Genre: Sci-fi / Adventure
Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Developer: Silverback Entertainment
Release Date: 2/28/2003
Review By: Anthony Mitera
In the isometric adventure game genre, hardly any developers have tried to step up to Blizzard’s behemoth-like Diablo series. The few that do always seem to be too much alike to Diablo, with fanciful medieval worlds filled with mythical creatures and heroes armed with swords and bows. Silverback Entertainment’s Harbinger appears to be ready to break that cycle, keeping the tried and true aspects of the genre but also placing significant additions and changes to the gameplay to not only rid itself of any “me too” image but also to make itself a very promising game in it’s own right.
The story behind Harbinger sets the stage for the gameplay quite well. The Harbinger itself is a gigantic spacecraft, big enough to have it’s own ecosystem. As the Harbinger travels through space planets, solar systems, and entire galaxies are devastated, and any survivors are taken aboard the ship as slaves. However, many prisoners escaped their captors and hid in various parts of the ship, forming a hidden group that scavenges, hides, and kills in order to stay alive.
The operators of the Harbinger have wronged each of the three playable characters in one way or another. The Human character grew up in a part of the ship called the wastelands, and was captured once when scavenging weapons and supplies. The Gladiator character is a hybrid of mind and machine, created by taking the brain and memories of a fallen warrior and placing it in a machine. This particular Gladiator was scrapped, but was “resurrected” by a group of wastelanders. Now, the Gladiator seeks to find an identity and purpose for himself. The Culibine is the last of a race of powerful energy manipulators, taken aboard the Harbinger as it wiped out her planet and people. The last of her kind, the Culibine harbors a deep hatred for the Harbinger and its operators and seeks to avenge her people.
Each character is different from one another in almost every way, from the methods of combat to the HUD. The Human uses conventional rifles and mines, and uses medical supplies and adrenaline hypos to boost his combat effectiveness. The Gladiator, being a machine of war, uses various modules to allow it to engage in melee or ranged combat. Also, since it is a machine it uses battery-like objects to replenish its reserves. The Culibine doesn’t rely on any physical weapons but rather harnesses the power of nearby energy to damage her foes. Also, the Culibine can not only use a gel-like item to refill her health but also slowly regenerates health over time.
While the characters themselves are vastly different, the general gameplay elements are not. Each character has an inventory used to store and use items, as well as an automap to help point the player in the right direction. Control is simple, with left mouse attacking with your current weapon, right mouse moving the player to the clicked location, and middle mouse uses any health gain items, useful in the middle of combat when you are near death. In the build we received the control was occasionally unresponsive to the mouse buttons, but the build was also a pre-beta so such issues are almost guaranteed to be ironed out before the game is released to stores.
The game is viewed from an isometric perspective and the gameplay is a lot like many other games in the genre, run around, kill bad guys, and open containers to gain items. However, each character has perks that spice things up a notch. The Human can lay various types of mines ranging from Spider mines to EMP mines, when used effectively and intelligently mines can easily turn a possibly brutal battle to your favor. The Gladiator uses remote controlled robotic devices of various types to allow him to scout and attack enemies from a distant location.
The graphics in Harbinger are awesome compared to other games in the genre but don’t expect something that will blow every game out of the water. Plasma shots, explosions, and certain enemies give off a lighting effect that illuminates nearby walls, objects, and enemies. The character sprites as well as the maps and objects are all detailed and imaginative. Even though the previewed build was pre-beta, Harbinger’s graphics are already very polished.
The sound in game is a mixed bag overall, the sound effects and music all sound decent but seem to be under-sampled a bit. While one shouldn’t expect crystal clear, perfect sound in any game, a little more polish could be used in this area. However, since the game is incomplete one shouldn’t carve anything into stone yet as the final version will most likely improve upon this. Clarity notwithstanding, the music and sound effects really mesh well with whatever is happening onscreen, whether it be the sounds of rifle rounds and plasma finding their targets or simply meandering through a friendly encampment.
Nevermind the beta status of this build, with the current quality Harbinger could almost be ready for release right now. Since the game isn’t going to be out until February 28th, the final version could and probably will be even more polished. While gamers who are more oriented towards faster-paced games may choose to pass Harbinger up, fans of games such as Diablo should sit up and take notice. While Harbinger may not totally revolutionize the genre, it is definitely a breath of fresh air.
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