Harvester is a game that boldly claims itself to be “The most violent adventure game of all time,” which is displayed proudly on the cover. I’m sure many other games have claimed this; it seems like a cliche marketing move that implies a complete lack of any interesting substance. Some might say that this is the case with Harvester.
However, I think that there is more to it than just that. The game was initially developed by DigiFx in the wake of games like Beneath a Steel Sky and Day of the Tentacle. Released in 1996 after delays, it sort of shambled onto the scene with little fanfare outside of a few controversies surrounding the game’s violent content. Harvester received generally average to poor review scores, averaging a 53 score on Metacritic.
The odd little horror game born from the weird and wonderful era of 90s point and click adventure was brought from absolute obscurity from Retsuprae’s let’s play, showing people the wonderful little town of Harvest. Harvester now has a dedicated audience years later after being lost in video game history, garnering 89% positive reviews on Steam. It is fitting therefore to consider Harverster a cult game.
You play as Steve, a teenager who wakes up with amnesia in his supposed parents house with all recollection of his life, family, and friends gone. From here you attempt to piece together your life, all the while uncovering the darker side of this rather odd little town and its inhabitants.
The gameplay is your pretty standard point and click fair that brings nothing at all original or groundbreaking to the genre. However, I doubt you will be picking up a point and click adventure for the gameplay. No, it’s the ability to minutely explore unique worlds and everything that inhabits them. Harvester certainly gives you an interesting world.
The thing this game really masters is its tone. The best analogy I could come up with is a sort of horrible amalgamation of Darkseed and League of Gentlemen, keeping the balance between humor and disgusting body horror. The visual design is perhaps the most important part of this. You walk round a depressingly grey suburban town with huge empty buildings with mismatched furniture and horribly flat and basic textures covering everything. While this might not have been a purposeful visual design choice, it still somehow works. Combine this with the ugly mix of FMV characters that look insanely out of place moving robotically around the backgrounds and you get a game that is truly uncanny. There are very few games that make me feel genuinely uncomfortable to play. Harvester is definitely one of those few.
To top it all off, Harvester has a undercurrent of self awareness underneath everything you do. Right from the opening, gameplay hints are interspersed with messages like “If you get stuck, use items in crazy and illogical ways,” and it culminates in a reveal at the end of the story that comes off as pretty on the nose but nevertheless interesting.
However, it is the writing and characters that sell this game to me. Like everything to do with this game, it would be a lie to call either of these things “good” in the traditional sense. The voice acting is pretty abysmal, and Harvester has the subtlety of an atomic bomb, but this all just adds to the charm. This game isn’t subtly strange, it’s just pretty full on mad. You meet a man who keeps on trailing off topic to remind you about how wonderful meat is, a fire station full of amazingly camp homosexuals, and an old woman who seems unperturbed that she is living in a house inhabited by thousands of wasps.
This game belongs in the same camp as a game like Deadly Premonition, a game that could easily be, and is considered by a lot of people to be, absolute trash. However, if you can look past obtuse point and click puzzles, stiff controls, and the awful production, you are met with a wonderfully bloody black comedy whose experience cannot really be replicated anywhere else.
I am hesitant at detailing specific things about this game as a lot of the entertainment I gained from Harvester was mainly due to the sheer element of surprise at the ridiculous circumstances that Harvester throws, completely unexpectedly, at you. If you are part of the obscure, sick minority that think you would enjoy this game, then do yourself a favor and pick it up.