15 October 2009 ~ 1 Comment

Niche Game: Body Harvest

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Body Harvest was released in 1998 by DMA Design, the company that later became Rockstar North, the makers of Grand Theft Auto III. This isn’t at all surprising if you play the game as the style is very similar with a wide open world, open-ended game play, a large collection of weapons, and the ability to acquire any vehicle you see. The graphics weren’t terribly impressive, even for the time, which might explain why this awesome game has been overlooked by so many.

The story begins in 2016, and humanity is on the brink of extinction, at war with an insect-like alien race. Every 25 years for the last century aliens have returned to Earth for one day and sealed off an area of the Earth behind an impenetrable shield which prevented any outside help from entering the area. The poor humans outside watch helplessly as the humans within are slaughtered, every single one.

Now, in 2016, the aliens are back again, poised to wipe out the last remnants of the human race. The human race has finally perfected time travel technology, and they’re able to send one soldier back in time to single-handedly take on the alien threat.

First stop, Greece in 1916. Shortly after you arrive, you receive an alert of suspicious alien activity in the area. Hordes of helpless local civilians are being dragged kicking and screaming out of their houses by bloblike aliens which are carrying them towards a bug the size of a tank to have their bodies harvested for unknown reasons. Many other aliens are defending the big “harvester” bug. Your job is to destroy the big bug as soon as possible, the more humans it harvests, the closer the aliens are to reaching their agenda. There’s a meter on the screen that keeps track of casualties. If you let too many people die, game over.

In each time period the vehicles and weapons are at least a semblance of era-appropriate, which gives a nice excuse for increasing the firepower of weapons and quality of vehicles as time goes on. Besides stopping Harvester waves, you also must defeat a major boss at several stages in each year. This will drop a teleport beacon to make transport easier as well as opening a hole in the shield to progress to the next level.

When this game first came out the ability to switch between such a multitude of vehicles had never been seen before. From normal cars, to tanks, helicopters, various boats, airplanes. There’s even an alien UFO. Weapons all have a variety of different stats. Most of the weapons are pretty standard fare, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, all with their strengths and weaknesses. My favorite weapon by far is the sun shield, a mythological weapon stripped from a Greek statue. It reflects and focuses the light of the sun into a powerful weapon. It requires no ammo, can cause damage as far as the eye can see, and makes quick work of even boss characters.

Besides the action component, there is also some degree of puzzle element. From time to time obstacles will block your progress and you must find a way through or around them, such as finding dynamite to blast a path through a rockslide, or to find a rifle to blast an alien sitting on the distantly perched tram car to free it to move. You can move indoors in certain places, sometimes finding people to talk to, or having to find switches to secret passageways inside. These challenges aren’t terribly difficult but they lend some welcome variety to the gameplay.

Most of the game has a reasonable challenge level. The progression of difficulty of the enemies escalates well with the progression of weapons and vehicles. The boss battles are epic struggles, but not impossible. But, alas, I never finished the game. There was a challenge in the 4th world that proved too much for my then-teenage gaming skills. It involved hauling a heavy explosive on the back of slow and unmaneuverable vehicle. I was given ample time to clear the path before driving it, but somehow new aliens ‘ported in and detonated the explosive no matter what I did. I would like to retry it now to see if I can overcome it now.

Getting your hands on this game won’t take much effort. Unfortunately, it is not available for a Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console download. At least not yet. Finding a copy used shouldn’t be difficult at all. A quick eBay search comes up with many results, some of them with “Buy it Now” prices of about $7, so if you have an N64 console, you’re set. If you don’t have the console, you might be able to find an N64 emulator and a ROM for the game.

Especially considering the low price tag buying this game used, if a lover of a good action shoot-’em-up with bug-eyed aliens, you can’t go wrong. Enjoy!

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