Night Watch

Developer: Nival Interactive
Publisher: CDV Ent USA

Release Date: 06/26/2006


Genre: rpg
Setting: sci-fi
At E3 2005, while happening to walk through one of the halls with many of the smaller vendors, I came across a Russian company with a game called Night Watch. I saw a bit of turn based combat against various supernatural enemies and learned it was based off a Russian movie called "Night Watch" (actually, "Nochnoy Dozor") and that there were also books and a sequel ("Day Watch").

The next year, while walking through the mall, a young man handed me a postcard advertising the US release of Night Watch. When got a copy of the game to try, I decided to go for it. The game is actually based off the books, and set just after the first book. (The books are "Night Watch", "Day Watch", "Twilight Watch", and "Final Watch". Only “Night Watch” is out in English so far - “Day Watch” will be out in 2007.)

The best part about Night Watch, in my opinion, is the background. You're thrust into the game as Stas, a young man tasked to put a sniper rifle round through someone in order to get enough money to save his mother's life. Shortly he finds out that he's an "Other", one of the battling bands of Light and Dark (obviously, you're Light) that do battle in the Gloom, the sort of parallel dimension to Earth. The two sides keep an eye on each other using the Night Watch (the Light watching the Dark) and the Day Watch (the Dark watching the Light) - intermediated by the Inquisition.


One important thing, before we go on in the review - when you're playing this game, read the manual first! The game throws you right into the action. Very quickly you'll have to make a choice of what type of Other you are - are you a Shapeshifter, strong in combat but weak in magic, an Enchanter, able to enchant everyday objects and to fight at medium distances, or a Mage, light on defense but with a powerful offensive strike?

As you go through the game you'll encounter a number of different enemies. The Dark has their side, and it's also listed out in the manual. They have Werewolves, Dark Mages, Sorcerers, and Vampires, for instance. You'll also fight more mundane enemies, such as bandits with guns.

Most of your battles will actually take place in the Gloom. In the Gloom, spells cost less EP - energy points - to cast, and characters have more APs, or action points. You're also invisible to the outside world. You have to be careful, though. If you run out of EP in the Gloom, and each turn in the Gloom costs EP based off your class and level (shapeshifters have it cost the most, mages the least), you'll start to lose VPs, or Vitality Points. When those are gone - you're knocked out.

Combat is turn-based. When combat is initiated - often through a cut scene, though occasionally it's just when you get close enough to an enemy or you click the "Start Combat" button - each character will gain a listing of how many APs they have. Most actions take APs, though some, like holstering or pulling out an item, do not. You select each of your characters and run through their actions in any order you wish; when done, you click "End Turn" and the enemies, then the neutral characters, will get their chances.

Your view of combat and the world in general is isometric - you're sort of looking down and from the side onto it. You can zoom in and out, or move your camera around, but moving the camera angle up or down is somewhat limited. There's also a handy arrow button on your hotbar that will let you select how many levels of a building to show. Icons on the screen indicate things such as how far you can move in a turn, where you known enemies are (even if you cannot see them but can hear them), or where to go to exit a zone (this is confirmed by a Yes/No dialogue in case you still have items you want to pick up).

Your characters have skills as they level up. You can pick the one you want or have one recommended to you. These automatically fill up a hotbar in the bottom center of your screen. In addition, there's a number of usable inventory slots for each character at the bottom right of the screen, and all the characters share a common inventory.

Each skill and attack will also display its range (if applicable), the percentage chance to hit, and the effectiveness. I don't completely trust the percentage chance to hit myself; an attack with a 75% chance to hit failed a lot more often than that for me in combat. That could've just been bad luck (repeatedly), though.

You don't just fight with people, though. You have other options - you may just talk to them. You'll have choices about what you want to do as the game goes on, but it's important to remember that you're on the side of Light. There doesn't seem to be a lot of change depending on what you pick - at least, not that I've noticed so far - and occasionally it can get frustrating, as you can't see on the map where you're supposed to go (or who you're supposed to talk to) in order to fulfill some byzantine objective. Mostly, you're going through the cut scenes, and in between trying to keep at least one character alive (as long as one survives a battle, they all wake up).

Graphically, the game is okay, with the occasional movie scene interspliced into the game. The cut scenes in particular can be a bit choppy, and there are occasional glitches in the graphics, but overall they tend to be okay. The only real problem with them can be making sure you're not clicking on the wrong thing at any one time, especially in combat, as if you double-click a movement there's no way to take it back. Fortunately, for doing things like "pick up items", holding down the ALT key will make them show up easily. Spell effects can be a bit difficult to tell who they're aimed at, especially if they miss.

The audio in the game is very interesting. The dubbing is all in Russian-accented English, while the scenery is still in Cyrillic, so it keeps with a very Russian feel to it. You'll hear cars and trucks going by when on a street. The music seems to fit into the feel of the game very well.

There's no difficulty setting, at least, that I could find, so you'll have to take it by defaults. You will want to hit ESCAPE early in the game to adjust the controls, in all probability, but I never saw a "Difficulty" selection. That can lead to some frustratingly difficult fights, especially if a character left your group with handy items in their active inventory. Also, some fights seem designed for you to lose, and are called off when you're at low enough health. Other fights are a bit frustrating simply due to their nature - such as chasing a woman across a map, when you cannot see her or her pursuers due to range, and the viewpoint keeps resetting thanks to cut scenes.

I also ran into a few bugs involving gear. For instance, at the beginning of the game my character was given a halogen tube (basically, a Light sword - yeah, really). However, the game refused to let me activate it, even though the pop up box on the screen was telling me to do so. A lot of times this doesn't matter, though, as in the Gloom you're relying more on spells and skills.

All in all, though, it's a mostly fun game with a great background. A lot of people miss the traditional turn-based combat of RPGs such as this, so it's refreshing to have one back. With the three main classes, and the ability to change the class of the first person you meet, it also means the game has some replay value as you try to do things differently. If you're wed more to the faster pace of real time games, though, you might find Night Watch a bit tedious.

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About the Author, Sean Michael Whipkey (A.K.A SeanMike)

I'm a 29 year old senior network and systems engineer for a consulting firm in the DC area. I'm mostly into MMOs and FPSes (on the console), and I'm a big pro football fan. In my other spare time I like to write and tend to read copious amounts of history and military sci-fi. I'm also into cooking and bad action movies.