Remember that part in Fight Club when Tyler Durden poured lye on Jack’s hand and Jack trashed about in pain begging Tyler to make it stop? Jack thought he knew what rock bottom was, but he was wrong and Tyler had to enlighten him. Using this scene as a metaphor is the best way I can describe my experience with Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops. Back in 2007, a game developer called Metropolis Software released Infernal, a game so bad that I returned it after only playing for twenty minutes. It was horrible; the camera was broken, the story didn’t make sense, there was no auto-save, and there was a general laundry list of other complaints that earned its title as the worst game I have ever played. Like Jack, I thought I had found the bottom, but only four years later, here comes Black Lion Studios with a big bag of lye…to enlighten me.
Shadow Harvest takes place in 2025 during a Somalia conflict. You play as both Aron Alvarez and Myra Lee; two American operatives for the Intelligence Support Activity, or ISA (think Team America: World Police). The whole game centers on how a Somali warlord named Kimosein is able to get technically advanced weaponry (such as mechs) when said technology is barely out of the experimental stage in the US.
The story is slim, but it manages to spread itself out enough that things don’t get too predictable or boring. The real issue here is the characters that drive the story along. Aron for example is supposed to be a seasoned operative, a gritty vet, but he is childish (and sexist) to the point that I have to pause after every one of his comments and marvel at its stupidity, also, he sounds like the announcer for Geico. Myra is the generic femme fatale, and while I enjoyed some of her comebacks to Aron’s “a battlefield is for men” remarks, her character on a whole lacked any redeeming qualities. Finally, the voice-work for both characters (and every other character) completely lacks emotion, and remains remarkably monotone throughout the campaign.
From a technical standpoint, this game should not have released. Savage dips in fps that render the game nearly unplayable occur constantly and game ending crashes are frequent. There are also a number of sound design issues that cause, for example, Myra’s leather outfit to be louder than gunfire at times, or Aron’s gun to go completely silent.
Visuals and AI are both on par for what you would find in a last gen release. Even with max setting on, the environments and characters look low-res and washed-out. Character animation is also stiff, clunky, and devoid of all facial animations. The AI is laughably bad. The enemies that don’t stand in the middle of the street as you shoot at them from cover, either run frantically between covered positions or just act like you’re not there.
The gameplay for Aron and Myra is the standard over the shoulder third person setup seen in many modern games, but the camera is set too close to the character and most of the screen is occupied with their back as a result. This becomes more of an issue with Aron whose gun’s muzzle flash easily takes up the remainder of the screen when zoomed in, making multiple shots impossible. Myra on the other hand is restricted to her crossbow which has no bad qualities other than it takes her a millennia to reload it. Probably the biggest issue though is the auto save and damage indication systems. Health is a throwback to the old standard of percentage health and health packs, which is fine except that there is almost no way to tell when you’re being shot. There is an indicator that tells you what direction gunfire is coming from, but the only way to see if you’ve been hit is by checking the health meter on the bottom corner of the screen. This combined with an auto save system that only hits twice or three times a mission makes for a very frustrating playthrough.
For those looking for a challenge and are able to look past Shadow Harvest’s many faults,the game does provide some challenging stealth missions that involve Myra’s character. She has an assortment of high tech gear (such as a cloaking suit and Wolverine-like claws) that keeps the stealth fresh and playable.
With a half-baked campaign that barely lasts six hours (not counting multiple checkpoint restarts), lack of multiplayer, and limited features, it’s hard to suggest Shadow Harvest to anyone, despite its low price. I did notice that the words in the title could be reordered in any fashion and no meaning would be lost though, probably the most fun I’ve had with the game. Thank you Black Lion Studios for showing me the bottom, I think I”ll take that vinegar now.