Fans of foreign horror/thriller films have already seen Night Watch. The stunning and stylish adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko's Russian novel flew through US theaters last year, but attracted enough of a cult that someone decided to adapt the movie's universe into a game.
Night Watch centers on the conflict between Light and Dark Others - extraordinary humans who wield sorcery in an unseen war. Both factions are engaged in an uneasy truce - the Light enforce this truce with a shadowy police force called the Night Watch.
Billed as a "tactical role playing game," Night Watch is actually a turn-based strategy game with a jumbo side-order of adventure, due to its heavy-handed linear story. Instead of the typical choose your race/gender/hair initiation rite, you automatically play as Stas, a young Other who has just discovered his true nature and chooses the path of the Light.
As Stas, you'll develop your natural skill, and the only real choice you'll have is whether to become a Shapeshifter, Enchanter or Mage. Shapeshifters take the form of powerful animals, dealing out damage with slicey-dicey claw attacks. Enchanters imbue objects with magic, making talismans that can heal, recharge energies or drain enemies of their strength. And if you choose to be a Mage, you'll learn to harness sorcery and attack your foes with direct magical strikes.
Like most turn-based strategy games, you'll get an unlimited amount of time to make your decisions. The amount of actions (moving through the level and physical attacks) you'll be able to perform depends on how many Action Points (AP) you have. Similarly, magical feats are dependent on your EP, or Energy Points. Finally, Vitality Points (VP) represent you and your teammates' overall health.
While this all seems fairly straightforward, the world of Night Watch contains an important twist: a parallel universe called the Gloom that changes all the rules. In the Gloom, you are visible only to Others also in that plane (normal humans can't enter the Gloom). Your magical attacks strike harder, and cost less energy to perform. However, the Gloom sucks down your magical energy (EP) while you reside there, eventually killing you if you stay long enough, so it's merely a temporary advantage. But the Gloom offers distinct tactical advantages besides invisibility. For example, you'll also be able to pass through many locked doors just by traveling through the Gloom.
You are initially instructed by Olga, a powerful Light Mage who was the leading man's partner (Anton Gorodetsky) in the cinematic release. Sadly, we don't see Anton during the game, but leaders of both the Light and Dark Others - the enigmatic Geser and evil freak Zavulon - appear and play an integral part of Stas's account of what happens between the first two novels (and movies).
The Russian to English translation of the original movie was a delight, with genius use of captioning and stylish, tight interpretation of Lukyanenko's original fiction. We get none of that in the game version. The stiff dialog and sloppy, unoriginal writing take a back seat only to the graphically dated presentation of the game's characters. The game is built on top of a stripped-down, three-plus year old Silent Storm engine - and it shows.
Mismatched voice volumes and poor lip synching also plague the game, but the publisher has promised a patch due out during the second week of July that we hope will alleviate those concerns.
The Night Watch movie was made by people who love Lukyaninko's literature. The Night Watch game was made by people who love, well... something else. If you appreciated the movie or are aching for more Silent Storm turn-based action, then this game could hit the mark provided you are very forgiving of the disappointing audio, turgid dialog and tired visuals.
If you are merely a turn-based strategy fan and haven't played Silent Storm yet, you are better off skipping the Gloom altogether and rescuing SS from the bargain bin for $9.99.