October 3, 2023


We Do Shopping Right

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Cards on the table: before playing Werewolf: The Apocalypse–Earthblood, it was hard not to see it as a gaming non-event. Around 12 hours later, after completing its short but surprisingly fulfilling campaign, it doesn’t just make a mark–once you start playing it, it’s almost impossible to put down.

On its surface, Earthblood almost begs you to make a bad snap judgment. For those not aware of the series it’s based on, it sounds like it was named by throwing darts at late-80s heavy metal albums. Its cover artwork has “Game Pass within six months” written all over it. Its developer, Cyanide, specialized in cycling-themed games prior to this new IP.

However, Werewolf: The Apocalypse’s debut has that feeling of a scrappier, unrefined Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: a limited but intriguing first entry in what could be a strong and exciting franchise. It adopts a unique approach to gameplay and combines it with a surprisingly contemporary story arc, especially given the entire idea was conceived nearly 30 years ago.

A rocky start

Based on the 1992 tabletop RPG with the same name, this first game outing for the Werewolf series is a hybrid of third-person exploration, stealth, and hack ‘n’ slash. It’s an improbable combo, but it somehow works–and I usually hate hack ‘n’ slash games. However, for all its positives, its weird plot development doesn’t make it easy to love in its first couple of hours.

You take on the role of Cahal: a Dollar Store Kratos dressed like a bit-part character from Days Gone, who shares the stage with fellow werewolves like Rodko, who looks like Christopher Lambert’s Raiden in 1995’s Mortal Kombat movie. Your main goal is to protect the Wyld–nature itself–from the Wyrm, a force of destruction that once stood for balance, but now serves as out-of-control decay, courtesy of dastardly corporate entities.

In your role as a shape-shifting murderous eco-terrorist, you and your fellow Caern members take on the evil Endron: an unimaginatively named energy company, which may as well be called Hexxon Mobile or Chevrong. It’s as straightforward as an enemy gets: it pillages fossil fuels, makes super-soldiers out of some kind of gas, and its motto is “the cost of the fine is always less than the cost of compliance.”

As you get to grips with this improbable yet entirely predictable foe, it becomes immediately obvious that Werewolf: The Apocalypse–Earthblood is not as next-gen as its Series X and PS5 credentials imply. The graphics are basic. Facial expressions are either “sad” or “a bit more sad.” Lip-syncing is on par with a PS3 game. When you’re introduced to your daughter, you’ll soon realise she’s literally a scaled-down version of an adult character. It’s hilarious.

You then learn your base of operations sits improbably close–like, 200 feet close–to Endron’s facility. The story-establishing prologue raid to drive the corporation out of your territory ends badly when your wife–another werewolf, who maintains human form because she’s a pacifist, not a throw-a-fist–gets killed by an evil werewolf. These evil werewolves are never explained. Cahal shouts “no, please, no” in a tone that almost sound sarcastic. You then jump forward five years.

Please, suspend your disbelief. An incredibly lovable game hides underneath.

Meat on the bones

Once this weird introduction gives way to the wider experience and you get used to the doughy, glazed expressions of its key players, you’re presented with a surprisingly clever mix of genre styles that have no right to work together, but still do.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse–Earthblood offers three tiers of gameplay: expositional story elements built on exploration and discussion, complete with generally inconsequential, Mass Effect-modelled dialogue options; stealth sections, where you attempt to silently pass multiple areas and rooms as both human and nifty wolf; and inevitable battle sections, where all hell breaks loose and you transform into your hulking werewolf form, and beat the crap out of anything that moves.

“Inevitable” really is the case, because for the most part, the game’s stealth sections are often terribly inflexible; they beg you to just hit the Beast Mode button and ravage every room. You can just as well transform into a werewolf as soon as you walk in, because it’s the easiest option. But where’s the fun in that?

The game’s early stages are worst for stealth, because its initial and repetitive levels are surprisingly unforgiving, demanding precision you simply can’t maintain. If you deviate from the prescribed pattern, you’re immediately found; enemies swarm, and the only way to quell them is to go full-on Altered Beast and commit serial murder.

Luckily, its simple-but-fun approach to combat is both hilariously gruesome and often demanding. You have quick attacks and strong attacks, plus two modes of battle: agile and heavy. Switching is a chore, thanks to Werewolf: The Apocalypse’s weird controls, so you often find yourself running around like a madman in agile mode in the hope you find an enemy, get in their face, and turn them into red mist. However, as the game develops, battle strategy is the key to success.

You learn special moves by levelling up, obtained through story missions, or by huffing magical plants identified through your weird second sight, which is useful unless you walk two paces, and it switches off for no good reason. You’re also given a crossbow for your human form to play with, which is the least enjoyable weapon I’ve used in a game in my entire life, and that includes the Giant’s Knife in Ocarina of Time

I know I’m not exactly selling this, but I swear, Werewolf: The Apocalypse really is fun.

Sticking with the human form for as long as possible is important; Cahal, your half-priced God of War, can be used to take down cameras, turrets, entry doors and more, making the threat of violence that bit more easy to overcome. Each room may be a repetitive feat, but it’s a challenge nonetheless; if everything goes sideways, you can simply turn into a werewolf. Don’t worry about it.

Finding its feet

As the story progresses (but the acting doesn’t), the game opens up, and you no longer feel like you’re just cocking around in a single, faceless facility; you’re given more purpose, direction, and gameplay options. The second half of the story, with all its twists and turns, feels more exciting and developed, even if the core gameplay is the same mix of sneaking, messing it up, and killing anything that moves out of necessity. You enjoy every minute.

It’s in these latter stages that Werewolf: The Apocalypse takes on more of a mantle of a horror game, embracing a mix of Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space-style grotesqueness. That said, it doesn’t feel like a genuine attempt to scare you–it’s just a way for it to make its limited selection of enemies level up to their next difficulty stage. But good lord, they look hideous.

Speaking of difficulty, Werewolf: The Apocalypse is a bit of a walk in the park. During my standard-mode playthrough, I died four times: one due to poor strategy choice, another because of a rare poor camera angle, and two identical drops off the side of a level, one of which was as Cahal triumphantly celebrated success, only to tumble off the side of a ledge mid-animation. I’ve not laughed so hard in months.

Sure, the story’s predictable and full of holes, the gameplay is repetitive, the stealth is unforgiving, and the characters often can’t act their way out of a paper bag. At the same time, the gameplay is as intoxicating as it is repetitive, it holds an incredibly smooth framerate, the fighting is dependable and enjoyable, and you genuinely feel satisfied after it’s all over. 

As far as games go, Werewolf: The Apocalypse–Earthblood is beautifully ridiculous: a game that shouldn’t work, and tries hard to prove it, but fails to dissuade you. Cyanide and Nacon should pursue the development of this series in the future, because nothing quite like it exists–and we all deserve to lose ourselves in a bit of mindless fun.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of Werewolf: The Apocalypse–Earthblood in exchange for a fair and honest review. The Xbox Series X version was played for review purposes.