Review by Kahlisi
March 2003

"It's Diablo II in Space"

Locked inside cold walls, trapped on all sides by enemies, one hero becomes unwittingly appointed for a camp's salvation. Claustrophobic and dimly lit areas mark the spaceship's holdings. Barely anyone lived, merely ragged merchants to aid a mercenary; here, that seems enough. Welcome to Torvus Junction, final haven aboard Harbinger.

Beneath an overlord's shadow and between races at war—the Vantir and Scintilla—can the hero survive long enough to escape with or without their comrades? What riches and fame will be found, if any, before death beckons? How long before a proclaimed storm hits? Shall the steely grave, Harbinger, claim another soul?

"If Ignorance Is Bliss ... Then Slap the Grin off My Face" —Solomon Torvus

Amid multitudes of hack-and-slash titles, Harbinger stands out due to its futuristic theme. Based not on swords, explosive spells, or elves, it brings a fresh breath of blasters, electronic gadgets, and robots into an otherwise fantasy-saturated market.

Harbinger begins with the selection of class: the Human—a physical and ranged fighter closer to a Rogue; the Gladiator—an enormous machine with melee and ranged capabilities, better geared toward the former; and the Culibine—a female with energy-blasting attacks and amplifiers. Despite short descriptions, they are quite diversified with four special abilities apiece and class specific weaponry, armor, and goodies.

Quick trips to Ona—the Torvus Junction merchant—with filled holdings garnish a sizeable income early on. If one can no longer hold items but wishes to keep something of value, EZ Stashes are conveniently located (if scarcely) throughout Harbinger's hulls. Uan (currency) flows well and purchases needed advancements with items. Minus those upgrades, Harbinger suddenly grows difficult after the third quest completion, for each entity, due to large numbers of enemies. One wonders what greater evil is perched around the next bend, takes a deep breath, and plunges ahead. Offensive and defensive modifiers come highly recommended, plus knowledge of the various weaknesses of what lurks about the space shuttle.

A minimal learning curve is required, easy enough for beginners and veterans alike to master quickly. Leveling and point distribution is simple in comparison with other titles. A player gets three stat ticks per level and chooses between four options: for Culibine, Ranged, Radial, Focus, Life; for Gladiator, Melee, Ranged, Override, Life; and for Human, Melee, Ranged, Rigging, Life. Besides these factors, not much is done with character development.

Using the default controls, one left-click and the player is off to slay her first opponent. Problems soon arise, though, when engaged in combat—namely, clicking on a monster and jogging past it instead (pathfinding issue). Thankfully, the precarious control system, although only with ranged weapons, is helped by the shift key/stationary feature. Those who use melee tactics must pay close attention to where they next move unless they wish to run suicidally through a swarm of crazed artificial aliens. A rigid control reformatting system does not allow for changing mouse options except for inverting clicks.

"Second Chances Are Funny Things, You Know" —Gladiator

"Swarm" would be the smartest descriptor of Harbinger's enemies. Being bum-rushed by fifteen Gladiators one hour after character creation neither seems like a well thought-out battle system nor gives longevity to the "new game" feel. Be prepared to reload saved games multiple times to complete an area. Mob sizes increase, and originality in fighting tactics decreases, even though new baddies are introduced regularly. Losses in speed and mouse response occur when these frenzied attackers appear onscreen all at once, despite powerful hardware.

Late in the game, players find themselves practically surrounded and forced to retreat, while multiple health packs are wasted; even after an armor upgrade. Balance between damage done and damage taken weighs heavily in the A.I.'s favor and against the player's frustration. Run-and-gun tactics do not work and all too often culminate in the "you are dead" screen. Stealth, pull and grab, and landscape usage do assist in toppling the beefy Titans of Titanium. To experienced players of the action/adventure genre, these statements are no shock.

With no multiplayer or large amounts of unique equipment—even with upgraded slots and attachments falling from rolltops—replayability drops to a factor of three: one for each class.

"This Place Needs a Jumpstart Before We All Start Gathering Dust" —Culibine

Harbinger's story is shallow, with typical, "Kill this, rescue so-and-so, bring me these special items" quests. Little to no role-playing can be accomplished; this is simply a fast-paced title meant for immediate gratification through the smacking around of nefarious foes. To become "lost in a journey" is laughable because of linear game settings.

Backtracking for an item or special area rarely happens. Players mutilate their way through area after area and discover just enough to continue. Random journals and tidbits bring to light small diversions and information.

Each character does follow separate stories, with ultimately equal results, though they do not rotate when repeat heroes are created. While the plots are tiring, darkly humorous dialogues between townsfolk and the main adventurer are often quite precious.

Sarcastic comments and things not necessarily meant to be funny—more so on the Human side—run rampant. Quest Logs show personalized thoughts of the playable people. Different selectable responses bring more laughs overall, and sometimes rewards, such as added stats.

Background music, on the whole, helps create an eerie setting and rarely distracts from action. It is reminiscent of tribal drums and rhythms during times of battle with techno mixed in. Strangely, it adds to the sense of depression most nonplayer characters express throughout their dialogues. The musical score—like other items—lacks enough originality to bring Harbinger ahead but not enough to make it unpleasant. Sound effects chime when needed—some fun, others new, and the rest annoying. Most will be impressed by the game's voice acting. A comic book idealism and philosophy rests behind the monologue bubbles that pop up occasionally.

Harbinger displays in two resolutions: 800×600 and 1024×768, both exceedingly gorgeous. The interface is simple, natural to navigate, not repeated for the individual personae, and uncluttered. A fine minimap in a transparent green hue shows obstacles announced by pictures, though no feature to scroll along said map is available. Crisp graphics help a two-dimensional isometric view, such as that seen earlier in games like Septerra Core.

Attentiveness to detail is evident on mechanisms like Umbilicals and Portals, the two methods of transportation around the ship. One sometimes stares at the intricacies of a junk pile in minor awe. Character skins change with upgraded weapons and armor, another keen touch in action/adventure games. Rifles, bladed weapons, gauntlets, amps, injectors, cameras, and mines look distinctively independent, with well-developed ornamentations. Harbinger stands as a fine example of beautiful graphics.

Final Thoughts

Harbinger is worth the modest $29.99 plus tax (if applicable). Most who purchase the game shall suffer from the "just another five minutes" syndrome until the end screen flashes. Not worthy of any Game of the Year awards, still it is worthy of an avid gamer's time. It breaks the mold with its setting and manages to stay traditional in gameplay. For diehard hack-and-slash enthusiasts, or those in search of uniqueness, Harbinger is deserving of a hearty recommendation.

The Good

  • Challenging.
  • Witty content.
  • Fast-paced action fix.
  • Hordes of killer robots to destroy.
  • Good voice-overs.
  • Pleasant graphical features.

The Bad

  • Grows boring.
  • No rich plot.
  • PC slowdowns.
  • Hordes of killer robots to destroy.
  • An "it's been done before" feel. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Silverback Entertainment
Publisher: Dreamcatcher
Release Date: February 2003

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Pentium III 500
128 MB RAM
16 MB DirectX 8.0 compatible 3D accelerator
650 MB free hard drive space
4X CD-ROM drive
Keyboard, mouse

Where to Find It

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.