Once in a while, a game drops out of nowhere, and captures the heart of gamers. Such seemed to be the case with Shadow Harvest, I had not seen much of the press releases or advertising, and suddenly, it arrived on my desk. The trailer looked fantastic, spies and intrigue, double crossings and conspiracy. The crux of the game, came from it’s two main characters, the perfect and deadly marriage of beauty and the beast, Aron and Myra. Playing one as a run-and-gun warrior, and the other as the behind the curtain tech/spy, it sounded like the backdrop for a great game, and an interesting new twist on stale shooters. The big question was whether this undercover op would capture it’s target, or get blown worse than the Bay of Pigs.
In the year 2025, the world is still wrought with conflict, arms races and terrorists attempting to rise to power. You step into the shoes of Aron Alvarez, a Special Forces operative, sent to assassinate the dictator of Mogadishu, Somalia. Alvarez crosses paths with Myra Lee, an agent of the United States Army Intelligence Support Activity(the ISA), investigating US arms tech being used in the Somalian operations. Myra and Aron find it beneficial to work together, and after some recon in Somalia, the ISA deems it wise to make their cooperation official, uniting them in a special unit, dubbed Shadow Harvest, and reinserting them in Somalia to gain further intelligence, as to how US arms have come to rest, in the arms of our enemies. Alvarez represents the brute strength of the operation, carrying C4, and useful for frontal assaults, his offensive skills are familiar to shooter fans. Myra trades offense for shadows, using top level technology to be a formidable spy and assassin. She lurks in the shadows, preferring to slip in unnoticed. When she must, she can ambush her opponents, and inject nanites into them, to hide the bodies from sight. Hopefully, the combined skills of these two, vastly different operatives will prove enough to prevent the situation in Somalia from spilling over into other parts of the globe.
The game plays like a standard third-person shooter, but with two vastly different characters. Aron Alvarez plays like any other shooter main character, run and gun primary, with a rage mode special ability, he carries grenades and C4, and uses firepower to clear his path. Myra, is a bit more of a twist. I’d describe her as a cross between Snake Eyes and Scarlet. She relies heavily on stealth, with a suit that allows her to cloak, for short periods of time. She also has claws, on one wrist, that can be used to execute foes, while simultaneously injecting nanites, which cloak and hide the body. For long ranged attacks, she carries a crossbow, equipped with different special bolts;bolts with a sound emitter, for distracting foes, and bolts that automatically inject nanites, to hide the body that they sink into. Both characters represent vastly different playstyles, and, when they meet up in the game and pair up, their specialties can be used together, to work through their mission objectives. Granted, this sounds like a fantastic game, and, in practice, it does leave a little to be desired. There are a few heavy gripes that hold it back from greatness. First, and foremost, I just cannot shake the hazy, muddy sense of the shooting controls. Can’t describe them any better, but they just feel “off”. I have tried all variety of settings, as well as different mice, and I just can’t seem to nail it down. I have heard that patches will address this, but as of this writing, we have not seen them release yet. The couple patches that have released, did fix some of the framerate issues that I’ve had. The graphics are pretty nice, I would have liked to see a brightness/gamma correction setting, but they look good; just seemed to dip to about 6 fps, prior to the patches released. Using the two characters together, proves to be pretty awesome, there are some great moments where they work in tandem, each using their strengths, and that’s where the game really shines. The downsides, can be the awkwardly few and far between checkpoint saves, and the sometimes unclear objectives. There are times, where the right positioning, or plan of attack, is crucial, and deviating from that can lead to your team getting slaughtered, which will kick you back to a pretty far, last checkpoint save. After a few failed attempts, and a few retries, it’s pretty simple to be frustrated to the point of switching the game off. Another tough nut to crack, is the absence of a melee attack. Of course, Myra is meant to be a stealth assassin, and played as such. The problem is, if she gets stumbled onto, she has only a few crossbow bolts to defend herself, it would have been nice to use those claws as a quick, melee kill. Even if it was done as a QTE, to discourage using those melee kills too often, it could have led to a better experience. It seems a bit awkward that this highly trained spy and assassin can be pretty defenseless, if her target detects her.
I know it may sound like I’m a bit heavy-handed on this game, and I do want to re-evaluate it after the next patch or two, but there is a great game buried under the faults. I think Black Lion has a fantastic idea, one that I don’t think many games of the past have tried out. I am hard-pressed to think of another game, and not a squad-based shooter, that offered the player the ability to take two markedly different characters into a scenario. I’m sure everyone’s favorite parts are the ATBW(All-Terrain Battle Walker) sections. I sympathize with the changes they were trying to make, within the shooter genre, and I can’t help but wonder if a beta would have helped, or if maybe they just bit off a tad too much. Their ideas of bucking the trend of regenerating health and linear shooters sounded attractive, but this game could’ve benefited from a little more polish. Either way, I think there are a lot of great ideas in Shadow Harvest, and I would love to see this one sit in the oven for a bit, and pop out a sequel, that addresses some of these issues. I’d sign up for another tour of duty for Shadow Ops 2!