Harbinger

Moby ID: 11155
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Harbinger can be described as Diablo in space. The game takes place aboard the vast slave spaceship Harbinger. A small band of outcasts is running free aboard Harbinger, trying to wrest control from the ship's Overlord. There are three character classes to choose from in the game: Human, Gladiator (a cyborg-like robot infused with the consciousness of a living being), and Culibine who resembles Diablo's sorcerer character.

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  • Предвестник - Russian spelling

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Average score: 57% (based on 26 ratings)

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Average score: 3.0 out of 5 (based on 20 ratings with 1 reviews)

A half-hearted Diablo 2 knockoff that's difficult to recommend

The Good
The Harbinger is a monstrous spaceship the size of a planet. Controlled by a being called the Overlord and his army of cohorts, the Harbinger is used as a slave ship, laying waste to worlds, enslaving entire races, and then sailing off into the depths of space. Over time, slaves have escaped from captivity and have formed small gangs and colonies deep inside the ship. You're one of them. Living in a small sanctuary called Torvus Junction (which is about the safest place there is on board the Harbinger) your life consists of doing jobs for your overseers and trying not to get caught. Lately you've been hearing rumours from some of the other escaped slaves; the Overlord is losing control, his forces are being weakened by constant fighting inside the ship, and a strange insect-like race (the cimicidae) are breeding like crazy and are dangerously close to seizing control. Oh well, life goes on. It had just better be yours. Probably the most interesting part of Harbinger is its premise.

Anyone familiar with Diablo 2 should be able to jump in and play without even reading the manual. You can play as a human (who can deploy spider mines and can shoot further with a rifle) a gladiator (a sentient machine that's immune to poison) or the culibine (who doesn't have any melee abilities at all but can damage multiple enemies with her special attack). Gameplay is typical Diablo 2 fare, although the developers have been tacitly shamed in to not giving us too many fetch quests.

The game's RPG elements (or at least what passes for them) are usually well handled. You've got a classic grid-based inventory, with every item taking up a certain number of squares. While you don't have much space, there is a handy booth-like thing called an Ez-Stash that allows you to deposit items, and get them back at another Ez-Stash somewhere else in the game. This is a really time saving feature that eliminates a lot of backtracking, if you want to sell items at Torvus Junction you only need one trip back to use a Ez-Stash to get your items back and sell them. It sure beats the packmule of Dungeon Siege.

Harbinger has a lot of content. There are dozens of weapons and literally hundreds of items, most of which have their own artwork. Your enemies are also diverse and well-rounded. Although there are comparatively few of them, their appearances are broken up well and there's never a sense of "hey, I've been fighting these guys for the last three levels. Something new, please?"

The Bad
Calling Harbinger a Diablo 2 clone would be too kind. "Clone" implies that it's of the same quality as the original. Instead, it's like an outline, a rubbing, a game with the basic gameplay elements intact but with almost none of the things that Diablo 2 a success.

Harbinger is dull. After selecting a character, you enter a relatively hum-drum affair of taking on arbitrary missions, killing aliens, and collecting loot and upgrades. Then you level up and do it all some more. See an enemy, click on it like mad. See another enemy, click on it next. Ever play those 'mouse training' programs that came with the first computers with mice? That's basically what this is. The game's manual assures us that smart play will be rewarded. Don't believe it. It goes without saying that calling Harbinger an RPG is generous, it's basically just a world-class clickfest with a couple of RPG-ish elements thrown in.

The game's broken combat system is eminently unenjoyable. Since you can outrun basically any enemy in the game you can get through whole areas without even needing to fight, let alone taking damage doing it. Silverback attempts to add a bit of strategy by giving enemies vulnerabilities (cimicidae are weak against electricity, Vantir are weak against EMPs, etc.) but once you find or buy some modchips that allow you to fire multiple attack types at once even this little bit of brainwork is stripped away. Not only is combat brainless and easy, it's also unrealistic. Bullets, fireballs and other projectiles fly sluggishly through the air as if the game is happening in slo-mo, and it's pathetically easy to dodge incoming shots. You'd think a civilisation capable of building a planet-sized ship would have better weapons than these.

The game has an interesting premise that is totally spoiled on a bad story. While playing as the Culibine you're assigned to free Ballastre from the overlord's prison. We're never told who Ballastre is or what he has done. Trying to understand Harbinger's story is like reading a book with half the pages torn out, it feels incomplete. Imagine this: you are an adventurer wannabe who serves to fetch some items for your boss. Next thing you know, you fight the Overlord's lieutenant, only to try to destroy the whole ship and kill the Overlord later on. Anyone see a problem with that? And the story doesn't resolve itself, obviously Silverback is leaving itself open to a sequel, but I believe a game's plot should be able to stand on its own. And the less said about the voice-acting the better. :S

Graphically the game is about on par with Diablo 2. And since we're talking about a 1999 game, that's a bad thing. Even dated graphics can still look good from an artistic perspective, but in Harbinger the whole game takes place inside a drab, grey ship that looks like the inside of a trash compactor. At least in Diablo you could play in a wide range of environments. Even though my computer more than satisfies the system requirements I still experienced frequent slowdowns and skipped frames.

And while we're on the game's technical issues, the game disc will automatically run installation every time you put it in, even if the game is already installed. And it doesn't open to a menu, it just starts running the installer immediately. Plus, it never gives you a shortcut on your desktop or even in the "Start" menu to run the game - you have to make it yourself. Instead of taking the two weeks required to fix these minor (but annoying) problems, the developers simply added a note in the readme telling you how to set up a shortcut yourself and how to disable autorun. That's just inexcusably cheap.

The final nail in the coffin is multiplayer: there isn't any. According to Silverback's website they omitted multiplayer so they could entirely focus on singleplayer. Blizzard did both when they made Diablo 2. Even a simple splitscreen mode where two players can play through a level in tandem would have been sufficient.

The Bottom Line
Harbinger is a disappointment. The only thing I really enjoyed about it was its theme, and I'd like to see that particular aspect coupled with a better game.

Windows · by Maw (832) · 2005

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Game added by Atomic Punch!.

Additional contributors: Indra was here, POMAH.

Game added November 29, 2003. Last modified March 31, 2024.