Over the last 100 years, mankind has been swallowed whole by an alien menace. And I mean literally swallowed whole, they ate us. We were tasty. Their M.O. was the same each time: pop up in an area distracted by war or internal strife, set up giant big blue walls to cut off any chance of rescue, and proceed to systematically harvest the unfortunate souls caught inside the barriers. In the future year of 2016 (oh…wait…) the last bastion of human resistance is about to make its move, sending super-soldier Adam Drake back in time to each of the alien feeding frenzies to tell the invaders that the buffet is closed permanently. Yup, it’s a B-movie plot, but today’s game, Body Harvest by Midway Games and DMA Design, is way more than its premise would suggest.
DMA Design, for those who might not know, were a clan of skilled developers based out of Scotland, who would eventually change their names to Rockstar North, who you might know better as the developers of the Grand Theft Auto series. I’m not sure if they called upon some of the experience of Body Harvest for those games, but it definitely does FEEL like a proto-GTA. That means there’s gonna be some shooting, there’s gonna be some driving, there’s gonna be creative mayhem, and there’s definitely a tongue planted very firmly in a cheek.
In a lot of ways, the gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of Metroid, as well. You’ll be running a lot of errands for people to obtain items, weapons, or access to vehicles, which you’ll use to grab other weapons, items, or vehicles, and so on and so forth, until you clear an area’s boss, called a Processor, and open up a new area. You won’t have all the time in the world to dally, though, as the aliens are, in fact, quite hungry. Within the first ten seconds of starting the game, you’ll encounter your first Harvester wave, alien attack forces that beam down to towns and villages, trying to smash open buildings in an effort to scare the delicious, nutritious humans from their shelter and into the open. These tend to be scripted, and while most of these attack waves aren’t terribly difficult to kill, you’d be well advised to drop whatever else you’re doing and book it over to the attack zone whenever they touch down.
Y’see, aside from your own death, the other way to get a game over is to allow too many humans to die. The body count is shown as a bar in the bottom of the screen, and while it takes a lot of deaths to fill it up all the way, there’s also no way to make it go back down, and aside from harvester kills, any humans you kill by accident or by failing certain objectives also tally up, so you might find yourself in a real pickle in the last area of a level. Not only that, if the harvesters do manage to rack up six humans during a single wave, they’ll have enough genetic material to create a mutant, a giant jumping death machine that will hunt you down and is capable of one-hit killing you, two hits if you’re in a vehicle.
On the upside, you’re well-equipped to match up with your alien adversaries. You start with a pistol with little range or power but infinite ammo, and can scoop up hunting rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and heavy artillery like rocket launchers and the awesome SUNSHIELD. You can also fire from vehicles you commandeer, as well as use vehicle-mounted weapons like tank guns and heavy machine guns. If you’re diligent in your searches, you can find weapon crystals in the various buildings, and scoring all the crystals in a level grants you access you an alien weapon that causes huge damage and changes from level to level.
Levels themselves are quite spacious, even despite being broken up by the alien walls. Each one has around 20 vehicles, from cars and trucks to boats and planes, and most are even period-accurate, so you’ll go from WWI tanks and Model T-eqsue jalopies in 1916 Greece to Harriers and armored personnel carriers in 1991 Siberia. Each vehicle handles a bit differently, adding to the realism, and have different levels of armor, so a civilian sedan takes a lot less punishment than a military vehicle. In a nice touch of realism, vehicles actually require fuel, which is plentiful in Greece and Siberia, but way less so in Java and America, so you’d be well-advised not to spend too much time putting about in any one vehicle.
Not all the action takes place in the wide open spaces, though. There’ll be a hefty chunk of poking about indoors as well. At the very least, most buildings house useful health and ammo pickups, and some off the beaten path provide special items like weapon crystals, alien artifacts, and a lot of them feature bookcases you can peruse for some history of the local area or maybe a hint or two about what you’re supposed to be doing. NPC’s also are scattered throughout the buildings, but there’s not much in the way of dialogue with them, they basically exist to be placeholders to give you items or tasks.
Your objectives are pretty straightforward and easy to figure out, although some require a bit of backtracking, however, some missions do play into the game’s strengths rather well. For example, in Siberia, you’ll encounter a radio transmitter that’s with a large alien jelly…thing…posted up on top of it, leeching off of it for power. To destroy it, you’ll need something a bit stronger than your standard arsenal, a SCUD missile. To solve the problem, you’ll commandeer a tank from a military base, blast your way to where the SCUD launcher is parked, switch to a cargo helicopter, tow the SCUD back to the military base, get the launch code for the missile from a technician at the base, and then fire the SCUD off, controlling it all the way to its target and making a sick impact crater (that even shows up on your map afterwards). Very cool, and moreover, it actually feels somewhat logical, and for the most part, most of the puzzles here have answers that won’t leave you running for a walkthrough.
Play control is excellent here. Adam doesn’t have too many moves, but the manual aim mechanism works quite well, with locking onto a target also showing how much health an enemy has, and your ability to roll and dodge while aiming can be very helpful when you’re stuck on foot. All the vehicles, even the more bizarre ones like the Soviet hovercraft and the German triplane from Greece, handle very smoothly. At the end of each level, you’ll square off with a boss from behind the wheel of your home base, the Alpha One, which converts into a nifty hovercraft for the battle, which does feel like the epic showdown it’s supposed to be. Perhaps the most useful tool in your kit is your map, which can be pulled up any time, and shows the locations of towns, landmarks, your next objective, and any harvester waves that have beamed down. You can also add your own waypoints in case you find something interesting and want to remember to check it out later.
Now, if there is a complaint to be found here, it’s the graphics. EVERYTHING looks extremely blocky and polygonal here, and textures are recycled very frequently. That first jungle hut you happen upon in Java? Hope you like that setup, because those huts make up 90% of the buildings there. There’s literally no difference that I can tell between the hunting rifle sprite and the shotgun sprite and the machine gun sprite. Adam himself looks like a bright orange action figure you’d find at a pharmacy just labeled “Future Soldier”, and the vehicles look especially flat and static. The highlight is the design of the aliens, who look like giant insects and for whom looking like big green inhuman bugs actually works. They do have that weird spidery walk down pat, and it never got old blowing up an alien turret and then splattering the tiny survivor or taking out the lead harvester in a wave and watching it spurt out cheesy green blood, which, again, works pretty well for the whole B-movie atmosphere.
It’s hard for me to do Body Harvest justice through words. It sounds like a goofy premise, looks meh in pictures, and not a lot of people bring it up outside of the “cult classic” tag. Still, it’s a title I would urge you to pick up and play through at least once, if only for the curiosity of seeing what a proto-GTA game for N64 feels like. There’s plenty of bug-blasting action to go around, with just enough thinking required to make it more than a mindless orgy of violence. I highly, HIGHLY recommend it to anyone looking for a tremendous N64 action title not made by Nintendo or Rareware or anyone who just wants to get back to the most basic concept in video games: blasting invaders…from space.
A fun, all-terrain romp with tons of different vehicles that’s high on action and carnage, with just enough thought required.
If you care a whit about graphics, you’re probably not going to be thrilled here.