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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: March 25, 2000
Red Storm Entertainment, the computer game company launched by world famous author Tom Clancy, has established itself as one of the top developers in the industry. Its Rainbow Six series is revered by many as the best in its class. Success and popularity have allowed the developer to expand its horizons, something that was first evidenced last year with the real-time strategy release, Force 21. With the first-person tactical combat genre conquered, and a well done military-style RTS under its belt, Red Storm has turned its attention to gaming’s roots. The developer’s current efforts bring forth Shadow Watch, a turn-based strategy title with comic book overtones.
Shadow Watch‘s storyline revolves around the construction of an internationally manned space station. For years, the governments of the United States and Russia attempted to construct an orbital science station, but were waylaid by miles of political and bureaucratic red tape. Over time, the scientific community realized that if its dreams were to be realized, everyone would need to put politics behind them and work together. The determination was made that a neutral, multinational company would be created, one with the experience to complete such a project. That company called itself “The Corporation.” This alliance finds itself challenged by a number of groups vying for control of space, or doing whatever they can to prevent the expanse into it. The Corporation is therefore under pressure at every turn. In order to protect their investment and ensure the successful completion of the ISS–the name given to the space station–hordes of security operatives have been trained for the seemingly impossible task of investigating the rumors, threats, and disturbances. Six highly trained operatives are assigned to question major suspects within the groups, uncover any secret plans, and, if necessary, eliminate enemy threats in the easiest manner possible.
The plot allows you to take numerous pathways to reach the end. The eventual course is determined by a number of factors, including which characters are interacted with, the mood and tone of the conversations, and which missions are undertaken. Each character’s experience is also dynamic, and will change based on the operatives that are used for the missions, and the skills they are allowed to pursue. Shadow Watch incorporates a number of these role-playing elements into the development of each operative. Upon successful completion of a mission, characters are awarded experience points during debriefings. None of the characters will be able to learn all of their skills during the course of a campaign, so it’s important to distribute skill sets somewhat evenly throughout your squad. In fact, Shadow Watch is intentionally set up to force you to choose which characters to develop, and to what extent. There are numerous choices to select from when managing a character’s development, and these balancing aspects are one of the game’s best features.
Shadow Watch is set up to offer two styles of action: First is the comic book-style interaction you have with your operatives and the non-player characters with which they interact. This is accomplished via a very attractive interface screen. The artwork here is fantastic, and the available commands and options, while limited in scope, are easily identified.
Gameplay in Shadow Watch is mission-based, and engineered with a dynamic campaign generator. A built-in system of links determines which mission or missions will be available in a given scenario based on your interrogation and interaction style. Within this system, it’s possible to play the campaign over 160 ways, and have a unique experience each time. Shadow Watch keeps track of which campaigns you’ve played, and won’t repeat those until you have completed all of them. The definition of a campaign is five missions taking place in each of the three cities–Baikonur, Rio, and Hong Kong–and a final mission taking place elsewhere. Some of these missions consist of rescuing a scientist or finding a stolen briefcase that houses the secrets of The Corporation. These random missions do move the game forward because, as you complete them, you’re allowed to investigate further as well as build up your operatives.
The dynamic campaign generator intrigued me enough that I experimented with it to see if I would start in the same spot each time. The results were that I began campaigns in Hong Kong three times, Rio twice, and Baikonur once. There is no rhyme or reason to the starting points, which held true as the game progressed based on my choices when dealing with NPCs. Shadow Watch‘s conversation-driven system of actions and reactions is intelligent and fresh; what you do and how you do it influences people’s reactions to you, as well as affects the information you learn and the missions you receive. I like the methodology they used for progressing the story, and the comic-style interaction is effective.
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