Not so long ago, I dipped into the visual novel, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest and explored what it was like to feel the inner rage growing during the early stages of a Garou’s life. There’s no action, but the descriptions were enough to really make you feel the internal struggle of the Chrinos.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood lets you experience the Werewolf journey from a different perspective, one of tearing humans into tiny pieces.
You play the role of Cahal, a very typical bald, gruff, beardy, tattooed man with a lot of pent up rage. One day that rage boils over, Cahal succumbs to his anger and does something truly terrible, resulting in him leaving his pack and going on a five year journey to find and forgive himself. Upon his return, the forest and his pack are in trouble and it’s up to Cahal to set things straight.
The bulk of the story sees you chasing down the evil Endron corporation who abducted Cahal’s daughter for evil reasons. In this sense, it feels like a classic Mario game, each level ending with the discovery that the bad guys have moved on, taking his daughter with them. The Princess is in another castle.
The action is where this game really shines. It’s predominantly a third-person action game akin to, though nowhere near as refined as, the Devil May Cry series.
You start levels in human form, armed with your trusty crossbow and your wits. It’s heavily implied that sneaking through levels is entirely possible and encouraged. There are cameras you can avoid and disable if you can sneak to the correct computer, there are reinforcement gates that can be sabotaged, and you can take out a few small enemies with stealth takedowns.
You also have the option of transforming into a Lupus (a wolf) to sneak around levels, utilising tiny grates to manoeuvre in-between areas. You also move faster in wolf form so it’s pretty good for getting around quickly.
I liked the idea of this right up until I realised that sneaking was utterly useless because nine times out of ten you will get spotted and then have to enrage, turning yourself into a massive werewolf and fighting your way through. It’s made worse by the presence of giant enemies that you cannot take out via stealth, meaning that I’d clear an area out and be left with one guy who I had no choice but to fight. As soon as I transformed, reinforcements were summoned and all my work was down the toilet. My eyes rolled. If you’re going to put sneaking into a game, you really should be able to sneak through areas to the end of a segment.
Thankfully the combat itself is great. Being a hulking werewolf feels really satisfying. You have two stances – Agile and Heavy – each with access to different special moves. Agile gives you faster movement speed and attacks as well as generating rage faster, while Heavy means you walk slower, taking less and dealing more damage.
Fighting generates Rage which is then spent to use these moves. Early on you can just have fun slashing and tearing into naughty humans, but later in the game you have to be a little more reserved as you can be overwhelmed rather quickly. It’s here that I was saving my rage meter to use on my heal ability, as I’d be dead without it. A lot of enemies fire silver which can be deadly, pre-upgrades, because you cannot heal from silver wounds.
There’s also the Fury meter which, when full, triggers The Frenzy mode, granting both benefits of Agile and Heavy stances but not letting you use specials. This mode, in particular, is fantastic once you get some key upgrades mid game, allowing you to heal as you attack.
The sheer carnage is great. You can walk into a room full of crates, machines, desk, people and then once the battle is over, you’re left with a room, devoid of furniture and smeared in blood and schmutz.
The rest of the game is… there as well.
Between fights there’s a lot of walking from point A to point B which soon gets a little boring. You have hub areas where you can chat to people and take in the sights as well as a couple of side quests involving finding spirits to chat to, but the non-combat parts of the game feel like an afterthought.
As you walk around, both in and out of combat, you’ll be using Penumbra Vision a lot, which lets you see into the spirit world, identifying threats, spirits and their connections. This is handy for finding which controls are connected to which camera or gun turret so you can disable them before a fight. It also lets you absorb spirit energy from plants, totems and other objects.
It’s spirit energy that feeds upgrades for Cahal, so you don’t get stuffed by late-game fights. You also earn spirit energy after enemy encounters. Not all of them, though. This part is so inconsistent to the point where I’m not sure what actually triggers spirit gain. Some large boss fights would give me Spirit and some wouldn’t. The same happened with small enemy encounters. During one level, I went the entirety of it without getting anything at all. It was so weird and felt like I was missing something, which in turn made me fairly selective of the skills I picked from the skill tree.
There are simple abilities that upgrade things like the virtually useless crossbow, and then you have the really strong abilities right at the bottom of the page which are essential for surviving later encounters. As the upgrades are split into two sections, you can mostly ignore the base upgrades in favour of the stronger stuff, which undercuts the typical character progression.
Now, I really have to address the overall look of the game, because damn, it looks really poor. Obviously, it’s a cross-gen release, but all the way through I felt like I was playing an HD remaster as opposed to a shiny new PS5 game. The characters and surroundings just look… meh. Characters all permanently look surprised and everything just feels a little cheap.
The voice acting is also really bad. Cahal is the best of a bad bunch, but the rest aren’t great. Lots of really bad overacting made for many ‘What the hell am I listening to?’ moments. The dialogue felt devoid of logic a lot of the time, especially with Cahal’s daughter, who is berating him for leaving one minute and then in the next scene she’s like, ‘Oh, I love you, Dad.’ which left me laughing at the TV.
One saving grace for the audio was the Metal that played over the top of combat and in various sections of the game. It’s what you want to listen to when tearing people apart.