The action oriented RPG makes a triumphant return with the release of Harbinger for the PC gaming platform. With its huge maps, event-driven story lines, and futuristic settings, this latest creation from Silverback Entertainment will keep RPG enthusiasts consumed with its spectacular gameplay for hours on end. For more information on Harbinger check out our full review here at The Laser.
The starship Harbinger: a vessel of immense size, slowing making its way through the dark and deepest regions of the galaxy. Once rumored to have been a census vessel in the distant, collecting bio samples and pertinent data from the various worlds it would encounter, Harbinger is now a ravager of those places that happen to lie within its lumbering path amongst the stars. Whole planets are laid to waste, every resource scooped up or simply destroyed in order to sustain the vessels massive systems. Civilizations across the galaxy are almost completely destroyed in the process, with those few remaining souls eeking out a meager existence as virtual prisoners within the forgotten bowels of the huge ship. You just happen to belong to one of these remnants of society; part raider, part scavenger, living off of what every you can find among the refuse of the massive prison-like corridors of Harbinger. If life wasn't bad enough, ancient rivalries between the various inhabitants have begun to flair up again within the corridors of the ship, escalating tensions and preparing everyone for open war. Not only that, but a newly imprisoned alien species threatens to wipe out the entire populace of the ship with their own insidious plot. Welcome to the chaotic world of Harbinger for the PC gaming platform…now try to survive it.
Created by the Texas based gaming design company, Silverback Entertainment, Harbinger is a highly entertaining and extremely addictive title that successfully blends the RPG and Action gaming genres into one genuinely fun game. Assuming the role of one of three races found onboard the monstrous ship, players must actively participate in 'quests' that will allow them to not only progress through the intricate storylines contained within the game, but also help them obtain the resources to purchase new and better equipment , as well as upgrade their skills through experience points (which in turn are picked up as the character engages in combat and other activities). The overall goal of the game remains the same no matter how the character progresses: to destroy the Harbinger, ending it destructive journey through the cosmos once and for all.
Hardcore RPG gamers will quickly notice that Harbinger isn't what you would consider a 'true' RPG title. While the elements of character generation and tailoring do exist, those features do not rule the game's design. Instead, the RPG aspects co-mingle with the action based portion of the game, giving the title a faster pace than most would see in a traditional computer role-play title. For the majority of the game, players will find themselves in the middle of a life-or-death firefight, with weapons blazing and constant movement the only way to get out of a bad situation. How the player chooses to develop his or her character and how your available experience points are spent dictates the responses available to a given combat scenario. For example, if you've spent the points on rigging, you'll be able to use more effective and complex mines and other gadgets. If you've upped your skill in long ranged weapons; you'll be able to utilize distance based weaponry, allowing you to remain at safer distances from the enemy. If you've decided that close ranged attacks are your characters best option for combat, you can choose to put your available skill points into the melee category. Players can also choose to up their personal skills levels in such categories of life energy, strength, and technology, that can help bolster their chances of sustaining high powered attacks, utilizing equipment, and just plain staying alive.
As for the playable characters, three races are available to choose from, each with their own special abilities, skills, weapons choices, and overall viewpoint of the Harbinger storyline. The Human character has the ability to utilize certain hand-held weapons, mines, and other assorted gadgets. Their special character ability includes the use of Injectors through intravenous ports, allowing them to pump performance enhancing drugs directly into the bloodstream (such as poison antidotes, adrenaline, and health bonuses). The Gladiator characters are basically robots with organic minds, created to be slaves by others onboard the starship, but eventually winning back their freedom and sense of self. This race has the ability integrate new components into its bodies main frame, including improved weapons, gadgets, and armor. The Gladiator also has the unique ability to utilize deployable gadgets such as floating cameras with a skill known as Override. Very little is known about the final playable race, known as the Cilibine. Possibly created as a defense against the antagonist forces that have overrun and corrupted the Harbinger, these female creatures have the ability to control and direct raw energy in a myriad of ways. They can use energy as a weapon for attack or even as a shield for defense, and even utilize devices known as Amps in order to alter their form of energy attack. Cilibine however do not have the ability to engage in Melee combat, and must flee when faced with that final combat option.
In regards to overall gameplay, Harbinger scored big. The title supports many large and detailed maps, giving players quite a few options when exploring or just engaging in combat. Although the game in reality contains only five enemy races (Vantir, Scintilla, Cimicidae, Biters, and the Gladiators) each group contains a number of subspecies, designs, and special units that give a large amount of diversity to the opponents players will face during the progression of the game. Dedicated fans of the RPG genre might be disappointed with the low scale of RPG options that are usually available within the genre (such as a scaled down char/gen system). Harbinger however doesn't skimp when it comes to other popular RPG standards, such as multiple weapon designs, an incredible variety of equipment and gadgets, and a vast array of specialized power-ups for specific character races only. The game also includes some rather interesting features, including two separate intership transporter systems (the Umbilical and The Portal) which allow characters to instantaneously move from one point on the ship to another. There is also a nifty storage/transferal device known as EZ Stash, which allows players to keep their treasure trove of goodies in a safe place for future retrieval (if you can find one again). Not only does this help you unload some of your extra precious gear (keeping your person inventory on the light side), it can also help you out in a bind by allowing you to keep a stockpile of useable items, such as power-ups and health modules just in case your personal inventory supplies begin to run low. Control aspects of the game were rather simple, with the standard mouse point-n-click system for character control, drop and drag for inventory, and only about 20 keyboard hotkeys to utilize.
The graphic designs found in Harbinger were extremely detailed and articulate, giving off a sleek futuristic environment. The game's engine was specifically created for this particular game by the design, team at Silverback Entertainment, and only once in a blue moon did we come across any real technical difficulty while playing (half of those were your typical Windows crashes that most PC gamers have grown used to over the years). Even with a huge number of enemy units converging on our position, everything seemed to render well on our gaming rig, which is made up of a 1.2 Ghtz Pentium III AMD clone, 512 megs of RAM, and our nVidia Ti Ge-Force 3 video card. Harbinger 's system are modest by most modern game parameters, however, requiring at least a 500MHz P-III proessing chipset, at least 128 megs of RAM, 650 MB of free HD space, and at least a 16MB 3-D Video Accelerator with Direct-3D capability.
Even with all of the positive aspects that we found while playing Harbinger, we can't completely ignore some of the problems that cropped up during the game (but then again, no game can be completely perfect). Probably the biggest issue that anyone will find with the game is the apparent lack of an execute (*.exe) command in either the CD-ROM or game folder after installation. The Auto-CD startup process forces you to follow a repeated installation process even if you you've already installed the games' files earlier. Though annoying, the problem was quickly fixed after we found an insert within the retail box…our own fault, really, since this reviewer is one of the many who hate to read a manual before trying out a game. The game does exist on your hardrive, and only takes a simple inserted command line in order for you to execute the game on your computer.
The other problems we found with the game deal mostly with in-game aspects and simple pet-peeves we had with the overall gameplay. For example, we had an issue with the lack of support characters for the main player during the course of the game. We understand that this isn't a traditional RPG title, however the addition of back-up characters and other NPC's during combat (and not just during the intermission's found within the game) would have been much more interesting. We also had a problem with the games' constant real-time atmosphere, which didn't allow us to pause the action in order to change up items within our inventory. A programmable hot-key set up that allowed us to change weapons and items out on the fly would have been more useful to players, even if slightly unrealistic. Another 'too-realistic' aspect of Harbinger was with the map reveal system, which 'un-mists' areas that the player explores, depending on his visual range…even though the automap could record previously traveled areas, the map would still return to the inky blackness that was previously there after leaving the map area. The mapping scheme also made completing quests problematic at times, forcing players to retrace their steps needlessly time and time again. Beyond the trivial problems that cropped up during our gaming time with Harbinger, we truly found the experience to be a mostly positive one. Yes, the RPG aspects of the game were slightly weak when compared to true computer role-play games. However, the incredible visuals, robust backstory, and high intensity action oriented themes made Harbinger a complete joy to play. All in all, a solid release by Dreamcatcher Games.