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Nightcaster was supposed to be one of the Xbox launch titles back in November 2001 but it didn't actually manage to hit any stores until earlier this year. It looked like one of the more interesting Xbox titles coming out in terms of style, but has it turned out to be that way or is it another title that just hasn't lit up the Xbox?
Using a revolutionary control system, where movement is handled by one analog stick and aiming by the other, you’ll explore a land as vast as your own imagination. Your ultimate goal: To defeat the forces of Darkness and bring light back into the world.
Installation, Settings and Loading Speeds
Nightcaster is one of the few Xbox titles that feels like it takes quite some time to first load up, the tests I did on load up only took about 20-25 seconds for the first boot up of the game but in-game levels loads also took about the 20-25 second mark which is a bit longer than the average Xbox title. Once the game has loaded you are greeted with the usual menu screen with the "New game" "Load Game" options available to you.
I guess the closest title to Nightcaster is Azurik, but please don't let that put you off, Azurik was a complete pile of poo, there is no doubt about that - but at least Nightcaster is fun. Gameplay wise the game is similar to that of the old arcade favorite Gauntlet, all be in in new fangled 3D this time round. The game is based around the young character called Arran, he is a young wizard who has to take on a quest to banish the darkness and restore light to the land.
As the wizard Arran you have to battle against all kinds of monsters through your fire, water, light and dark spells. As you can probably guess, this means that all monsters in the game are either water, fire, light or dark and must be disposed of in the best way possible, so for a water creature, the best way to destroy it is by firing fire spells at it, if you fired water spells at it, there would be no harm done to the creature at all. There are about 45 different spells for you to use throughout the game, they range from Lava to Ice Warders, as the game goes on, you pick up new spells by collecting Spell Spheres that are located throughout the land.
Knowing what spell to use on what creature is easily done as each enemy is color coded so you can tell very quickly what type of spell to use on them. So for instance, a fire creature will be red, water creature blue and so on, very simple to understand when in a big battle against a large number of enemies. Most creatures that come after you will keep coming and coming even after you kill them as they tend to have nests called "Spawners" so the only way to stop them coming back again and again is to take out the Spawner.
As the game goes on you get to take part in various small quests (well I'm not sure they are quests as you don't get much of choice in whether you do them or not as they are forced on you if you want to proceed in the game). These tasks are basic to say the least, such as reach a market square and help the inhabitants battle some of the monsters there to finding a farmers daughter.
At first, controlling Nightcaster felt like it might be a nightmare of its own, you move Arran around the levels via the left thumbstick, the right thumbstick when moved releases your orb and switches the game into a top down view, in this view you can cast spells against the various monsters on the screen, whilst still being able to control Arran. You do get used to this kind of controlling though, and after thinking the game was going to be too hard to control, i can happily say it isn't in the end, it just takes a while to get used to. The only real problem in the end is to ask why the game has a 3rd person mode when its almost impossible to do anything constructive apart from look around the landscape.
Graphics & Sound
Nightcaster won't set the Xbox community alight. It does the job of displaying the dark world nicely and has a good color range when it comes to the surroundings, buildings and creatures, but it doesn't really have all the fantastic lighting, bump mapping, reflections etc that we have been seeing all over the place in various Xbox titles. This coming from a first party title is a little disappointing. The only really stand out part of the graphic side are the spells.
The sound isn't so bad, spells sound good, speech is a bit iffy but passable, music suites the setting ok. But again it doesn't really show off the Xbox to its best. The worst part being the repetitive spell casting voice that Arran uses, If I had my way I would have loved an option to switch just his spell casting voice off, I really would.
I was looking forward to Nightcaster, it looks like it could have turned out to be a good action style role playing game, instead its basically just an action title with a few "tasks" here and there which you have to do. Graphically it doesn't show of anything we haven't seen before, and sound wise it is the in the same boat. The story isn't anything to write home about either. In saying that, the action side is very exciting, the game is fun to play, but that just isn't enough to save Nightcaster from being another Xbox mediocre title.