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  Reviewed by Erich Becker
March 31, 2003
Role-Playing Action
"Diablo in space" sounds like a tempting notion. After all, Diablo (and its superb sequel) are heralded as the best mouse-clicking, action RPGs on the PC, and if you threw all of that into a sci-fi setting you might have created a game that everyone looking for the next fix would pick up, but if they were to pick up Harbinger, they would probably find themselves severely disappointed with the outcome.

If there ever was a game that I wanted to be able to give a favorable review to, this would be it. A Sci-Fi hack-n-slash aboard a massive, planet-like ship, filled with robots, aliens and a few remaining humans all while the shipís commanding race acts like the Borg, ripping civilizations off of their home planets to fill in the slave ranks, and keep the Harbinger flowing along through the great beyond, can I get a "Hell Yeah?" Yet, I was troubled to find that the game ultimately wastes away the "coolness" factor it built up with its premise, and leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth, akin to playing a game with so much promise, and hype, that is could never amount to what it was built up to be.

Harbinger takes place, as mentioned, on a massive ship that flows through the galaxy, abducting and "assimilating" races to act as slave labor aboard this massive ship. You choose one of three different characters, all with a different vendetta, but ultimately leading you to the same ending. Where Diablo challenged gamers who had made it to a certain point, Harbinger starts off almost incredibly hard. It is ludicrous to even attempt the first few levels if you have never played a game like this before, or havenít been able to find the gameís combat faults.

The biggest of these faults you will discover is how easily combat transitions into nothing more than gun and run battles where you strike your opponent and then run away, avoiding their haplessly launched projectile weapon, and repeating until that said enemy is defeated. Melee combat becomes a battle of frustration, rather than wits, as your health meter is battered to oblivion with only a few hits, which makes the game incredibly challenging from the start. Iím not one opposed to a challenge, beating Turok: Dinosaur Hunter without cheats proved that to me, but for a novice player learning the ropes before facing an opposing adversary is always important to keep the game simple, and easy at first, and then ease them into it. Itís quite sad that Silverback ignored this fact when designing the gameís earlier levels.

While running through this metal-plated world you will happen upon some nicely rendered backgrounds, which are static given the gameís isometric 3/4 perspective, yet, most environments appear bland, and lacking the little details that could make the game more believable. Over time, cities and groups of people have formed on this ship, given the gameís back-story, but most levels are void of any nicks, scratches, or any time weathering at all, everything just looks to perfect. Hell, most cars come off the lot with a minor problem or two. Not to say that everything looks bad, it looks good in its simplicity.

Gamers will choose from three different characters who all posses different abilities. The Human is able to use mines, the Gladiator (a robot) can use cameras and has a powerful melee attack, and the Culibine, a mystical woman who is the last of her kind and serves as this gameís mage. She is weak, but possesses magical abilities and ranged attacks. One quirky gameplay mechanic is the ability to pick up items not meant for your character, such as health that can only be used by the Gladiator when you are playing as the Human or the Culibine. Supposedly you are able to carry these items to sell and earn money for, but you will quickly find your inventory filling up with items that arenít even meant for your, while health you can use goes untouched on the floor. To alleviate some of this overburden the designers choose to implement a system similar to your stash in other RPGs where you can transfer items into a containment system and withdraw them when they are needed, unfortunately these stations only appear in certain parts of levels and most gamerís, bent on beating the game, will just discard items they canít use, rather than carry them to one of these depositories.

Sound is the only part of the game that I found above average as a whole. What little music plays sounds great, no evidence of any hissing or artifacting. Spoken dialog, from the main characters is also very well done, and delivered wonderfully. You actually get the impression that these are real people. The game reminded me a lot of the Fallout series in the dialog department as it took a severely cynical and dark tone to everything, bringing you into the gutter where your character has presumably lived a majority of his/her life. This dark humor is a major plus in an otherwise disappointing experience.

Players will find control easy to use and easy and navigate. Being an action RPG keeps the number of menus to a minimum with only your Inventory, Character, and Quest dialogs to search around through. Potions are consumed by hitting a determined key on the keyboard (Space) and right and left clicking launches melee and ranged attacks.

Aside from the novelty of being called "Diablo in space," Harbinger stands no where near the polished, Blizzard developed title. While the cynical humor might keep you playing, the devoid of detailed graphics and overall, hampering difficulty may keep you from enjoying that play time. Harbinger servers as a product with a lot of good ideas, and some truly great promise, but disappoints in the end as it comes off of a shameless clone of a great game. Silverback has a great building block and a great learning experience in this product, and with several improvements to the battle system, and game balance a sequel could be a truly above average game that Diablo would be honored to sit next to on the shelf at your local EB.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Pentium III 500 MHz; Windows 98/ME/2000/XP; DirectX 8.0 compatible 3D accelerator with at least 16MB of video RAM; 128 MB RAM; 650 MB available hard drive space; 4x CD-ROM drive.


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