Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops


posted 5/6/2011 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
There wasn’t much else to concentrate on. Finding my way through the streets, even when forced to flank an enemy, was so linear that no creativity in strategy or tactics was required. There was really only one way to go. The biggest challenge came from getting stuck in places or running into objects that in real life could easily be stepped over. The ostensible infirmity that kept me from walking over even the smallest obstacle did nothing to prevent me from knocking over heavy 55 gallon drums as if they were made of feathers and filled with helium, oddly enough. The incongruity of that was jarring! The drums weren’t filled with helium, as it turned out. As can only happen in oil rich countries that have executed all of their lawyers, the barrels were all filled with highly explosive elements. I soon learned that I didn’t really need to detect enemies; all I had to do was look for barrels and shoot them whenever or wherever I found them. More often than not, unseen enemies would be taken out by the explosion. I was finally getting to the point where I could progress through the game without routinely getting killed, although I have to confess that I wasn’t getting much enjoyment out of it.

And then I met Myra Lee.

Myra drops into the game to provide the second half of the Stealth-Action genre. There’s no running around the streets blowing up 55 gallon drums for her; she prefers to sneak around in the shadows and accomplish with stealth that which cannot be accomplished with action. Or something.

The problem with Myra, or more specifically, the game, is that she actually can’t hide in the shadows. She accomplishes her stealth through the means of an incredibly expensive, sexy little electronic suit that renders her invisible, but only at the cost of a nearly insatiable thirst for hard to come by electricity. It’s much like a Tesla roadster now that I think about. It even has the “range anxiety” that comes with the car. My first experiences with Myra were fraught with frustration because I couldn’t keep her hidden long enough to get where I needed to go. That got better when I realized that I didn’t have to move slowly when I was invisible. Just the opposite, in fact. Run when invisible, crouch and move slowly when the batteries are dead.

Myra’s weapon of choice is the crossbow. Silent, deadly, and horribly slow to reload. Two out of three ain’t bad, and in reality, the reload time shouldn’t matter anyway if you get the stealth thing right. Still, more often than not I got her killed while she was busy reloading. On the occasions when I did manage to successfully take out an enemy, I didn’t have to worry about hiding the inconveniently ostentatious corpse. That’s because Myra also has these convenient little “nanites” that she can inject into the body that make it invisible for hours. Those would have been cool to have to provide invisibility for Myra instead of the voraciously hungry suit, had they not been lethal.

It was at this point that the whole experience became overwhelmingly contrived. At every turn, I was confronted with the feeling that story elements had been contrived to cover the weaknesses in the technical development of the game. Enemies are hard to see, so outline them in red. It’s difficult to code shadows into the world, so render Myra and her prey invisible so they can’t be seen. It’s hard to make a virtual world lifelike enough to guide the player down a path unobtrusively, so provide plenty of jarringly out of place way points. Nothing about the game defined excellence in design or execution. Rather, the overall feeling was one of an almost savage mediocrity. Even the background music was reminiscent of a porn movie that not even the most desperately hormonal teenager would be able to watch for long.

At the end of the day, the idea of Shadow Harvest was, if not evolutionary, at least promising, but the implementation of the idea is sorely lacking. The bar for both action and stealth games has been set exceedingly high, but it was a mistake to assume that the combination of two lackluster attempts at each would result in a superior product.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

Sometimes combining disparate elements can result in a product whose value is greater than the sum of the parts. Other times, not so much. Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops showed promise in the premise but completely fails to fulfill its mission.

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