Reviewed: March 15, 2003
Released: February 25, 2003
I donít know about you folks, but I loves me some Diablo. The whole dungeon-crawliní, hackiní-slashiní thing really flips my switch. Granted, Diablo is definitely a stand out in the Action RPG genre, a lot of other titles like Dungeon Siege have shipped with mixed results.
Harbinger, the newly released offering from Silverback Entertainment and DreamCatcher Interactive, ditches the traditional Tolkien-esque setting in favor of a colossal space vessel called, you guessed it, Harbinger. The labyrinthine ship is made up of scads of compartments connected either by umbilical or teleportation gates that allow limited access to other areas. In a manner much like the Diablo, you are thrust into a setting where your fellow passengers are trying to survive in the face of a bleak future.
Like I said, Harbinger follows a gameplay model similar to that of other action RPGs like Nox or Diablo. Kill the predatory denizens populating Harbinger while looting storage chests scattered around the decks in search of better weapons, mod chips to enhance your equipment, armor or the next item or individual necessary to advance the plot. If you run out of room in your somewhat cramped inventory you can always try and hunt down an EZ-Stash unit, which acts sort of like the magic item boxes in the Resident Evil Series. Anything you stow in an EZ-Stash can be retrieved at any other EZ-stash, though there arenít an over abundance of them.
Actually, I was sort of surprised at how the gameís plot kept me playing to find out where it would go next, Iím a big fan of the mix of comic book style lettering and excellent voice acting that are used to express the view point of your character.
Speaking of character, you can choose to play as one of three classes, Human, who is, well a human, the Gladiator, a robotic warrior with a human soul, and the Culibine who is sort of the sorcerer of the game. While the learning curve of the game is basically pretty gentle, there are some intricacies with at least 2 of the classes that take some time to become aquatinted with.
While each character begins their journey at Torvus Junction, they all travel slightly different paths that branch out somewhat along the way. Like I said, the action here is pure old school hack and slash interrupted only by incidents of leveling up. Ability points are awarded, three per level, and can be divvied up between your character's skill categories. The shipís decks arenít randomly generated like the dungeons of Diablo, so that puts a bit of a damper on Harbingerís replay value.
The lack of random level doesnít hurt Harbinger as much as the gameís lack of multiplayer. While I wasnít a big fan of logging on to Battle.net and being Player-Killed by a couple of ass clowns named Left Nut and Right Nut, a lot of my gaming buddies killed a lot of time online with the Diablo series. Given the strengths and weaknesses of the character classes, at the very least some co-op multiplayer would have been nice and would have added some longevity to the title.
The one thing that can ruin any game is bugs, and while Harbinger isnít plagued with them, there is one that pops up every now and then that is a serious pain in the posterior. On occasion when your avatar returns to Torvus Junction via the umbilical the NPCís dialog doesnít display properly, halting your further progress in the game and forcing you to revert to a hopefully recent save game. If you donít save often this sort of bug can be devastating, so Iím sort of surprised that it slipped through the QA process, given that the rest of the game is of such high quality. Bugs aside, Harbinger has only a few weak points, mostly revolving around underutilized devices such as mines which are basically useless.
While it obviously canít visually keep up with slick 3D affairs like Dungeon Siege, Harbinger is a pretty good looking isometric action RPG. With the option of displaying at either 800x600 or 1024x768 the game can look pretty sharp even on a slightly out of date machine. The characters and objects look smooth and jaggy free and the moody lighting of the decks gives the player the sense of the overall gloom that is life on Harbinger.
One major league gripe I have is that despite my system exceeding the recommended specs by better than 100% I was still experiencing slowdown even when things werenít busy on screen. This is extremely annoying and coupled with the other bug I mentioned earlier, makes me yearn for a software patch.
As I noted above the voice work that is used throughout the game is topnotch. There is some fairly dark humor that is well conveyed thanks to the talented folks who voiced these characters.
The music really does the trick at drawing you in and making you feel the omnipresent gloom in the dank bowels of the ship. While the music and voice work are top shelf for this genre, the sound effects seem to be lacking some punch. They do the job, but it really feels like youíre listening to a game.
At under $30, Harbinger really is worth the time for anyone looking for a light hack and slash RPG. The plot is compelling enough to make you want to play through it again with a different character. This game might really find a market with laptop gamers due to its relatively simple visuals and pick-up and fight gameplay.
While not without its flaws, Harbinger does make a strong case for itself by delivering solid gameplay with a decent story that will keep players clicking through the decks of Harbinger for many hours. Those who were tuned off by Diabloís repetitive gameplay will probably want to steer clear. But hey, if Diablo in space is your thing Harbinger is probably a good choice and a game you will enjoy.