Night Watch is a game based on the 2004 Russian movie of the same name (titled “Nochnoy Dozor” in Russian).  Developed by Nival and using the engine behind the critically-acclaimed Silent Storm, this seemed to be a solid strategy-RPG with a very interesting sci-fi story involving vampires, werewolves, and the forces of good and evil.  

While I had never seen the movie, I was interested in it, and even more interested on finding out who the developer was and what engine was being used.  However, with everything being a race to be the best and brightest, so to speak, would Night Watch hold up? 

One of the first things I noticed while playing Night Watch is that I could turn the graphics up almost all the way on my Radeon 9800, including turning on both AA and AF.  This was a happy surprise to me, especially given that I had missed out on Silent Storm.  What’s more, it looked nice on my system and ran pretty solidly, although there were some slight bits of slowdown, which most likely were due to my system and not the game itself.

The backgrounds were bright and vibrant, and the addition of some interactivity as far as things breaking and blowing up in combat, as well as the ground showing signs of the battles as they transpired was very welcome.  The characters showed solid detail as well, although there were a number of graphical errors, including some clipping, especially on someone putting their hand in a coat pocket. 

Not everything was roses and candy, of course.  There was an annoyingly finite number of character animations during the cutscenes, and you would see the same animation from any particular character at least three to four times in any two particular cutscenes.  It was really annoying to see one character do the same animation more than twice in a cutscene.

There’s also a major graphical bug which appears to only occur with ATI’s Catalyst Drivers 6.6 and above, which can cause the game to fail to detect the display mode.  Either using the 6.2 Catalysts or the 6.7 Omega Drivers seem to correct this though, and perhaps a future patch (from either CDV or ATI) will also fix it.

The music in Night Watch is not really the best.  For one thing, it’s very repetitive, with the same loops appearing in almost every combat area, and even when you’re not in combat, the music really doesn’t change all that much.  We’re not asking for a five-star movie soundtrack here, but at least some solid variety isn’t too much to want.

The general sound effects, in comparison, are quite solid.  The sounds of the weapons and spells as well as the damage effects are all very well done, as are the characters’ reactions to being attacked generally.  I say generally because the actual voice acting leaves something to be desired.  Since the game takes place in Russia, everyone has a Russian accent.  This isn’t bad until you realize that they’re all very stereotypical in their accents, and sound very similar.  It’s as if a game was set in the United States, and everyone had a New York accent.  It just doesn’t mesh well.  Russia’s a huge country and has diversity in their accents.  It just isn’t portrayed well, here.

As Night Watch is using the Silent Storm engine, the controls remain much the same and are pretty easy to understand.  Left-clicking on something causes a context-sensitive action to take place, from opening a menu, selecting a character, talking and also picking up items.  Right clicking is primiarly used to swap spells out in your hotbar, although it is also used in camera control.

The camera is operated by either moving the cursor to the edge of the screen, using the arrow keys in a direction or holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse.  Zooming in and out is done with the mouse wheel or page up and page down.

Characters can be selected with either the mouse or with F1 through F4, with attacks selected with the keyboard commands of 1-8 for the hotbar, Z to enter or exit the Gloom, A to attack, C to bring up the character sheet, I to bring up the inventory, O to bring up the objectives, and F10 to open the game’s menu.  In multi-level areas, the plus or minus key on the numeric keypad will shift the camera from floor to floor.

The only real issue with the controls is that it can be sometimes hard to select an item, as the cursor will sometimes cause you to try to move somewhere other than where you’re wanting to go.  For example, trying to select a target to attack will sometimes cause you to try to move to a location near it, or walk to him to attack.  Granted, it takes a double-click to verify, but that’s easily done sometimes in the heat of battle.  Beyond that, though, the controls are quite solid.

Night Watch is a tale of a world a few steps removed from ours.  It is a world of the supernatural and mystic, where magic and science co-exist beneath the eyes of mortals.  As with many things, it is a world of good and evil, and the war between them both.  The world is populated by Others, beings which have a variety of magical and supernatural powers, from the ability to enchant everyday objects to being able to transform themselves into animals.  Years ago, a war broke out between the two sides which threatened everything, and so a Truce was established.  In order to help maintain the peace, each side created their own police force, with the Light Others creating Night Watch to maintain a vigil on the activities of the Dark, and the Dark creating Day Watch to do the same to the Light.  The Inquisition was also created to mediate between the two sides when necessary, essentially a law unto itself.

While Night Watch is based on the 2004 movie of the same name, it doesn’t involve any of the characters from the movie other than in passing.  You begin as Stas, a young man who has been pushed into attempting to murder a young woman in order to pay for a costly operation for his sick mother.  Of course, it’s all a ruse, and the Dark Others are trying to make you murder someone attuned to the Light to bring you over to the Dark.  The Light interferes, and soon you become a Light Other and then are inducted into the Night Watch.  Joining you are Vera, an attractive young woman, and various other characters along the way, although you’ll only have three characters in your party at any time.

There are three classes to choose from on your characters:  Enchanter, who can transmute ordinary objects into items capable of doing many different things in combat, Mages, which can directly use their power to affect others, and Changers, who are able to shapechange into other creatures and use their abilities in combat. 

In the game, you’ll play in real-time mode when you’re exploring an area, but will switch to turn-based mode when combat begins.  Like Silent Storm before it, Night Watch uses action points to determine what you can do in a round.  Luckily, you can move into the Gloom in combat, which increases your available action points and magical power, but at a cost of a steady drain on your Energy Points, and eventually your Vitality Points as well.  Most combat, though, takes place in the Gloom, as people in the real world can be affected by attacks in the Gloom.

This leads to one of the major frustrations of the game.  Enemies will routinely spot you from nearly half-way across the map, which means you can either spend a round or two rushing to meet the enemy, or spend the same amount of time waiting on them to close within range of your attacks.  It serves more to draw out the length of battles instead of keeping the game flowing.  This can be disasterous when most of your time is spent in the Gloom, especially if you run out of healing items.

Another issue is the size of the maps themselves.  The maps are generally rather small, and have distinct boundaries.  There’s just a grey nothing off the edge of the map, which can really ruin the immersiveness of the game, especially when you throw a character back only to have them rebound off the edge of the map.

Another issue comes in the game’s script, especially in the localization of it.  While the game takes place in Russia, the dialogue is peppered with American slang which really doesn’t seem to fit, especially when voiced in the stereotypical Russian accent. 

Through the storyline, you (as Stas) will follow the Dark Others around, trying to discover what it is they’re up to, and how big it seems to be.  As with other RPGs, as you advance, you’ll gain in power and abilities.  One interesting factor in the game is that you don’t begin at level one and progress from there.  You begin as a Level Seven, Step Four character, and progress upwards from Step Four through three, two and one.  Then you’ll become a Level Six, Step Four character, giving the game twenty-eight levels of achievement.

While Night Watch doesn’t have much of a replay factor, other than changing the character classes and possibly taking one or two different decisions along the way, the game does sport a rather deep storyline that’ll last a solid twenty to thirty hours of play. 

While the game isn’t really free-form as far as the RPG elements go, it’s still enough to keep a player going for a good while, and it’s a solid purchase for RPG fans.  One thing to be noted, though, is that this game does include Starforce.  While installing the game doesn’t seem to require the reboot to initialize the protection, patching the game definitely does.  This introduces the whole world of ‘failure to detect disc’ eject-and-reinsert cycles, of course, but doesn’t appreciably do any damage.  Still, it’s annoying, and because of that this review will have 10% taken off the top, all of it coming from the value section.