[Review] Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops
Available on: PC; Publisher: Viva Media; Developer: Black Lion Studios; Players: 1; Released: April 5, 2011; ESRB: Mature; Official Website
When gamers think about a military shooter, they generally think about first rate games like the Call of Duty or Battlefield series. Gamers think about these games because they are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the Brad Pitt of military shooters; unfortunately for Black Lion Studios, their take on the military shooter genre is barely B list quality. Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops is like the red headed step child of Splinter Cell and Call of Duty because it tries so hard to mimic the in-game cutscenes that Modern Warfare does so well, and also the third person stealth action that is reminiscent of Splinter Cell. Although the attempt to create a hybrid of two successful franchises was a very admirable pursuit, it simply fails to grasp any kind of shock and awe that was apparent in any Call of Duty game and does not even come close to the gameplay level of Splinter Cell.
Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops begins in the year 2025 as you assume the role of Aron Alvarez; an American operative for the Intelligence Support Activity, or ISA. Basically, a Somali warlord named Kimosein is able to get ahold of technologically advanced weaponry and it is up to Aron Alvarez and Myra Lee to stop him.
On my first playthrough of the game, I was flabbergasted at how bad the voice acting was and as I quickly reached over to the escape button to skip through the cutscenes, I was unable to do so. I desperately began smashing the buttons on my keyboard in hopes of finding a way to skip through them but it was to no avail. At any rate, I continued to trudge through the single player game and found that filling the role of Aron was quite a mundane task as I continued to mow down enemies that predictably popped out every few seconds. It wasn’t until the appearance of Myra did the game finally become worth playing. The character-switching dynamic is probably the only interesting aspect in the game and that in itself wasn’t even that fulfilling. If a situation called for a Rambo-esque blood bath then Aron is your obvious choice and if you needed stealth then you would choose Myra.
The most frustrating part of the game is that it is jam-packed with poorly spaced checkpoints. Every time you go through a level, the lack of manual saving definitely adds a certain white-knuckled tension that would drive most gamers crazy. The worst part of it all is that when you fail the mission, you are forced to watch an unavoidable cut scene with the same terrible voice acting. Talk about a double whammy!
With that all said, Shadow Harvest has some successful elements. The best aspects are clearly the graphics and sound effects (not the voice acting mind you). The most satisfying component of the game is the design of the levels. Each map has little details that produce a believable setting filled with detailed character models, though it still feels a little clunky, especially when the characters move in and out of cover.
The weapons in the year 2025 are expected to be unique and in this aspect the game doesn’t disappoint. The XM8 Assault Rifle and crossbow are pretty cool weapons to play with, especially in Myra’s hands, and the use of the tab key as a way to switch between characters is done smoothly as well as the ability to tackle a mission with either or both weapons. Unfortunately, linear level designs fail to make good use of this unique style of gameplay and instead makes the game an exercise in the usage of common sense (Lots of enemies? Use Aron. Need stealth? Use Myra).
Overall, Shadow Harvest is clearly lacking on many fronts – bad voice acting, auto save points, inescapable cutscenes, and linear gameplay plague it. The game does manage to shine in several areas. The graphics and sound are all above average and provides a locale that suitably fits the game along with its weapon selection. Tabbing between characters provides excitement in between moments of tedious gun battles but, all in all, the game does not provide anything beyond what was just listed. With no multiplayer mode or manual saving, it is an inevitable frustration and tedious slaughter of AI. Unfortunately, Shadow Harvest is a game that is simply not worth the purchase and, for its price tag, you would be better off waiting for Modern Warfare 3 or renting Saving Private Ryan.