Star Trek, Deep Space Nine: Harbinger

Developer/Publisher:  Viacom
Year Released:  1996

Review by Steve Leach (June, 1996)
ds9.jpgStar Trek, Deep Space Nine, Harbinger. The words almost seemed to jump right off the box cover which, incidentally, was shaped in the exact image of a communications badge off the TV series (albeit ten times larger). They drew me towards them like a magnet.

Needless to say I am a Star Trek fan. But I was somewhat bewildered when, upon returning home with this hot new game and tearing off the plastic wrapper, I discovered that inside this attractive box was only the two CD cases and a tiny slip of paper. After a few moments of profuse sweating I opened the case of CD 1 and on the inside jacket found the installation procedures and learned that the manual was on the CD itself.

On installation I sat with great trepidation to see if this game would live up to it's Star Trek predecessors. It did. After an impressive simulation of the opening introduction of it's TV namesake it was straight into a puzzle, thus setting the scene for the next week or so of many happy, albeit frustrating, hours of mind boggling gameplay.

A new beginning
You are taken aboard the storyline as the envoy Bannok who is destined, along with a noted diplomat, to begin relations with a newly contacted species. Here begins the great departure from all the other Star Trek games that I have seen because instead of playing the game through the guise of one or more of the previously established characters you are given the alter ego of Bannok, an unknown quantity. Unfortunately, though, our friends from Viacom have missed an opportunity by not giving you a choice of gender as you must play a male. This seemed strange as Bannok could so easily have been applied to either sex, and it would have meant only the inclusion of an extra voice and a flag set in the program to switch the responses between male and female.

Another factor in making this game unique is that what Bannok says to the other characters in the game actually does make a difference to the way the plot develops. Instead of having a list of possible things to say and reading through the list parrot fashion, in this game, yes, you are given a list of choices, but you can't just go from top to bottom until you pick the right response as each response can trigger a different set of actions. You don't always have the luxury of going back to the last conversation. Needless to say, saving often is a must. The game comes with a compliment of a hundred separate save game slots for you to fill.

The action
Deep Space Nine Harbinger is interspersed with action scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat. Scenes where you have to react quickly with your phaser, but fortunately it has an autosave just before an arcade section, so you don't have to start from scratch. Also there are three difficulty levels in the arcade section, which I am sure will satisfy even the most gung-ho shoot-em up fan. If, on the other hand, you are not an arcade fan, then I am sure these scenes will test your patience. I played ensign level (supposedly easy level?) and, while not being a slouch in arcade games, I found it very difficult sometimes to negotiate these tricky sequences. Especially where you have to manoeuvre across a maze of meccano like beams while trying to pick off marauding droids which kill with one shot and have a nasty habit of camouflaging themselves. Hopefully this will not put off any serious game player for long, as we are all masochists at heart. After we walk away a few times in disgust we are sure to return and be triumphant.

In another sequence you find yourself wandering the decks of DS9 with a motion detector and phaser, tracking down invisible aliens. This was an especially enjoyable part of the game. I also enjoyed the puzzles which included traditional adventure puzzling as well as logic and decoding puzzles. I think that the great appeal of this game will be that it requires skills in many different facets such as, diplomacy, bargaining, tactics, orienteering and, of course, puzzle solving. It is only through a good combination of all these skills that you will make it to the end (although a good deal of luck wouldn't go astray) and it is with that melancholy feeling that you get when you have completed another really good game that I now reflect upon it.

The nitty gritty
Getting down to the nitty gritty, the manual says this game will not run in windows mode, however, I did once or twice happen to do this, much to the disgust of my partner, as it had the effect of making the voices become Max Headroomish, that is to stutt-tt-tt-er. Having said that, the game did play quite well otherwise. I played it on a 486 DX 4/100 and found it smooth and graphically pleasing.

The game interface is wholly point and click and is very easy to use. The one drawback, however, is that the speech is not supported by text and sound effects are crucial to some aspects of play, so people with hearing problems may have to think twice about this one.

I have given great thought as to how to rate this game and taking into account it's new approach to adventuring and the fact that it is a TV tie in, I can only conclude that it brought a more exciting interactive element into adventuring. All I can say is that all Star Trek fans would enjoy this game but then I think that any adventurer worth his or her salt would enjoy it equally as much. The big ask now is whether another software company can take up the challenge and match the gameplay, quality and atmosphere that Harbinger has set. We as gameplayers must surely hope that they can and will. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Leach 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
(min) 486/66, 8MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, 10MB free hard disk space, DOS 5.0, Sound Blaster or compatible, VESA Compliant SVGA Video Card, Mouse.