metzomagic.com Review

Harvester

Developer:  Merit Studios
Publisher:  DigiFX
Year Released:  1996

Review by Steve Ramsey (February, 2004)

Not to be confused with the far superior game Harvest by Michael Clark, there is no good reason why you should play this game.

The slightly disturbing yet intriguing David Lynch feel about your initial wanderings pretty quickly starts to be overwhelmed by the rest of the game. By the time you reach the end, you will have wallowed through some of the most confronting images and dialogue I have experienced in a game. Not to mention the blood and gore.

As I have observed on previous occasions, appeal is a matter of personal taste. What is ordinary to one person will be remarkable to another. This, however, is pretty much just tripe.

Harvester isn't a bad game just because it is violent and bloody. It isn't a bad game on the basis that most of the residents are thoroughly awful. It isn't a bad game solely because the puzzles are largely mediocre. It isn't even a bad game as a result of the last third being simply a mouse clicking kill fest. It is a bad game for all these reasons.

So tell us what you really think!
I have no doubt that somewhere in the development of this game there was a sense of irony and even morality. There was clearly some black humour and some quirky characterisations, and some of the more confronting material is clearly included for shock value. It all, however, gets lost in the wash.

You play Steve, who awakens in what is apparently his bedroom, but he can't remember who or where he is. Where he is, is the town of Harvest, a town dominated by the mysterious Order of the Harvest Moon and its Lodge. A town to which out-of-towners seem to come just to die, and in which bake sales are held to raise funds for the mortuary. It is a town with its own meat works and nuclear missile silo, one where school discipline is maintained with a baseball bat, and one in which extreme views are the norm. Nice people are hard to find.

Your initial exploration will reveal all these things through conversations with the many characters you meet. This part of the game is its best part. Not much happens, except you begin to appreciate the situation you are in. There is clearly a sense of everything not being as it seems, of unsettling events, and disturbing matters just below the surface. The characters are bizarre to say the least, and there is an interesting weirdness about the whole thing. At the centre of all of this is the Lodge.

A brief additional word on the characters. Had you set out to create the most bigoted and objectionable group of townsfolk around, you could not have done a much better job.

Eventually you will find that all roads lead to the Lodge, and that, therefore, you must join. This will require you to perform a number of tasks in order to satisfy the Sergeant at Arms that you are worthy of membership.

Membership 101
Those tasks involve vandalism, theft and arson, and will be completed by finding and using certain items in the right way. They are self-contained, although the items you need for one may be found at some other part of the game. You will, however, be given the tasks one at a time, and they must be completed one at a time. Finding or obtaining the necessary items will usually be the trigger to moving the game forward.

It was whilst performing the tasks that I started to really lose interest. There is a sameness about their completion, and whilst they are not too difficult, I had had enough about halfway through the third task. They can be complicated by small hotspots, or by failing to ask the right question to elicit a clue as to where to go next. You may well do a lot of wandering and searching to try and move the game forward.

Apart from the cemetery and the missile silo, each location in the game world is a building in the town. It is accessed by a map. You then enter the building concerned and can interact with the environment and any characters present.

The backgrounds are rendered SVGA scenes on which are superimposed digitised "real" characters. The characters, and some of the items in the scenes, are capable of limited movement. Steve is the only character that really walks around. Short FMV scenes will be triggered at various times in the game. These are incredibly blotchy, and some of them are amongst the ghastliest of the game's moments.

When talking to a character, a close-up of their upper torso will appear in the left corner of the screen. Facial expressions and demeanour will change during the conversation. I actually thought the voice acting was not too bad. There are no subtitles, however.

You often have to choose between alternative responses, and you may also receive an ever expanding list of topics about which you can converse. Whilst asking about some topics may remove others from the list available, there is the capacity to type your own topic in the conversation window. You will quickly find that any topic other than one from the list will be met by the response "I don't know what you're talking about" or something similar. This capacity is therefore limited to raising those topics which you could have asked about but didn't. As such, no topic is lost to you.

Time to die
Once you are admitted to the Lodge, it is essentially kill or be killed. To get to the end game you pretty much have to kill everything in sight. Your weapons of choice will include a shot gun, a nail gun, a chainsaw, a scythe, a barbed flail and a more mundane pool cue. Each death will usually be accompanied by lots of blood and gore, although you can censor the gore at the game settings. I didn't, so can't tell you whether it will also censor some of the more tastless scenes - a mother being eaten by her children must be the "high" watermark.

As well as defending yourself from the other characters and all manner of creatures, you may well be burned to death by acid or steam unless you solve the related conundrums in the limited time available. Given the convoluted solutions, it is a fair bet you will indeed die. You might even die from venereal disease. A small game of chess is thrown in to add cerebral content; I won this so I don't know what happens if you lose, but chances are you die.

Steve can also die before entering the Lodge, though in my experience this will be as a result of being sent to the electric chair for a major crime (yes they do have them). You can get Steve to kill anyone he meets around town should you want to, and the chair results. For lesser crimes (break and enter), Steve may go to gaol, or he may be returned home and tucked into bed by the Sheriff if he has been well behaved up until then.

Steve sustains damage as he fights, and the state of your health is indicated by the photo in your inventory. The more the photo is bruised and bleeding, the closer Steve is to death. Food and other items can restore health, but these are in limited supply.

Your inventory is also where you "arm" your weapons, and where you can combine various items to be used in the game world. Some inventory items are also able to be examined in more detail.

The game is contained on 3 CDs and ran without a hitch through Windows 98, despite its DOS-ness. It's played by point and click, and you will miss nothing if you don't.

Harvester screenshots courtesy of Moe at Adventure Games Forever.

metzomagic.com rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
486DX-33 processor (Pentium recommended) DOS 5.0 or higher, 8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended) 30 MB swap file disc space, 2x CD ROM, MSCDEX drivers 2.1 or later, 640x480 SVGA graphics, Soundblaster compatible sound card