and Aedana, are with you in the Caern, and you can probably guess how that goes. Aedana in particular is the subject of the least surprising plot twist in recent memory. But what develops is a kind of Ferngully-meets-Rampage, as Endron have nefarious plans for the planet, polluting Gaia (Mother Nature) in the name of the Wyrm (disease and decay). So, you’ve got to get your wolf-on, and dismantle Endron piece by piece before the titular apocalypse arrives.
Story and plotting is not Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood’s strong point. Almost everything that tumbles out of characters’ mouths is exposition, and that exposition is mostly ‘Endron is bad, we must take down Endron’. It’s hard to say that the plot develops, as it’s mostly bad guys retreating further and further into the various circles of Endron, or occasionally lashing out at the Caern. It doesn’t help that Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood does a Return of the King and ends about three more times than it needs to.
The world of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is often generic and sometimes laughable (we couldn’t take a boss called Tank Girl seriously), but it is capable of doing something barmy and successful. Tarker’s Mill, your Caern, is protected by a giant avatar of Gaia called Yfen, who looks like a walking birds’ nest, and feels like he’s wandered in from a Guillermo Del Toro movie, while another avatar shows up later and is similarly fabulous. Virtually every twist is signposted in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, but there’s one in particular that shifts the game’s tone considerably, and we ended up nodding with appreciation, even though it has been done before in other properties. Ultimately, you end up wishing that Cyanide Studio games (Styx and Call of Cthulhu) were a little bit braver and more creative. They’re clearly capable of it.
Unfortunately, the quiet moments before the action are wherein you focus on the graphics, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. It’s a shame, as it’s one of the few dedicated Series X|S games out there, so be warned if you were planning to use this as a tech showcase (although load times are swift as anything, and it can handle multiple enemies reasonably well). There’s a hilarious moment in the prologue where you meet your daughter, who is a scaled-down adult rather than a dedicated child model. It took us a while to realise that she was supposed to be a child, rather than someone kneeling down. Across the board, there are minimalist facial animations, beady eyes, stiff early-Resident Evil movement and a general woodiness. If you were impressed by the admittedly brilliant trailer, we warn you that the standard is way, way below that.
For those who have come for the bloodletting, it will matter less. Accept a mission and you can move out of the – mostly duff – talking and exploring, and you’re into the game proper. This is the marquee stuff that Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood gets more consistently right.
There’s a pattern to how the gameplay plays out. You will travel from the Caern to an Endron site, finding a way in by changing to a lycan (wolf) form, most often through a vent, before emerging in human form. This is where you get to proceed as you want. Combat lovers might want to cut to the chase and transform immediately into werewolf form, where you can carve through crates and barrels like they’re butter, bludgeoning dozens of enemies in a single swipe. But you may want to reconsider that approach, thanks to some neat additions. Each arena has spawn-doors, from which reinforcements emerge. If you can get to them without being seen, you can set a trap that halves any reinforcements’ health, making them much easier to take down. When mechs and heavies can arrive through the doors, it becomes an incentive to a stealthier approach.
In lycan or human form, you can keep to cover and out of sight of human enemies, who have simple cones of sight and an eye above their head to display their awareness; orange eyes mean they’ll investigate the nearby area, while red eyes mean fully alerted. As is customary for stealth games, you can approach enemies from the side or rear, and tap the X button for a takedown. There are cameras and turrets too, which can be evaded, shot with a stealth crossbow, or turned off by finding a connected terminal. Also throughout the room are vents, which can be ducked into in wolf form, skipping you to the furthest reaches of the room, to terminals for shutting down tech, or even – in a move that often creates the game’s greatest moments – skipping the room entirely, making you feel like a boss.
If you’re like us, it will be a mix. We entered most situations with the intention of staying hidden, but often ballsed it up. Other times, we found ourselves victim to some questionable stealth mechanics. Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood gets a decent B- for its stealth – probably honed through Cyanide’s work on Styx, but it does fall into common traps. The rules around dead bodies are particularly odd: when you take an enemy down, you can’t position it elsewhere, so you’re committed to leaving it where you killed it. But enemies swing wildly from ignoring these bodies to spotting them from a huge distance, and it never quite feels consistent, (and can often leave you questioning what alerted the enemy: was it you or a body left behind?). We were hit with invisible walls when we tried to shoot cameras; the lycan form only ever seemed to have negatives attached, so we barely used it, and heavier units couldn’t be taken down while stealthing.
More often than not, the stealth would play as expected and we got used to its foibles. There was a nice security blanket to these sections, as we would often find ourselves notching up as many advantages as we could – laying traps on doors, killing as many units as possible – knowing that, when the red-mist descended and combat started (many scenarios force combat on you regardless, thanks to their design), we were well-placed, and fighting in werewolf (‘crinos’) form was always the easiest bit of the game anyway.
Woah boy, Cahal can handle himself. Even in a room with two-dozen enemies, a couple of heavies and a mech, you would still bet on him winning. Part of that’s because Cyanide has pitched combat at the Prototype end, making you a monster who can kill anything with a couple of hits, and attaching a levelling system that only makes you stronger. You’re also overpowered because of a move-set that gives you so many options.
You have multiple combat forms, for a start. There’s an agile mode that reduces the damage you deal but ups your speed, and you can cross a battlefield in seconds. This is particularly useful when lightweight snipers come into the arena and chip away at your health – with silver bullets reducing your max life for a given battle, it gets important. Then there’s a more damaging form, where Cahal struts around on two hind legs like he’s in heels, and he absolutely dominates anything he touches at a cost to maneuverability. Gain enough Rage – something that accumulates as you successfully attack – and you can temporarily enter a Frenzy mode, a third form, that is the best of both worlds, and also multiplies the damage that you do even further. Each form has their own special moves that build up the Rage meter, and the result is a fully specced-out death machine.
At least initially, the combat is Werewolf: The Apocalypse’s strong point. The skew in your favour is always enjoyable, and the special moves are varied and powerful enough to mix things up. It has its niggles, sure: some enemies inexplicably hold their ground when they’re hit, while others fly like ragdolls, which both hits the believability but also creates situations where you have to jump about like a loon. On harder difficulties you can feel cornered, without an opportunity to get out, and some bosses are sponges that you wish had a bit more nuance.
But the biggest downfall of Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood’s combat is the same downfall that plagues the rest of the game. There just isn’t enough variety.
The repetition has many different forms. Likely for scope and budget reasons, virtually every arena is a techno-industrial complex, full of vents, pipes, terminals, fork-lift trucks and scientists. It gets a bit numbing, to be honest. We could map our interest levels on a graph when we moved to a prison level (Wahoo! New digs! No factories!), only to find that it was a front for another techno-industrial factory. The toys to play with in the stealth sections effectively stay the same for the rest of the game, and the combat can often default to the same button-bashing.
The repetition is exacerbated by the multiple fake-out endings in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, and the lengthy run-time. A punchier game could have held the attention for longer, while more toys could have been added to the sandbox bits, rather than spending extra time on creating levels, which would have amped up the enjoyment considerably.
There are B-list joys to be had in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood on Xbox. At their peak, the levels can be playgrounds where choosing stealth, combat or both puts a wicked grin on your face. You’ll feel like The Hulk tapping into his furry side, and nothing in the game can match you. But too often you’re confronted with the game at its worst: lethargically plodding around game hubs and the same factory interiors, over and over. It’s not silver that’s this werewolf’s biggest weakness: in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, it’s repetition.