The game released as promised is very rare case for game industry. So the guys from Red Storm are deserving gamers respect. The announced release month was April, and - really - the game appeared on store shelves on April 13th. So what is Shadow Watch and how it taste? Strange, but the game is mostly out of game magazines and sites sight up to now. Maybe it is because of release date? Well... let us try to "patch" this situation :)
Shadow Watch is a representative of small (unfortunately) genre of turn-based tactical/role playing games, genre started by first X-Com and continued by Jagged Alliance series. The game developers have tried to combine the merits of both genre branches in one game. They have partially succeed, and, alas, partially failed.
The game plot is very original, and practically not trite. What we have had before? Local conflicts, terrorists, hostages, robberies... It seems we have often seen special troops in action on our displays. And all these games have some cliche, some light sluggishness. You can turn on TV and see all these SWATs, Rainbow Six's, etc. overfilled news channels. In this game, on the contrary, the designers tried to think "freely" for the first time, and used the principle "Let's do all what our souls need!.." The time of game is close future. The game is almost cosmic, however our soldiers are not supposed to visit space :)
Too much urgent business left on surface of Earth. The mankind is aware of forthcoming global energy crisis. Leading space countries and those which are of great authority, have joined their efforts in space developing. For the first time people understood the resources of Earth are limited and started to prepare the launch pad for further steps in space. They are going to build international orbital station (I wonder if the name is to be Alpha?). Unfortunately, like always, the things are not so easy as seemed.
Such a project requires a huge funds, agreements, subcontracts... The construction of orbital station is titbit for those who wants to get rich. Both criminals and governments are interested to get an influence on the project. There are many parties in this game. At the same time international forces are almost officially created paramilitary structure to protect the project. This structure, or, to be more exact, its international combat squad is called Shadow Watch. Its members are from different countries: Englishman Bear, ex-Russian Gennady, Chinese Lily... Six soldiers totally, each has own unique traits and skills. And then, of course, standard turn: you are charged to be a commander, and got a wish of luck on your first briefing before the initial mission.
No, it is not Picasso...
Game graphics... It is topic for a special discussion. The approach of Tom Clancy is so eccentric that finally Shadow Watch may be placed to impressionism genre if
game industry provided one. In the days when the developers are boasting of polygon number in unit models and 3d depth, Shadow Watch is set aside of such innovations. The game engine
is not 3d, and even not based on rendered models... Shadow Watch is absolutely animated game. And how excellently animated! The soldier movements are live and smooth... No polygons
can produce such real body motions. Shadow Watch animators have done a great job! However the backgrounds, i.e. landscapes, are quite dim and desert. Maybe because of gray hue palette used. Other doubtless advantage is carefully planned game levels. The artists evidently put their best efforts. Each level is designed for its own mission, with own specifics. As a rule, each level has several entrance points, from two to four. You can choose one or scatter your soldiers over the map to strike from several directions.
Ostap Bender's dream
Shadow Watch is original to the latest byte of code. Literally! Because it has innovations on every step. How the plot is built, how it progresses? There are two modes: campaign and single missions. Sounds familiar, but... What campaigns! The campaign in Shadow Watch consist of three stages named plots. Each stage happens in different region of Earth. There are three regions totally, each one is large city. The player is going to visit the city of Ostap Bender's dream - yes, legendary Rio de Janeiro, in Hong Kong swarmed with Triade gangsters, and... in Star Town, Baikonur!
Seems there is nothing special, just three game stages... However let's not hurry with conclusions. These three stages are just background for much more complex actions. Hold your chairs now. Totally in one game there are 16 missions. And generally six hundred ways to complete the campaign. It is most daring attempt to create the game with "unique" walkthrough in whole game industry history. What is so unique in game plot? As I said before, this game is tactical/role playing. Here starts the one of Shadow Watch RPG aspects. You are investigating different crimes and intrigues around the project vital for
the whole mankind. During this investigation, between the missions, you are speaking to miscellaneous NPC. Your "Shop" special agents, mafia members, government officials, secret service representatives. Each of them has own offers, demands, sometimes threats and blackmail attempts. There will be alternative missions, a lot of plot bifurcations. And that's not all yet. NPC dialogues make player to think carefully what and how to say. For example, wrong tone in conversation with high Brazil official causes him to stop the conversation and gives you an
optional mission. Practically each mission offers you to play for one or other side. Player's actions define the type of game end. He can do anything he want to, including war with own "Shop".
Sufficient game demerit is multiplayer absence. Maybe this is the biggest game demerit, the game system could be adapted for at least two player mode.
There are nineteen special maps for single missions. Not so much, but let's remember the game is mainly directed to campaign mode. All missions are splitted into several types: assault, defence, important person abduction and hostage rescue, espionage, theft... Each mission type has its own specifics. Sometimes you have to act quickly, sometimes - imperceptibly.
But that's all about our, player's options. Let us see what can AI offer us, in addition to wise dialogues and a bunch of missions? AI's good. It was disabled in demo, but active in the game. Its actions and intelligence depends on game settings and difficulty level. It is remarkable: the number and quality of enemies on map depends both on map settings and the number and experience of your soldiers. The game offers detailed help system with the examples of these and many other calculations. Generally AI is going to control 27 enemy unit types. These units differ by appearance, equipment and weapon, and skill combination. So don't be
amazed if grenade falls to your feet - your team member Rafael is not the only man who can use this weapon :)
Shadow Watch is strictly tactical, turn-based game. You control a single team consisting of no more than six soldiers. Later player can choose who is going to go on mission (depending on soldier's special skills and your preferences). Soldiers are gaining experience points for missions completed. But points are distributed not equally - same fixed number per soldier - but for specific combat actions. If your soldier just stayed in quiet corner for whole mission, he will gain a minimum of experience - hundred of points, but this mission will not significantly affect his career. As the experience grows, the soldier can develop his special skills. The skill system is different for each soldier, and the number of points necessary for next experience level is different for each team member too. Each soldier has own development "tree". They are individual from the beginning of the game and just unique at the end!
General impression from the game is ambiguous. Of course it looks like white crow among the new 3d games like SWAT and X-Com, but it is definitely not failed. Shadow Watch is a pleasant present for tactical RPG game fans worth spending many evenings. Oh, almost forgot: the game music is amazing! :) Pretty, pleasant and not annoying. The music in demo was taken from Rainbow Six, but now it is original. General diagnosis
is: "not bad!" :)