Retro Review: Body Harvest
Platform: Nintendo 64
Publisher: Gremlin Interactive
Developer: DMA Design
For my second Halloween themed review I wanted to revisit a game that I played a lot when it was originally released. Although Body Harvest isn’t a traditional horror game, it does share a lot in common with 50’s B-movie science fiction, where giant insect aliens are threatening the safety of our planet.
My main memories of Body Harvest are not only the setting and story, but also that it was one of the first 3D open world games on console, where you could get in different vehicles to move around. This was kind of a big deal at the time as there weren’t many games like it, and it was released three years before Grand Theft Auto 3 changed the gaming landscape. The GTA comparisons don’t end there and it’s no surprise that DMA games, who worked on Body Harvest, were responsible for creating GTA 1, 2 and 3.
People who read this and know their gaming history will be shouting at me if I don’t reference another early open world game. Special mention has to go to a game called Hunter which was released in 1991 for the Amiga. This was probably the first 3D open world game that I played which absolutely blew me away with its sandbox gameplay. Although it looked very basic you could get into a range of different vehicles and tackle objectives in multiple ways.
The story of Body Harvest put a smile on my face because it is set in 2016. I always love it when games and movies that were made years ago have a current time setting. It makes me wonder what the makers thought the world would be like in the future, as it seemed so far away and lets face it, we all probably thought that the year 2000 was going to be amazingly futuristic.
The tale of Body Harvest is pure pulp science fiction where aliens have destroyed the earth, slowly harvesting the population. The first recorded incident of the aliens attacking occurred in Greece, 1916. The aliens would attack every 25 years in different locations with subsequent attempts to destroy us happening in 1941, 1966 and finally 1991. You play a lone genetically engineered soldier called Adam Drake who has to travel back in time on the dates of each attack and try to stop them.
Body Harvest is an action adventure where you have to meet and help people from the different timelines. The main objective is to stop the aliens, but, the inhabitants of each level will help you in turn for completing various tasks for them. This can be as simple as speaking to someone to lower a bridge or, helping a burning village by getting a fire engine to put out the blaze.
One of the great things about Body Harvest is that you can control numerous vehicles from the various timelines. The handling of the vehicles themselves isn’t too bad and they all feel responsive based on what it is you are controlling. For example, a motorbike will be nice and zippy, whereas an old jalopy will be slow and lumbering. Each vehicle can take damage and requires fuel but, luckily you can collect extra health and gasoline.
One of my gripes with the game is controlling the main character. You never quite feel in control of him as it takes him a while to turn around like he is slipping on invisible ice. It also feels like he is running through treacle but saying that, you spend most of your time in the numerous vehicles so it isn’t a major problem.
Occasionally you are confronted with aliens who warp into the area but, they don’t pose to much of a threat. Periodically you will be alerted that the aliens are harvesting the population and if you don’t save them in time, then the death toll will rise meaning game over. The aliens remind me a lot of the bugs from Starship Troopers and range from tank-like insects that charge straight at you, to flying monsters that fire deadly lasers. There is plenty of variety and of course, there is a huge boss to test your reflexes.
There are lots of different weapons to collect which help you in your quest. You start with a bog standard laser gun, which is fine at first but, you soon realise that you need something a little more powerful for the larger insects. The targeting system works well and when you press the trigger a reticule appears giving you independent aiming. You can also aim when you are in vehicles which is a nice touch, although some vehicles only allow a certain field of vision.
You travel by land, sea and air and are able to swim, even if it is only for a few seconds. The official line from the game is that your suit isn’t able to cope with the water but, in all honesty it is a major annoyance. If your boat is destroyed by enemies it almost guarantees certain death if you aren’t close enough to land. As you can imagine, this isn’t fun, especially as you swim about as fast as a drowning sloth!
Although the open world isn’t massive you do require a map to help you get around and this is another criticism I have of the game. You will need to refer to it regularly and to say that it isn’t particularly clear is a bit of an understatement. Even when I checked it to see where I needed to go, I had to keep checking to see if I was heading in the right direction. Nowadays we take things like this for granted by setting a waypoint or following a mini-map but, sadly this wasn’t available in 1998.
Graphically the game looks fine if a little rough around the edges and as you would imagine, everything looks very angular and full of polygons. As with many N64 games there is a huge amount of fog which prevents you seeing into the distance but, this doesn’t mean that the graphics suffer as a result. The vehicles and bugs look good but, the environments themselves look almost identical and it can be difficult to tell which buildings you can enter.
The music and sound effects are great and suit the B-movie setting with a nice sci-fi soundtrack. One of the things that impressed me about the game is how the music changes as you progress. For example, as you are wandering or driving around there is a nice serene melody playing but, as soon as you encounter enemies it changes into a suitably more ominous tune.
Despite some faults I really enjoyed going back to Body Harvest. Although there are a few niggles that irritated me, the game is quite advanced for its time and was a precursor of what we could expect with the GTA series.
Graphics – Very angular and pointy but, this was the style for the time so I can’t be to harsh. The fog effect is due to limitations of the hardware but, doesn’t hurt the overall look. The cars and aliens look nicely detailed. 6
Sound – Excellent music and sound that suits the science fiction B movie feel. The dynamically changing soundtrack is also a nice touch. 7
Playability – The vehicles handle well but, the main character moves around like Bambi on ice and you never quite feel in control of his movements. 6
Re-Playability – Despite its age and some issues with the camera, control and death by water, I still think Body Harvest is very playable. 6
Overall – I really enjoyed replaying Body Harvest after all these years. It’s rough around the edges but, it has an interesting story and setting, the music is good and the open world nature of the gameplay is still worth checking out. 6