hadn't heard very much about Harbinger when it appeared on my doorstep last week.
"Ohhh, Diablo in space! Sounds neat" I thought to myself as I
installed the game. I had high hopes from what little I'd seen at this point (which
is to say, a few screenshots and the box synopsis). What I should have said is
"Ohhh Diablo in space! Sounds like it could be neat!"
Because despite having no expectations going into the game, I quickly learned
that it's quite possible to take a good idea with good art direction and run it
into the ground with nothing but poor design decisions.
gameplay concept is wonderfully simple. Take a guy, walk him around, kill things,
and then pick up stuff those things drop. If you can use it to kill things better,
equip and continue. If you can't, sell it. The tricky part is balancing the finding,
selling, and killing so that each is rewarding in its own right. Unfortunately,
Harbinger gets all three wrong, something which in and of itself is an impressive
Let's start with the
"walking around and killing things" aspect. The player assumes control
of one out of three characters: Human, Gladiator, and Culibine. The Human and
Gladiator play very similarly, and the Culibine is very different in gameplay
philosophy and design. Humans and Gladiators pick up guns, armor, heathpacks,
and swap out old for the new just like most characters in games like this. They
cannot heal on their own but a health pack will bring them back to full health
near-instantaneously. The Culibine is the most fragile of the three classes, but
her health regenerates without the aid of healthpacks. She's almost entirely self
sufficient, her attacks come from her ability to shape and form the energy around
her into various forms of damage. Items picked up for the Culibine are usually
in the form of "Amps", which amplify her latent psychic abilities.
main problem here is the pace of the combat itself. Rarely are more than 2 enemies
on the screen, though at one point I did have to face 10 soldiers at once. There
is no option to run, and it's not possible to move while shooting. What this leads
to is "walk walk walk
shoot some enemies ½ way across
keep walking." If things get hairy, a healthpack very quickly
returns the character to full health. There is only one healthpack per class,
and that pack results in a full heal weather or not the character is 1st level
or 30th level. Even if for some reason the character were to run out of healthpacks,
it's very easy to just walk away from the enemies. They can only shoot in the
8 cardinal directions, and can't move while shooting. The projectiles move very
slowly, so it's an easy process to just walk away from a scary fight, heal up
or head back to town, then come back. After about 30 min of learning to understand
this process, the game became painfully easy and therefore, boring.
problems are further compounded by the monetary system in the game. Since each
class has all proprietary equipment, 2/3 of the items picked up cannot even be
used, and must therefore be sold. The human might pick up two or three awesome
guns for the Gladiator, but since he cannot use them, he sells them at a very
good price, and now has no problems buying the best and most expensive equipment.
This makes an already easy game even easier, and eliminates most of the fun and
excitement of seeing what items are dropped. So in one fell swoop the designers
have eliminated the two most important aspects of this style of game: intense
combat and an interesting rewards system for said combat. What's left?
some form of multiplayer might have salvaged the game, but alas, that's not available.
I remember thinking to myself "you know, this would be a lot less boring
if I had someone in here with me." Of course, since the game is already far
too easy, having some help might not have improved the game itself, but at least
you'd have somebody to talk to.
I really liked the graphics of Harbinger. The environments had
a nice gritty feel to them, and all the architecture and textures had lots of
little details in them. There were a few spots, such as in the junkyards, that
was very impressive. I've never seen so much junk look like, well, so much junk.
One thing that did bother me was the limited view. There is a artificial circle
of shadow around the farthest ¼ of the screen that was obviously placed
there to limit the player's view. It's not real shadow, because the creatures
in it are lit exactly the same as when they are in your view, so it looks very
odd and out of place. At one point there was a graphical glitch that got rid of
that dark ring, and I ended up liking that a lot better. The game is set in a
derelict spacecraft, not some dark and dank dungeon. It's okay to see the whole
screen in such an environment.
The sound was passable, though the sound effects for gunfire were pretty
weak and got on my nerves rather quickly. The music was completely forgettable,
so much so that I really can't recall what it was like at all. Some of the ambient
sounds and environment effects were pretty good, I especially like the sounds
of an umbilical teleporter as it released the character from its chamber.
I found controlling
my character to be very straightforward and easy, all the keyboard shortcuts are
convenient and well placed. I do miss the lack of a "run" but other
than that, everything worked very well here. This could almost work to the game's
detriment, as everything is laid out so well it makes the game even easier than
it already is!
While I was playing Harbinger, I described it to a friend as
"Single-player only Diablo I on valium." I think that pretty
much sums it up. It's a neat setting with a decent plot behind it, but the game's
just too dull to be worth getting through. I gave it an honest chance, but there's
only so much uninspired walking one gamer can take.