Let me tell you something I learned in a marketing lesson at University. When creating a movie tie-in game, try and make it related to the movie's plot in some way. Okay, that's a lie. I didn't learn that in marketing, I used my common sense. Most games attempt this cohesion by following the movie's plot as closely as possible, perhaps inserting a few extra scenarios to lengthen the experience or, in the cases of the brilliant Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and the significantly less than brilliant Enter the Matrix, by exploring the parts of the plot that are not explained in the movie. Night Watch, however, takes the film's plot, as well as the trilogy of books it is based on, goes in a completely different direction, and throws in some archaic gameplay, bland graphics, and dull voice work to hamper an interesting license.
Night Watch the game was released in the USA to coincide with the film's release on DVD, but to be honest it's a wonder why the developers and publisher bothered. While the film earned millions in Russia and has a cult following in Europe, it never really caught on in the US; if anyone's first experience of Night Watch was the game, it'd be easy to understand why.
The game starts on a rooftop of a typical Russian apartment building. Stas, the main character, is aiming a sniper rifle at the head of young woman at the request of some local gangsters, or so it seems. Stas refuses to shoot the woman and the gangsters reveal themselves to be Dark Others, the evil side of the Light versus Dark dichotomy of shape-shifters, vampires, werewolves, and other such legendary creatures that make up the Night Watch universe. No sooner are these Dark Others revealed, a Light Other appears and instructs you in the way of the game's combat. And thus begins one of the most tedious and ill-produced strategy/RPG games ever conceived, further proving that most film tie-in games just aren't very good.
It's hard to pick a starting point when listing Night Watch's faults, but since it forms the bulk of the game, the combat seems the most appropriate. The turn-based combat is dull, repetitive and offers little in the way of excitement, no matter which of the three character classes you choose. After the initial training mission you are given the choice of making Stas into one of those three: a shape-shifter, who can turn into various animals and inflict large physical damage on opponents; a mage, who is weak physically but can cast devastating ranged spells; or the enchanter, which gives magical abilities to objects such as in game weapons and healing items. My first choice was the shape-shifter, as I imagined my character turning into a powerful wolf, or perhaps a panther to claw and slash at my enemies. The first animal the shape-shifter can turn into is a dog. I was disappointed.
But getting back to the combat, each ability, including walking, spends a character's 'action points', which are replenished each round. After your party of up to four members has spent their action points, whether it be changing into a dog, casting the world's most unimpressive fireball or simply walking three feet, your turn is over and you must watch as your enemies have a go at doing the same. It gets boring after a while, watching police officers throw lacklustre punches or fire bullets at you, but Nival Interactive has tried to add some spice to the combat by introducing 'The Gloom' from the film and novels. This is essentially another dimension where Others' attacks and abilities change, usually becoming more powerful at the cost of slowly draining health. It's an interesting concept in the movie, but the in-game representation of this magic amplifying domain isn't impressive, simply coating the backgrounds in grey.
Unfortunately, all the game's graphics are bland and lifeless, adding to the atmosphere of mediocrity. They aren't horrible by any means, but they just don't seem to convey any of the actions or emotions of the characters very well or provide interesting landscapes to battle in. Voice acting is similar in the way that all the characters fail to convey emotions or drama in their voices, even if they've just been surprised by a 20-strong band of vampires intent on ripping their lungs out. One NPC you meet sounds like what would happen if a member of the Chipmunks was given a slight Russian accent and beaten around the head a few times.
However, all is not lost for Night Watch if you're prepared to overlook the rather bloody taste it leaves in your mouth. In later levels the battles can be quite strategic and exciting as you battle wave after wave of enemies, trying to preserve your precious action points and use the right character to assault your dark foes. If you're a fan of turn based strategy/RPG titles or the Night Watch movie or books you'll probably garner a few hours of enjoyment from the fourteen or so it'll take you to complete.
Ultimately, Night Watch is yet another example of how to take an interesting concept and story from a film and turn it into an absolutely uninspiring piece of entertainment software. The whole package is similar to ready salted crisps: Sure, they'll fill you up and won't leave a disgusting taste in your mouth, but for the same price you can get some salt and vinegar flavour, or perhaps cheese and onion. Similar products, but with that extra something that makes them more desirable.