Genre: Tactical RPG
Developer: Nival Interactive
Release Date: June 27, 2006
Night Watch, or “Nochnoi Dozor” as it is known in its native lands of Russia, is a superb film. Often advertised here in North America as a horror film, it is actually more of supernatural thriller, with some of the most artistically stunning special effects ever put to celluloid. Sometimes I think Hollywood has almost completely lost its way, and has forgotten that one can make a bold statement without four tonnes of explosive. Trust the European market to remind us with a film like Nochnoi Dozor.
With that in mind, one can become almost giddy at the idea of a game that embraces those same values and offers us a refreshing change from the ordinary. Dare we hope for a paradigm-shifting PC adaptation as sublime as the film it’s lifted from? In this case, no. Not that I don’t appreciate the effort, but sadly for Nival Interactive this particular release is a swing and a miss.
Night Watch is a top-down isometric 3D turn-based strategy game. Although it is based on the film, it isn’t in any way connected to the events of the film (At least not in any way that I’ve been able to discern as of yet). Many of the characters from the movie appear, but the character you’re playing is entirely new. Tricked into believing that the only way to pay for a fictitious operation his mother needs is to take on a killing-contract, the game begins with Olga from the Night Watch letting you (as the Russian every-man “Stas”) in on the zany antics of the “Others”. Turns out the dark Others have set the whole thing up; the hit, the operation, even Mom’s prehensile tumour! These vampires are crazy!
Naturally, you’re inclined to serve the “good guys” after such an underhanded display and so this release plays out. It doesn’t take long for you to adapt to the lifestyle change; speaking personally I think I’d be a tiny bit more disturbed if one day I discovered I wasn’t a man but was in fact something called an “Other” and I could do things like shape-shift into dogs and tigers. Is this why I’m not a hero in a videogame?
Normally I’d put much more time and effort into describing the specifics of game play, but in this case I’m going to essentially cut to the chase and just explain why I was so disappointed with Night Watch and why I don’t really recommend you purchase it. It’s a crude and blunt approach, but in my old age I find the niceties of tact to be entirely superfluous. I will begin with the pacing, and then move through the graphics, the writing, and finally the voice acting. Quite a laundry list, wouldn’t you agree?
Now, Nochnoi Dozor isn’t a particularly “action packed” film, that’s not its goal. However, it is carried along by a sequence of events that provide a sense of dramatic tension. Night Watch does not have this at all. While I admire Nival’s decision to not crank out yet another shallow arcade 3rd person platformer, their turn-based strategic choice might not have been the best to convey the same mood as the movie the game is based on. The plot makes little sense, takes too long to explain itself, and is continually interrupted by the un-dynamic and plodding combat system. The ever-reliable movement-points system is used, but rarely have I encountered a title within this genre that forced you to spend most fights wasting those points on running to catch up with the bad guys. I know this comes across as exceptionally subjective, but it just feels clunky; like dancing a tango in ill-fitting old army boots.
Graphically, Night Watch is very disappointing. The models are low in polygons and thus fairly blocky, the textures are low in detail and thus unconvincing, and there is a decided lack of flair to the lighting, thus no mood-enhancing shadows or reflections. Additionally, the developers decided to go no further than placing each level on a rectangular platform suspended in space. If you scroll to the edge of any given map, you don’t just come to an invisible boundary that restricts how much more of the city you can pan around. Instead, you just come to the edge of the platform that is the level itself, outside of which is nothing but blackness and void. I’ve seen other games do this as well, and it’s always puzzled me- at best it’s just distracting, at worst it annihilates immersion.
Continuing down our list (and far worse than the poor visual acuity) we have the writing, and the horrid voice acting that accents it. To be perfectly crude, the dialogue is just awful; unrealistic and consisting mostly of juvenile macho posturing. I am willing to accept that much is probably lost in the translation, but I’m not willing to forgive the developers if it really is just a language barrier. If you plan on releasing your game to an English-speaking audience, then it falls upon your shoulders to offer better than such linguistic gems as “Nice to meet you, comrade Police Vampire”, or (speaking to werewolves) “Nice doggy. Play dead” and even “License? We don’t need no stinking license!” No, I’m not making this up; they actually say that without a single trace of irony.
How does one further ruin an atrocious script? Put it in the hands of even worse voice actors. While watching Nochnoi Dozor, I reveled in the sub-titles that allowed me to hear the original inflection of the Russian delivery. No such option is given to those unfortunate enough to try playing this game; instead you get a fake Russian accent falling from the lips of someone who just cannot pull the dialect off at all. You know how you cringe whenever a friend tries quoting Monty Python and murders it because their cockney accent is so awful? This is essentially the same situation, only you don’t have the option of telling the guy to shut up. Finally, in the process of re-recording the affected accent, Nival managed to butcher the levels, so that every line of speech is at a different volume. Not Stas of course; his wretched voice is always loud and clear. Everyone else might as well not even be speaking though; they’re usually so quiet you can’t hear them anyways.
It’s not often that a list of flaws is so clearly defined as to overshadow every other positive element of a game, but Night Watch is a rare exception. That it tries to be a tie-in to a movie that I personally hold to be one of the best to have come to the big screen in years just pours sodium into the paper-cut that is this game. There are other small things that could be seen as drawbacks- only three classes, unfriendly controls, a total lack of avatar customization- These almost seem academic in the face of my other misgivings. I almost feel like I’m kicking the developers while they’re down.
Oh yes, and before I forget; it’s Starforce copy-restricted as well. In the end, it all comes down to this: In my opinion, your time and money is better spent tracking down Nochnoi Dozor on DVD and enjoying it passively because, as an attempt at an interactive experience, Night Watch fails utterly.
More articles about Night Watch