Why aren’t there more games where you get to play as a werewolf?
It’s by far the best thing about Cyanide’s latest action RPG, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood. Try as it might to get you sneak through many of its areas unseen, getting caught never elicits a “uh-oh” under your breath like it does in most stealth games. Here, I actually find myself getting a little excited upon being discovered, as it means I can explode with rage and unleash a torrent of violence against my my poor, unsuspecting victims. That’s the benefit of being a werewolf, you see. And this one doesn’t need to wait for a full moon to raise hell.
Cahal is your protagonist in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, a hairy-faced, middle -aged man who suffers quite a traumatic loss in the game’s opening mission. After that, he can’t quite trust himself, so he abandons his Caern, family and friends believing it’s for the best. But he can’t drop his major motivation – wiping out the despicable energy company Endron that’s polluting the earth. There’s also the fact that Endron appears to be in the servitude of the Wyrm, a negative force that seeks to corrupt the world. And as a Garou, it’s Cahal’s duty to keep that in balance with the Wyld, the force of creation and chaos.
While Wereworlf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is an action RPG, it’s one that’s very linear. You follow the story, sneaking into one Endron facility after another for a whole smorgasbord of reasons, with only the odd bit of freedom being given to you in each of the game’s two hubs. For the most part, then, it feels like the kind of story-driven action game you’d have played on a PS2 all those years ago, with a sprinkle of action-RPG elements thrown on top to give it a little bit of extra depth. And that’s no bad thing; it’s just that as time goes on, the gameplay never really goes anywhere.
Stealth plays a large role in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, though it’s very basic. You can take enemies down silently if you manage to sneak up behind them, and you also have a crossbow with limited ammo to silently dispatch enemies from afar. Even more useful is your ability to turn into a wolf; its small form allows you to fit through narrow gaps, often giving you access to terminals that can be used to disable security cameras and gun turrets. Cahal can also interfere with security doors if he can make his way to their control panels, limiting the number of reinforcements brought in should he be detected. Overall, it’s a good idea to be stealthy in each area you enter, even if it’s only to thin enemy numbers before turning into a werewolf and ripping the rest of them to shreds.
Combat is inevitable in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, no matter how good your stealth skills are. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with clearing out an enemy compound, for example, and some enemies are simply impossible to take down silently, like hulking brutes equipped with giant guns and soldiers strapped into mech-like exoskeletons. Still, by taking out some enemies with stealth beforehand, you can give yourself the advantage by raising your rage – the energy that powers your special abilities. Not that you really need it unless you’re playing on Hard difficulty, however, because as a werewolf you truly are a force to be reckoned with.
Two stances are available to you as a werewolf: one focused on agility, the other on strength. In agility mode you can quickly run around the screen and unleash fast attacks that catch enemies off-guard, but you’re also weaker and more susceptible to being interrupted. Switch over to strength mode, and you’ll find that you move at a snail’s pace but hit hard; honestly, even enemies equipped with shields don’t stand a chance against your blows. You are a beast. Handily, you can switch between both stances instantly with the press of a button, and if you manage to fill a frenzy gauge you can momentarily enter a frenzied state which has the benefits of both stances. There is one drawback to your frenzied form, though; you can’t use skills.
Throughout your time with Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood you’ll earn skill points by completing objectives and absorbing spirit energy. The latter is rather amusing, as it largely revolves around Cahal finding plants and then appearing as though he’s smelling them. Finding and absorbing spirits does also break up the flow of the gameplay, however, as they’re only easily seen by enabling Penumbra Vision, which cancels itself as soon as you move. So, if you want to power Cahal up and learn new skills, get ready to stop in nearly every room just to enable Penumbra Vision and see if there’s any item that can provide you with energy.
Collect enough energy and you’ll earn a skill point, which can be used across multiple small skill trees to shape your character – it’s highly unlikely you’ll unlock all skills on a single playthrough. Most of the upgrades on offer are for your werewolf form, offering new abilities, but there are some that benefit Cahal’s human and wolf forms, too. His crossbow can be upgraded to fire electrified bolts, for example, allowing him to disable security cameras and doors quickly and easily. Your wolf form, on the other hand, can be made even harder for enemies to detect unless you run. Needless to say, they come in useful, but few of them provide any meaningful changes to the gameplay.
And that’s the problem with Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, really; its gameplay never really changes or evolves. No matter where your journey takes you in the world, one Endron facility looks largely like another. You make your way through samey rooms, filled with the same waist-high railings to use as cover. In those rooms you employ the same basic stealth mechanics to eradicate as many soldiers as you can without being seen, at which point you turn into a wolf and use the same small pool of abilities to wipe them out with reckless abandon. It’s fun, initially – and remains fun in small doses – but even with a running time of only ten hours it can drag at times.
On PS5 there are other issues, too. For a start, it doesn’t particularly look next-gen thanks to an abundance of bland textures. A lot of the game’s animations are poor as well, especially during the game’s prerendered story scenes, which are just low quality in general. Voice acting is also a mixed bag, both in terms of performance and actual recording quality. The only silver lining is that its frame rate is silky smooth, even when you’re absolutely decimating a room in werewolf form. Seriously, rooms may start out filled with railings and other equipment, but in the end there’ll be nothing left other than pools of blood.
The power you feel upon becoming a half-man, half-wolf monstrosity in Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood is its saving grace. There’s nothing else out there that offers a similar experience. Sure, it gets a bit repetitive, but you’re a freaking werewolf, capable of picking up a grown man and ripping his head clean off. Boss fights are a highlight, too, actually putting your combat skills to the test, unlike the majority of battles where soldiers are thrown into the arena like lambs to the slaughter. Like its protagonist, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood has many sides to it that are all rough around the edges, but it’s not totally devoid of charm.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood Review: GameSpew’s Score