" Corrupt governments, pissed-off religious factions, lazy sons of drug lords, and greedy corporate suits will guarantee youíre glued to this like the evening news. "
Title: Shadow Watch by Red Storm
Format: Win 95/98/ME PC
Reviewing Monkey: The Goodyear Chimp
The Hype: "The Tom Clancy thriller that teams turn-based strategy with story-rich role-playing." Sounds like theyíre promoting it as Rainbow Six Gets Medieval On Final Fantasyís Ass. Well they nailed the story-rich role-playing part. If only it could have been more thrilling to playÖ
What This Monkey Thought...
Graphics: Comic book art, my friends. The game kicks off with a suave cinema that recalls Batman: The Animated Series. I stopped to watch every time I played. Character drawings are stylish and met by intricate backgrounds. Unfortunately, that fades a little when each round begins and the sprites are wheeled out for gameplay that offers you far too long to contemplate how much better they could be (more on that later). On the upside, this is a low-rent trick to make the game playable on systems from four years ago. Still, guaranteeing a wider audience doesnít mean that theyíll like what they see. 3 out of 5
Sound: If there was only one tie-in for this game, it would need to be a soundtrack. Forget the art for one second, friends; listen to that score. The opening music pumps you up and the variations on the main theme are properly interpreted in each level. If youíre like me, youíll put on the song that accompanies the credits more than once and not because you want to know who is the PR Coordinator for Red Storm (Editorís Note: You should want to know, though, Ďcause those two girls are keen! -D). Character voices during the missions are colorful and lines are abundant enough to keep you from turning down the sound effects level. What are missing are the voices during the interrogation scenes before each level. Word on the streets is that Red Storm wanted to keep it to one disc. Understatement wins them the award for simplicity but a fully voiced game to match that theatrical music would have earned them a perfect score. 4 out of 5
Game Play: Why is it that turn-based gameplay is so unendingly frustrating? Oh, I know. Itís that hair-pulling tendency to be forced into restarting a level because twenty enemies stormed a room and killed the three characters you were allowed to send in before you could order them to cover. Turns are based on "Action Points" that dictate how many movements you have left and what skills you can execute. Some skills are brilliant while others senseless. For example, seeing around corners encourages stealth and keeps you from getting your ass kicked. Yet, after witnessing four teammates, all covering each other with semi-automatic weapons, get slaughtered by a gang in a bar, how could you think sending one with the ability to enter a map alone would be any kind of benefit? As if you needed any reminder of how little control you have over the proceedings, characters who lose too many "Morale Points" will go berserk, either hiding in a corner or running into a nest of the enemy, rendering them useless or dead. The "Undo" feature is greatly appreciated but youíll be surprised how often it results in an instant replay of your last suicide. Having unusual control over the story and the eventual outcome of the game is a high point many games lack. Here, it just makes you wish you had better control of your characters. 2 out of 5
Level and Environment Designs: Level types vary for different types of missions and youíll find one map easy for a rescue mission, but difficult as hell to raid later. Five missions in each of the three main areas and a final mission keep you from getting that nagging feeling of repetition. Maps are large enough to leave room for exploration while remaining crossable in five or six turns through the movement-hindering Action Point system. True, you donít get to dash about freely: thereís a floor grid. But the level designer deserves recognition for some well thought out maps. 4 out of 5
Multiplayer: The thought that you would compare high scores as a method of multiplayer is ludicrous in view of first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. What did Red Storm think they were trying to resurrect, the days of Space Invaders and bragging rights at the arcade? It would have been cool to control an enemy faction against a friend or design levels for your amigos to test their skills on. Perhaps weíll see that with Shadow Watch: the VR Missions [snicker]. 0 out of 5
Replayability: Look, if you get a kick out of playing this, you could play it till the French go home. As perturbed as I was by the gameplay, I retained a significant desire to play through Shadow Watch a few times to capture a few different stories. I donít know if Iíd want to haul my easily annoyed butt through it 162 times (to see every campaign variation) but itís worth a few even for this Scrooge. Donít even joke with me about the replayability based on beating your scores in Single Mission gameplay or Iíll break you. 4 out of 5
Story/Dramatics: Hey, itís Tom Clancy, so you take it on faith that itís filled to the brim with plausibility. Corrupt governments, pissed-off religious factions, lazy sons of drug lords, and greedy corporate suits will guarantee youíre glued to this like the evening news. I suppose the Choose Your Own Adventure book can be the second tie-in. 5 out of 5
Instructions and Learning Curve: What? Oh, Iím sorry. The number of commands and rules to learn temporarily fried my brain. The manual is in-depth and, as such, long-winded. Youíll get whatís going on after a practice session or two though those may take you an hour or so to get through. A tip for those short on time: donít practice on the "Difficult" setting. 3 out of 5
Installation and Real System Requirements: I canít knock it for installing quickly and having brief load times. Plus, did I mention that itís only one disc and will play on even the most ancient computers? (Sorry 486 owners. Youíre not ancient. Youíre prehistoric.) (Asks for: P 133, 32MB RAM, 2D 2MB video, 4x CD, 200MB HDóreviewer tested on PIII 550 w/128MB RAM, 32MB TNT2 video) 5 out of 5
A real page-turner that comes with a great soundtrack CD but has some annoying game between chapters.
The Good: Did I mention how the score rocks? Also if a comic book adaptation is coming, reserve your copy now.
The Bad: The "turn-based role-play" could only be more painful if you had to click to roll dice.
The Overall Ugly: If youíre a patient clicker, youíll wear out the button on your mouse. Everyone else, go play Quake.
What it's Worth: Hey, I just found out it costs $20. Thatís worth imposing a new rating sectionÖ