If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the army of shooter clones out there and the subsequent tsunami of money they’ve produced over the past fifteen years it’s that I should really quit waiting on mainstream gaming to fulfill my dreams of a diverse and interesting selection of games. After all, why would anyone stray away from a formula that requires less work and makes enough money to buy Texas?
My recent Indian Jones-esque excursion into the Xbox Live Arcade Market was an interesting one, so I’ve decided to stick with that for a while, at least until the mainstream market bothers to pick up again.
For this week’s adventure into Indie-land, I took a look at a game called Harm’s Way. It’s another oldie, but it appealed to me for two reasons: One, it had the option of A.I. for the multiplayer so I didn’t have to wait between matches for other people to decide to play the game, and two, it was free.
Yes, the game is free. Normally I take anything that tries to pass itself off as free with a 100-pound pile of salt because it usually means that it sucks or that it will be so loaded down with advertising and product placement that the actual “game” part of it will be something I have to work to find. Still, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. And guess what? I was pleasantly surprised, because it’s actually good.
Plot and Characters
None and none. I’m not kidding, there’s no plot and there are no established characters. You’re in a desert and you’re participating in a race where people try to kill you with giant guns.
Now, that might sound a lot like that horrendous Death Race thing which I hesitate to call a film or indeed like the old Twisted Metal games, but there’s a twist (ba-dum-tish).
Here’s how it works: there are four teams of two, always. No matter how many people you play with, one to eight, any empty slots will be automatically filled with A.I. opponents before the race starts.
On a side note, I have to criticize the developers for the level design. This being an indie game, there are three levels. That’s not what I’m talking about, though. It’s the variety in the levels (or rather the severe lack thereof). There’s the desert canyon, the other desert canyon, and the desert canyon junkyard–wow.
Come on, guys, this one wouldn’t have been tough to get around with a little more effort. If nothing else, you could have placed a grass patch over all the sand, plonked down a few trees and called it a forest level!
Anyway, you may choose either of the two roles on your team. The first role is as the driver. As the driver, your job is to drive really fast, win the race, and also to not die. You begin by chosing between four types of vehicles, varying from a fast dune buggy with armor plating that barley amounts to tin foil wrapped around the chassis to a large van covered with pieces of the breastplate of Zeus.
After that you’ll drive through the various desert canyons, try to outrun everyone else (duh), and pick up the Mario Kart-style powerups along the way. These amount to nitro for your turbo-boost, upgrades for your partner (we’ll get to those), a temporary shield for yourself, or downgrades for your rivals’ partners.
The races are actually pretty intense. At no point are the drivers ever more than a few seconds from each other, so there’s never an opportunity for lollygagging. You’ll be forced to focus throughout the entire race if you want to win.
Racing games usually don’t appeal to me much, but if there’s an element that you wouldn’t see on the Talladega Speedway, a racing game can rope me in. It worked for the Burnout series, and indeed it works for Harm’s Way. This extra element is the second team role.
The second role is as the shooter. The shooter isn’t attached to the car though. No, as the shooter, you’ll take command of one of several turrets set up on the rocky peaks of the canyons. Your job from here is to kill all the other drivers so that yours can win…yeah, sportsmanship doesn’t sit on a high pedestal in this race.
They’ll start you off with a sniper shot that fires about one high-powered slug every two seconds or so. It takes quite a few shots to destroy most vehicles by shooting the chassis, but there’s also the option of shooting out tires to slow them down, or if you’re a particularly good shot from the countless hours you spent playing Call of Duty, you can take them down in one blow with a windshield shot.
If you’re lucky enough to have a competent driver for a partner (or preferably an A.I.), he’ll be able to snag upgrades for you from the track; you’ll be able to switch between your weapons at will. The first upgrade is a minigun, followed by a mine dispenser and then a rocket launcher.
Personally, I preferred the minigun, but each weapon has its specialties; the snipe offers one-shot kills; the minigun offers rapid fire; the mines can be difficult for drivers to steer clear of, and the rocket launcher can be used to destroy obstacles (which opens shortcuts) and set off traps.
It’s the same as single player, except with people instead of A.I. It does offer a greater challenge, but other than that, nothing is different. In fact, it can be easily argued that Harm’s way has no single player; it’s just a choice between racing against the computer or racing against humans. The levels and weapons are all the same.
Still, the game is fun, so there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had by you and your friends. Not my friends and me, of course. All my friends ever want to play is DMR’s on Halo: Reach over and over and over and over again. Ugh.
I did manage to get a lady-friend of mine to play it with me, but unfortunately she’s a worse shot than a cross-eyed tortoise, so I received no protection during my time as the driver. Getting her to drive didn’t fare much better, because her driving skill are also on par with those of cross-eyed tortoise and she kept smacking into walls and asking me how to reverse while the other cars pulled about 90 billion miles ahead of her.
I actually really enjoyed Harm’s Way. The races are quite intense because of the aforementioned reason of racers never being more than a few seconds apart. Shooting is fun in a very cathartic way. Best of all, you can always switch if you’re getting tired of one role.
Normally I have an investment suggestion here, but guess what? It’s free! Yes, it’s 100 percent free, so there is absolutely no excuse for you not to own it. “But it’s not Modern Warfare 3” is not an acceptable excuse.
So go get it. No, I don’t care how close you are to finishing the weekly challenge on Halo Reach or how close you are to unlocking the red dot sight for the MP5 on Modern Warfare 3. Go download Harm’s Way and add a little variety to your repetitive gaming habits you robot!
The above is only my opinion. It just happens to be right.
Where to Purchase