Levels are short and linear, with the occasional stab at puzzling rather undermined by the fact that the levers and valves you need to pull and twist are always directly in front of you. You jog forward a few paces, and gangs of enemies pour out of the background. The traditional fast attack/strong attack/throw control set-up means that it's easy to start smacking down the punks, but there's little reason to seek out the collectable icons that unlock more combos. The timing of these attacks relies on hitting each button as the previous blow lands, and it's simply too fussy for a game where mashing gets the job done as often as not.
Combat isn't terribly difficult, since your health recharges over time and your foes are far from smart, but should you make the mistake of allowing yourself to be surrounded and punched to death, the checkpoints are just slack enough to cause frustration. You may only be a few screens back, but when that means ploughing through the same scores of enemies all over again, enthusiasm for the task at hand tends to drain away.
It's also one of those games that can look great in a screenshot, but falls to pieces in reality. Moody images of Rorschach glowering in the night are easy to conjure up - look, there's one over there! - but they give a false impression of the true production values. The main characters are well-rendered and the environments are detailed, but the crude polygon-modelled opponents, jittery animation and frequent glitches soon betray the sparse engine under the shiny hood. Attacks clearly don't connect, characters break through the scenery and the AI is similarly half-hearted, with lots of running on the spot, standing around looking confused or just swinging fists at thin air.
A brief and shallow adventure culminates in a painfully executed boss battle against Underboss. It's one of those fights where you can only chip down his health to a certain point before he becomes invulnerable again, and it can be a long, boring process getting there. He also attacks with a flamethrower, which will kill you in one hit. "Must avoid flame," suggests Rorschach, ever insightful. If you don't, you've got to grind your way through the whole process again. Pathetically, once you realise you can simply stand in the corner, and build up your special attack by pounding on the infinite supply of henchmen sent your way, the battle becomes insultingly simple, loopholes in the clumsy game design finishing the task rather than any skill or ingenuity on your part.
For its premium price, Watchmen offers very little of substance beyond the surface thrill of seeing iconic characters realised in a game for the first time. Look beyond that, however, and you find a game that has little in common with its source material, nor with anything resembling smart game design. A short game painfully elongated by mindless repetition, there maybe a half-decent melee game somewhere in the midst of all this movie propaganda, but you'll need super-patience to find it. Ah well, maybe the game of the animated series will be better.