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SummaryAn utterly sublime gameplay experience.
The GoodI picked up Body Harvest for $12 along with Jet Force Gemini and Top Gear Rally. While the other two games are classics in their own right it was Body Harvest that really compelled me to sit with the vacant stare of a drug addict for hours.
To begin with, I'd like to avoid making comparisons to Grand Theft Auto as it's a very inaccurate comparison to make. The two games are totally different. They have one or two similarities however it's not a "GTA clone" or a "GTA style game". Body Harvest is a game with certain open world elements and the ability to drive vehicles, that is where the similarities end.
In Body Harvest you play a time travelling bionic commando named Adam Drake who has to eliminate an insectoid race of aliens trying to annihilate humanity by "infiltrating" certain time periods. So Adam travels to Greece, Java, America and even the future putting his huge orange boots to the insects and ultimately saving the day and then they probably have a party although that is nowhere in the game.
To be honest, you don't play Body Harvest for the story. It's not great, but more on that later. No, you play Body Harvest for the polished and compelling to the point of addictive gameplay.
The basic flow of play is as follows:
<> Adam lands in time period. <> Adam orientates himself, perhaps procuring a vehicle. <> A harvester wave is detected driving Adam to the next narrative point. <> Adam eliminates the harvester wave, solves a problem and moves on to the next harvester wave.
This is repeated until Adam finds his way to the shield generator powering the shield for that local area. You see the aliens strategy is to drop individual shield segments over regions of a country. Within each shield segment are sent harvester insects that collect people, eat them and probably metabolise their delicious energy. If you kill the harvester insect in a particular wave, there is no threat as regular soldier type insects don't seem to attack people. Frankly, you'll end up killing more people than them.
So, that is the basic flow of play. You get a location to check out, kill the harvesters, destroy the shield generator and move on. It's fluid and exciting as combat is generally very well executed. Adam is equipped with a standard pistol from the get go but can pick up shotguns, machine guns and rocket launchers amongst other things. There are also special hidden super weapons which you have to do some adventuring to find. This is where I begin talking about how unique Body Harvest is.
To begin with, the regions Adam journeys around are huge. There are mountain ranges, lakes, small cities and volcano's. Many aspects of a natural landscape are recreated to some degree on the Nintendo 64 hardware. At any point Adam is free to explore either on foot, in the air or on a boat. Adam is fairly slow on foot so finding a vehicle is a necessity if you want to get anything done. There are around 60 different vehicles in the game and you are free to drive anything that isn't locked, normally by some sort of mission you haven't done yet. Each vehicle has its own set of statistics including fuel, armor and weaponry. Most buildings are freely accessible and are fully furnished with interactive decorations like barrels and chests of drawers that often hold helpful items and weaponry. You need to learn to examine everything thoroughly as seemingly innocuous candles and torches could hide functionality like opening a secret passage.
Now, this might seem like a lot of good ideas thrown together without any sort of cohesion or sense. In fact, it all works. It works very well. Most of the time you are gently being prodded from objective to objective, getting in and out of vehicles before coming across a town or structure that you want to explore, all of the while fending off random insect attacks. It all feels very natural and fluid. It doesn't come across as too artificial, which could have made the whole experience feel impersonal and too overly structured. You are encouraged to explore though, and aren't penalised for doing so. You only have to defend people during harvester waves. In any other circumstance you are free to just do whatever you want. It's this refreshing freedom and depth that sets Body Harvest apart and makes it feel so utterly compelling. There is a lot to see and do and you're free to do it all at your own pace. You don't do what the game wants, you do what you want within the confines of the game and it's fantastic.
Body Harvest is very long. Very, very long. If you did everything the game has to offer we're talking about 20 or so hours of gameplay. You will be playing this game for a very long time and even then you WILL want to go back and replay it.
The sound design in Body Harvest is beyond reproach. I mean, the music is absolutely outstanding. I read somewhere that DMA Design at the time had one of the biggest sound departments in the video game industry and it shows. The music tracks in Body Harvest are very clearly MIDI's but it is difficult to tell at first. The melancholy piano and wailing strings that accompany Adam on his journey are incredible and are some of the best pieces of music I've ever heard in a video game. This applies only to the ambient pieces however and not the action tracks which are fairly generic. The tracks that play when you are adventuring and exploring buildings are outstanding and deserve commendation.
The BadBody Harvest isn't perfect. It has very obvious flaws, which aren't game breaking, but are very clear to see.
To begin with the graphics aren't very good. The textures are overly blurry, characters are blocky geometric lego people and the frame rate is wildly inconsistent. It's inconsistent to the point of impacting on the gameplay experience more than once. While the aliens tend to have a fair bit of variety in their designs they are still composed of jagged green, brown and orange chunks of varying arrangements. Animation of civilians is atrocious, enemies are jerky and slow to animate and if it wasn't for the fairly competent environmental design and great vehicle modelling the graphics would be a total write off.
The frame rate impacts on gameplay more than once during the course of the experience. Bosses, which are huge, already slow down the frame rate however when they start firing missiles at you and explosions start filling the screen the frame rate dips further. This makes it difficult to fight the boss and will turn you into a free meal for the AI as you wildly try to position yourself in a way that won't get you killed while the game slide shows away, Even outside of boss fights the frame rate hitches wildly in the worst possible situations. When hordes of insectoid aliens fill the screen and you want to make a hasty getaway the frame rate sometimes decides to be a bastard and send you careening off the side of a cliff. It doesn't happen all of the time, but it is too frequent to totally overlook.
Most of the time objectives are fairly straight forward and easy enough to accomplish. Other times however the objectives might be clear but how to actually accomplish them is incredibly obscure and frustrating to figure out. Seemingly unconnected areas on two different places of a map might contain the solution to a problem but you just don't know and end up having to travel aimlessly for up to an hour before getting too irritated to continue. It isn't too prevalent, but like the graphical problems it's too obvious to overlook.
The Bottom LineBody Harvest is a woefully overlooked classic. It's frustrating that more people haven't played it, because I have developed a deep fondness for this game.
DMA Design put a hell of a lot of effort into this game from the incredibly polished gameplay to the wonderful sound design. It does have it's fair share of problems however they are easy to overlook when you realize how utterly absorbing the gameplay is.
Do yourself a favour and pick this game up, you will not regret it.