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Let the review shine some light upon you befor you embark on the journey to defeat the darkness.

One of the main points of contention when Microsoft announced its Xbox was that the company didn't know a console game from a hole in the ground. Microsoft then would spend the next period of time making deals with developers (and publishers) to bring console gaming to the house of Bill. The Xbox had a successful launch, with not one of the games being compared to a PC game (except for Halo, but that's a whole 'nother story).

Consoles have a wealth of first party titles spanning virtually every genre - and Microsoft was aware of this. Working on party games, racing games, sports, and more for the Xbox is no mean feat coming from ground Zero. Where does Nightcaster fit in to all of this? This is most definitely a console game, as this title would not fit in with PC gamers.

The setting of Nightcaster is a mythical Celtic setting. You can tell by the way in which the Orb speaks, and the kilt that Arron wears. Dragons, Gorgons, and other mythical creatures occupy the space that our hero wanders, making the setting of indeterminate time. The game evokes a far away time in a distant land through the use of poetry when introducing a chapter.

Yes, chapter. The game is set up like a book, with Nightcaster having chapters instead of levels. This is a nice change of pace, but ultimately, a level is a level. The introductory set-up takes place within the pages of a book, no FMV here. Pages turn, the story is read, and pictures appear to bring the words to life.

During a game of hide and seek, young Arron hides in a cave, and finds an Orb (or is it the other way around?) which gives him powers of magic. During this time the land has been cast in shadow. Then the game starts in earnest. No clear definition of the darkness or where it comes from is given. Sure the Orb talks about it, but like most really good myths, the origin is not handed out right away.

Then the game begins with Chapter One, which is basically a training level. Arron travels from the cave back home, but apparently some time has passed, an element that serves as a distraction. After returning home to find his parents slain (how cliché) the young Arron sets off on his quest to free the land from the darkness.

This will take years to do, and the road hard. Arron has possession of the Orb, which aids him and is also the catalyst for the spells that he casts at the hoards of enemies attacking not only himself, but villagers as well. Arron will ultimately age throughout the game, with the first few chapters representing the early years, middle chapters representing the middle years, and latter chapters of the game showcasing the aged wizard. Again, the storytelling jumps in between time frames, with the missing in-between years not being explained.

The Orb will occasionally speak, usually with a lilting half brogue (part of the whole Celtic theme) that usually comes across as somebody imitating the accent. Various townsfolk and soldiers have a few pat phrases they say, but that's it. The level of interaction with other humans is limited to saving them from the monster hoard and them being grateful, after which they give Arron something that may be of use, or just be grateful.

The game is supposed to have over 45 spells, but that figure is slightly misleading. There are 4 schools of magic: Light, Dark, Fire, Water. Each school has 4 spells. (4X4=16 - stay with me here.) Each spell has 3 levels of potency (3X16=48). While one could debate that there are 48 different spells to be cast, it really al comes down to the same basic 4 spells, with 4 different school attributes. I expected over 45 distinct spells, and was disappointed. What we do have is nice, but not what could have been.

If Gauntlet had only the wizard as a playable character, the game would feel very much like this. There are monster generators, waves upon waves of monsters, a map to clear, and large bosses at the end. Where Gauntlet had a variety of playable characters, Nightcaster has a variety of spell and monster types. Monsters of light are immune to light magic. Same for fire monsters. If, however, you were to throw down some dark magic upon a creature of light, well then, monster pie. Water based monsters don't fare too well against fire based magic, and well… you get the idea.

That's all there really is to the game. Wander about the land (on a fairly linear path) and take out each wave of monster as they appear, making sure to destroy the monster generator as well. There are of course boss battles, and a (very) few puzzles to solve, but overall, it's basic spell casting over and over again.

This limited gameplay styling ultimately is the downfall to Nightcaster. If there weren't a repeated wave after wave after wave of monster attacks, the monotony would be broken up. The way in which Arron increases his magical abilities would have benefited greatly from a more RPG based system, rather than stumbling upon a scroll in the dark.

Stumbling along in the dark is something you'll do a lot of in Nightcaster. Despite the fact that as Arron defeats enemies the light should be returning to land, it never really appears to happen. Another aspect of the darkness is the ability of various monsters to hide within it. This would appear to be a normal (within the mythical setting anyway) occurrence, but when a monster is virtually under the Orb (which casts light) and it disappears "into the darkness" it comes across more as bad programming than mythical gameplay.

Visually, the game doesn't appear to take full advantage of the Xbox's graphics engine. Sure there are little tricks to let you know that we are on the cutting edge of videogame technology, such as the real-time shadow casting, courtesy of the Orb. For the most part though, the game appears to be a second-generation PS2 title. Given the visual nature of other games that have come out for the Xbox from third parties, this first generation first party title pales in comparison.

The music is an odd mix of new age and techno, which changes according to the situation Arron is in and the spells cast. This may be a relative new development in videogame sound, and it works for the most part, but gets repetitive after a while. As does Arron saying the same words over and over again as he casts spells. No user soundtrack here, which seems odd. Personally, I would have enjoyed listening to Bach's Cello Suites while playing the game (yes, I have them loaded onto the hard drive).

Load times are horrible. There is about 30-40 seconds between chapters. When starting the game up, the Microsoft logo appears, and then the VR1 logo appears, then a loading screen, while the start screen loads. Yes, load time for the start screen. These load times are unacceptable, especially from a first party title.

Nightcaster isn't a bad game. The premise is great, and the potential for some wonderful gameplay is present as well. It just appears as if the game was ported over for the PS2 instead of built from the ground up for the Xbox. While some will thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, others will have a hard time looking past the various deficiencies that should have been kept to a minimum.

Daniel "monk" Pelfrey
Is now ready to defeat the twilight.

Nightcaster: The Scores













The Final Word:  While the game looks like a PS2 port, and the gameplay is more basic that it should be, the story is fairly engaging, and you'll find yourself playing long after you expect yourself to. Take away the Gauntlet style of gameplay, add some RPG elements, add some more (unique) spells, and the sequel will be absolutely kick ass.

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