By Jimmy Vails |
As we enter the wonderful year of 2003 we are once again graced with a multitude of games across all genres. While many companies are experimenting with new ideas, some are hoping to prosper on the success of previously asserted sensations by merely improving on an old idea. This is nothing new; however, gamers are starting to grow tiresome of the same old gameplay that is simply rehashed and given a facelift. Eye candy can only take games so far, and everyone knows that gameplay is what makes or breaks a game. This, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the mixed bag that is Harbinger.
Harbinger attempts to be ambitious through its implementation of RPG elements in a futuristic space environment. The idea itself is notable, yet, nothing entirely new is offered versus other games in the RPG genre. The gameplay is shallow; the graphics simplistic at best, sound effects jarring, and the complete absence of a multiplayer mode leave the game with very little lasting appeal.
The game takes place on a slave ship traveling through outer space. The player may choose from one of three character classes which include humans, gladiators, and Culibines. The storylines for each race, while original and sometimes intersecting, are not entirely compelling and do not entirely draw players into the atmosphere that the game promises to deliver. Each race has similar attributes that vary slightly. All races possess ranged combat abilities, while only Humans and Gladiators may participate in Melee combat.
As the game claims to be an RPG at its core, the actual RPG elements are quite limited, as there are only four categories that are able to be boosted and modified for the races. This wouldn't pose so much of an issue if each category posed a greater significance to the characters' abilities, and if the shallow gameplay didn't harbor any improvements. For example, by accumulating points and increasing the Radial ability for the Culibines, this would increase their ability to score a more probable hit with their ranged combat weapon. With more balanced gameplay, this may prove to be useful. However, with the extremely simplistic combat interface, the end result is nearly identical, and will be addressed later. Gaining levels simply isn't fun, and takes out a huge portion of the appeal of a Role Playing Game: building up your character to be the absolute best.
Once the player has chosen their respective race and begun the story, they will be quickly exposed to the elements of the game that are most prevalent: point and click. While many RPG's will rely on this sort of gameplay to progress the player through the game, a sense of variety must be present in order for players to feel that they aren't playing the same scenario over and over again. This variety can normally be manifested through unique items, weapons, and power-ups that make the game more fun, and perhaps add twists to the gameplay. Diablo 2, for example, has dozens upon dozens of various weapons and items that the players can possess and implement on their quest. Don't get me wrong, there are various gadgets and miscellaneous items that players can find (and later in the game purchase, once that option becomes available) scattered about the levels. Yet, even with as much variety as the developers attempt to implement into these items, their impact on gameplay is negligible.
The enemies in Harbinger lack overall variety. In fact, there are very few actual differences between enemies, with most variation coming in the form of a different color or carrying a different weapon. This can become frustrating as the differences are small enough to set enemies apart, but not enough to quickly identify which is which; this leads to frustrating gameplay where the player is hurrying to decide what weapon to use; different enemies are susceptible to different types of attack. For example, the insect-like creatures fall quickly to electric based attacks, where the cyborgs are especially vulnerable to electro-magnetic pulses. The developers managed to create a double-edged sword: by trying to vary the gameplay they have created another issue that is more frustrating than the benefit they originally hoped for.
One interesting point worth mentioning is the fact that you actually don't need to fight many of the enemies you encounter. Due to the fact that most enemies use ranged attacks you can simply run right past them if you choose not to engage in confrontation. Interestingly enough, this can also work to your advantage in the sense that if you decide to use a ranged attack of your own the enemy does not dodge it. In essence, you can run through a level clicking and clicking, firing and firing, moving and moving, and rarely get hit by enemy fire. This only increases in difficulty as more enemies appear on the screen, but with such a huge hole the very essence of the game's structure, one loses interest in the interface much too quickly.
Where Harbinger isn't outright disappointing, it is mediocre at best. With a maximum resolution of 1024x768 and virtually no graphics options, the visual department is quite lackluster. Some of the environments are reasonably detailed yet suffer from the low resolution textures. The battle and character animations are jerky and lack fluidity, which may have been acceptable in a game seven or eight years ago; however, in a game that suggests a Pentium III 700 MHz to run well (and was tested on a machine running at 1.3 GHz), this is purely unacceptable. While the backgrounds are detailed to a degree, the character models lack originality and variety, with most variations based on the aforementioned small superficial differences. Even on a system that nearly doubles the suggested requirements of the game, with many enemies on the screen there is occasional slowdown with framerates dropping quite low.
The sound effects remain uninspired and sparse. The clanging of metal as weapons clash and explosions as guns fire sound muffled and hollow. The sound isn't entirely disappointing as the background ambience and music do help to set the theme of a dark space ship, with creepy harpsichord clings and clangs. The voice acting is satisfactory. While it doesn't sound like your brother and his friends got a microphone and recorded it themselves, it also isn't on par with Warcraft 3 or Morrowind.
What did you think of Harbinger?
All in all, Harbinger is simply a lackluster RPG among a sea of worthy competitors, whose biggest draw is the setting, which isn't even all that compelling. RPG's that have been out for years easily outmatch Harbinger at every possible turn, whether it is graphics and gameplay, or sound and replayability. With a multitude of games that just do everything better, it is extremely difficult to recommend Harbinger to any RPG fan. With shallow gameplay and a lack of multiplayer support, this game does not stand out amidst the rest.