Night Watch Exclusive Hands-On - Combat, Classes, and Turning a Hit Russian Movie Into a Game
We play the opening levels of Night Watch, an adaptation of the blockbuster Russian movie that's based on the dynamic Silent Storm game engine.
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It's not unusual to see Hollywood movies turned into games nowadays, and as foreign films become more sophisticated and crowd pleasing, we shouldn't be surprised to see them turned into games, as well. Enter Night Watch, a tactical role-playing game based on the hit Russian movie of the same name. However, in addition to being based on the biggest blockbuster in Russia, Night Watch is built on the same engine used in 2004's critically acclaimed (and woefully underappreciated) Silent Storm. We got our hands on a late version of Night Watch to see what developer Nival Interactive has up its sleeve.
First, we should note that you need not have seen Night Watch to understand what's going on, as the game gradually introduces you to many of the concepts and ideas in the Night Watch universe. Night Watch the motion picture, and its two upcoming sequels Day Watch and Dusk Watch, depicts the forces of good and evil battling each other in modern-day Russia. Basically, there are supernatural "others" who live alongside regular humans, and these others skew toward light or darkness. Ages ago, the two side forged a treaty, with the forces of light governing the day and the forces of darkness having the night. To police the truce, they set up the Night Watch and the Day Watch. The Night Watch are forces of good that patrol the night, while the Day Watch are forces of darkness that patrol the day. It's a bit complex, but what's important is that something or someone is threatening to upset the balance between good and evil, and it'll be up to you to find out who it is and stop them. The game doesn't appear to retell the events of the movie, though there appear to be one or two familiar faces in it. Instead, you'll be able to explore a new story in the Night Watch universe, one that's possibly taking place alongside the events of the movie.
You'll play as the newest member of the Night Watch, a young man named Stas who is drawn into the ancient struggle between good and evil. At the beginning of the game, Stas is unaware of his nature as an other, so the opening levels not only serve as a tutorial to the game, but they also introduce you to the supernatural abilities of the others. One of your first tasks will be to choose a class to play as. There's the mage, who is a spellcaster that's equivalent to a ranged class, as it's designed to stand off and hit targets from a distance with magic. Then there's the sorcerer, who can enchant regular, everyday items with magic. For instance, a sorcerer can take an apple and make it a healing apple or turn a chocolate bar into a magic chocolate bar that restores mana, or spell points. (We also saw flashlights that fire laser-like beams and fluorescent tubes that serve as mystical swords.) Finally, there's the shapeshifter, who is the frontline fighter class in the game. Shapeshifters can take on an animal form and attack the enemy with a variety of powers and attacks. For the purposes of this demo, we played as a shapeshifter, but it's safe to assume you'll have a different experience through the game playing a different class.
From what we've seen of the opening levels, Night Watch has a fairly linear plot that takes Stas and his party (you'll pick up additional characters throughout the game that you can control) on a chase to uncover what's going on. Each level features a cutscene that transitions to the next level, where you'll have to battle the forces of darkness. The locales that we've seen so far include a Moscow park, an apartment building, and the Moscow subway line.
Combat, of course, is the focus of Night Watch, and it's here that the game uses many of the gameplay ideas found in Silent Storm, though the turn-based mechanics will also be familiar if you played games such as X-Com or Jagged Alliance. Each character has a limited number of action points to use per turn, and it's up to you to decide how to use them. You can move the character around the battlefield, attack, use a special power or ability, and more, so long as you have enough action points. Needless to say, the more powerful or potent the attack or ability, the more action points it takes to use, so you often have a choice of spending your points on lots of less-powerful attacks or gambling most of your points on a more-powerful attack. While there are guns and other conventional weapons in the game, they're fairly useless, because if you've seen the movie, then you know that bullets aren't much to werewolves and vampires. You'll instead rely on an arsenal of special abilities and attacks, such as knockback (knock an enemy onto his or her rear, which forces them to spend precious action points to get back up) or triple blade (hurl mystical daggers at a target). As you gain experience and level up, you'll be able to unlock more-powerful abilities and attacks. In addition, the more you use a specific power, the higher in level it becomes.
We should also mention "twilight." If you've seen Night Watch, then you know that the others have access to twilight, a sort of mystical parallel dimension that regular humans can't see or detect. The others can mystically transport themselves to twilight, and there they can interact with things in the real world. Being in the twilight realm also gives them the ability to move faster and do more per turn than normally possible in the regular world. You, too, will be able to leap between the twilight realm and the normal realm in the game, though every turn that your character spends in twilight drains its mana and hit points, which means that you have to carefully budget your time there.
Visually, Night Watch looks very similar to Silent Storm, as the graphics engine hasn't changed much at all in the past two years. That's a bit disappointing, but at least the game seems to have destructible elements in its environments, which was one of the best things about Silent Storm. We participated in a battle inside a Russian apartment building and watched as stairwells and walls were blown apart by all the magical spells--always a cool effect. The game also splices in some footage taken from the movies, though most of the cutscenes that we saw were all rendered by the engine. And, overall, it's interesting to see how Nival managed to adapt its tactical combat engine to work with the supernatural nature of Night Watch. Night Watch is scheduled to come out later this year, and don't be surprised if it's but the first in a trilogy of games based on Russian movies.