Ever run across those top ten lists
of the goriest video games?
For whatever reason,
such extreme games intrigue me.
So when I saw today’s game in
many of those lists, I had to own it.
The game is Harvester,
developed by DigiFX Interactive and
published by Merit Studios in 1996.
Harvest… population 51– Nope! 50!
Holy crap! Someone just died
while I was reading this.
Hmm… Yes, this looks pleasant,
judging by this artwork.
Though I’m not sure what’s more
disturbing: the blood and gore,
or the fact that it apparently makes
use of mid-’90s full-motion video.
Inside the box, you get the
game on three CD-ROMs,
as well as the surprisingly extensive manual,
which covers everything
from how to install the game
to how to click on people,
click on places,
and click on things,
because adventure games, yo.
Harvester begins with a
pre-rendered 3D intro sequence,
showing off what is apparently
some sort of nightmare
followed by the world’s largest
and slowest alarm clock.
[slow, echoing ringing]
Then a freckled, pale man appears,
and runs his hand through
his hair, signifying that, yes,
if this guy can get an acting gig,
then so can you.
He then puts on his shirt,
so as not to completely blind you,
and the game begins.
In Harvester, you play as, uh…
You’re goal is to…
In Harvester, you play a human
male that has lost his memory.
In typical point-and-click
adventure game style,
you can point and click to
adventure through the game, stylishly.
Look around the room,
pick up any useful items,
interact with interactive interactions,
and check out the
character’s thoughts on things.
Like this clarinet some fat
high school girl obviously left there–
We may not know much about
our mysterious wonder boy here,
but we can already assume he can
fall on the rude-and-crude side of things.
Once you start looking through the rest of the house,
it quickly becomes apparent that you’re in some
kind of exaggerated 1950s Americana fantasy,
complete with the tropes and assumptions
that you’d expect from such a setting.
Though even those tend to feel
just a bit too much, somehow…
“Just because I’m doing housework
doesn’t mean I have to be a drudge.
It’s a wife’s duty to look good
for her husband at all times.”
It turns out your name is Steve Mason,
and apparently, you always were a kidder.
“Well, you always were a kidder, Steve.”
“You always were a kidder, Steve.”
“Well, you always were a kidder, Steve.”
“You’ve always been a kidder, Steve.”
Okay, I think they’re trying to tell me something.
Anyway, from here you amble around town
doing your best to convince people
you are not, in fact, a kidder.
The game is divided up into six days
and each day you’ll have a
set number of things you can do,
places you can access
and people you can talk to.
The first day is pretty harmless enough.
Just kind of meet the people,
meet your surroundings,
meet the… meat.
“It takes dedication, and a strong stomach.
Yeah, sorry cat lovers.
This game just got a bit grim.
In fact, it’ll get grim for you
human lovers pretty soon, too,
so if you’re squeamish
at slightly gross things,
then you should probably grow a spine–
I mean, turn away right now.
Anyway, the game makes basically
no sense at the very beginning,
and it does a very good job at making
you question absolutely everything.
Like, are these people even people?
I mean, are they robots or something,
because there’s a bit of a Westworld
meets Stepford Wives thing going on.
“Mercy, what a terrible thing to say!
Isn’t it ladies?”
[other women, in unison]
Everyone is an over-the-top stereotype
or satire on some type of character
and I mean, like, it’s even more so than your
typical mid-’90s FMV-riddled adventure game.
Like, seriously, firemen?
Men… that are flaming–
Oh, they’re gay and like
art and fabric. Wow.
[lisped male voice]
“Stop it, you’re messing me up!”
And also, what’s with this
town you’re in called Harvest?
It seems to be cut off
from the rest of the world
and why is it in the 1950s when you
clearly remember bits of the future?
And why the nuts does everyone expect
you to either get a job as a butcher
or join the lodge and the
Order of the Harvest Moon?
Well, turns out that’s what the
point of the game is, at least initially.
Try to get into the lodge and join the order.
The problem is you can’t do so unless
you first find and submit an application.
And then perform a series of tasks
in order to show your worthiness,
or some cliched crap like that.
But, I mean, of course it’d be a cliche.
Everything else is, right?
That’s what’s so interesting
about Harvester from the get-go.
You think it’s just a
lazy story effort at first,
but it’s not long before you just
know that there’s something else
far more interesting going on,
and this is all just a cover-up for something.
You just have no freaking clue what it is exactly,
and that’s what keeps you trudging
onward through the campy set pieces,
hammy voice acting,
and somewhat predictable amnesia story.
That and moments like this,
where if you screw up,
you accidentally nuke the world.
[machine gun fire]
[rockets launching, sirens blaring]
If you don’t set off World War III,
it’s not long before you meet
someone named Stephanie Pottsdam,
a girl that you’re apparently
set to marry in a few weeks.
On talking to her, you find out that
she has no memory just like you.
Could you be the only two
sane people in this town?
Should you get it on through an awkward
FMV cutscene, even though you just met?
Why, yes, and yes.
That only makes sense.
After you’ve bumped some uglies and
apparently started caring for each other,
you make a pact to find a
way out of the town together.
And even though you’re hesitant,
your best bet is by joining the lodge.
The only problem is that lodge’s
sergeant-at-arms here is giving you tasks
that are increasingly more violent,
either against property, people or both.
“Know, then, that securing the application
was but the first step on
your road to enlightenment.
Now, you must complete a series of tasks
to prove your worthiness.”
[LGR in demonic voice]
And whatever you do,
don’t look underneath my robe.
There’s a reason I’m making
these pleasured expressions.
And it has absolutely nothing to do
with anything going on underneath my robe.
Oh, yeah, right there…
[LGR, normal voice]
This is where the game starts
taking a seriously dark turn.
You make friends throughout your time in Harvest,
and without spoiling anything,
sometimes you have to do things
that may affect them in
a way that’s not so great.
I mean, scratching a cranky old guy’s
flawless Tucker Torpedo sedan is one thing.
But burning down the livelihood of
someone who has already lost plenty,
causing them to murder their
only child and then kill themselves,
that’s something else entirely.
But, hey, you gotta do what you
gotta do to get into the lodge, right?
Apparently so, because that’s the
game and you’ve chosen to play along.
Violence and the role it plays in society is
something commented on heavily in Harvester,
and that is not something I was expecting.
Everything from your TV-obsessed
psychopathic younger brother Hank,
who soullessly rambles on
about his sadistic tendencies,
to the fact that talking
about sex in Harvest is taboo.
Not because it’s the conservative 1950s,
but because intercourse here
is a masochistic torture session,
where the female doms the male
so badly that he’s nearly killed.
“Violence is as American as
apple pie and low SAT scores.
“But what about studies that have shown that
children become more violent when watching violence?”
“Violence IS entertainment.
I just put it on the air.
If some kid watches,
that says something about the kid,
The full extent of what
the game is trying to say
doesn’t come together
completely until the very end,
once you figure out the secret
purpose behind the town of Harvest.
But it’s obvious from the
beginning that there’s a theme
regarding the influence of
violence in media going on.
Once you’ve killed a bunch of people
and generally wreaked enough havoc
on the town enough to get everyone…
well, not really that affected because
they’re already thoroughly screwed up,
it’s time to insert disc 3 and enter the lodge.
And, wow, does the gameplay
take a turn for the worse here.
The first two-thirds of the game are
adventure gaming awesomeness,
fun dialog puzzles, collecting
and making use of your inventory,
figuring out the story of
what’s going on with the town
and how it pertains to your own
struggles and all that good stuff.
But then you reach the
inner sanctum of the lodge
and, well, it turns into a
clunky survival-horror nightmare
that feels sporadic at best
and phoned in at worst.
You’ve got a maze of weirdness to explore
that works just like a sideshow house of horrors.
One minute, you’re fighting a giant chess piece,
another you’re murdering evil clowns.
And then you’re having sex with hookers and
getting STDs and no I’m not making this up.
It jumps at least seventeen
sharks with its randomness
and then the gameplay itself is
freaking infuriating on top of that.
The puzzles are often convoluted
and occasionally timed,
the combat is far from ideal,
and the charming weirdness of
the town of Harvest is all but gone
and replaced with utter absurdity
laced with a topping of
what the dick just happened?
Well, but you get to see a mother get
eaten by her zombie children. That’s nice.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
Ew, and actually, this is about
the nastiest scene in the game,
which is surprising,
since I was led to believe
the game was chock-full of
disturbing violence and gore.
Maybe I’m a bit desensitized, but I’ve seen
far worse than what was included in Harvester,
even in contemporary games like
Mortal Kombat II and Phantasmagoria.
But anyway, eventually you
reach the end of the game
and you’re provided with your
biggest choice in the game so far,
which is far more complicated
than the previous choices of
playing the game like a nice guy
or as a complete sociopath.
Nope. All those choices
didn’t really matter much.
This is the one that counts.
You can choose the bad ending
or the not quite so bad,
but still definitely bad ending.
I’m not gonna spoil the endings,
but let me just say that I was satisfied
that they didn’t leave me with
too many unanswered questions
regarding the nature of the
town and your place in it.
And, really, that’s about how I
would sum up the entire game.
Yes, it took a turn for the
lackluster towards the end
with its side scrolling awkwardness,
but the overall journey is
something I’m glad I took.
I am not the biggest
adventure gamer by any means,
but I had a lot of fun
roaming the streets of Harvest
and seeing what twisted shenanigans
its citizens were up to every day.
And what kind of horrible thing
I would have to pull off next.
The fact that it also brings up relevant
points regarding violence in society,
violence in media and video games
and how it may or may not affect
people on a psychological level
is an unexpected bonus.
I’m surprised that the game
wasn’t just a mindless gorefest
like some have made it
out to be over the years,
and I’m surprised it didn’t spark
more discussion back in the day.
Though I guess I’m actually not,
since it failed commercially
and the violent game debate peaked
several years prior to the game’s release.
But that’s neither here nor there,
because right now I would say that
this game is still worth checking out.
Yes, the graphics are dated and the
gameplay may be somewhat quaint,
but that only adds to the charm for me.
And with it also taking a step beyond by
being genuinely interesting to discuss,
not to mention having the ability to
genuinely get under my skin every so often,
well, that’s even better.
So if you can manage to track
down a copy of this cult favorite,
know that I am not a kidder
when I say it is very much recommended.
I’d say this was death by natural causes.
You can’t live without a spinal cord, son.
[piano music, footsteps]
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