As GEO's resident New Guy, Body Harvest will be my third published review; the first two have both been pretty favorable. This is not good, from my perspective. If video game reviewers give too many positive reviews they lose face. This is why people were complaining about the stubby fingers in Tekken 3 and the political undertones of Metal Gear Solid.
All I knew about Body Harvest before playing it was that it was a planned launch title by DMA Designs, but Nintendo decided not to distribute it, leaving it in limbo until Midway picked it up. It seemed like it would be a good bet for a vicious, mean-spirited rant. Not quite.
In terms of storyline, Body Harvest can be compared to The Terminator, albeit in reverse: the Eart has been overrun by aliens, so the resistance is sending a lone soldier back through time to stop the invasion at key points in history. Kind of cool, but it gives you little indication as to what kind of game it's going to be; in fact, even after playing it extensively, I'm still not sure.
The first thing you'll notice when you turn on the system is the seemingly low-rent graphics, an illusion that goes away in a few minutes as you realize one of the game's weirder points: the human characters are all poorly detailed, but the rest of the graphics (aliens, terrain, explosions) are all gorgeously texture-mapped. The gameplay has a similar duality; in the beginning you're just running around, engaging in a few easy fights with unarmed insectoid aliens, talking to nondescript people, etc. It seems pretty boring in this description, because it IS pretty boring in the beginning; the strange thing is that, after a few minutes, I found myself compelled to keep playing, but I had no idea why.
The reason is, essentially, to see what they would introduce next. The gameplay in Body Harvest can't be accurately compared to anything else. The use of multiple vehicles to solve time or obstruction-based puzzles is reminiscent of Blast Corps, but the similarities end there. Vehicles aren't very helpful for combat or demolition purposes, they're just used for speedy transportation, which you'll need, because this game is fucking huge. Spread across 5 time periods, each stage is divided into sublevels (thankfully, save points greet you between them), and each sublevel is bigger than the largest stages in Blast Corps. The combat system has hints of GoldenEye, complete with crosshairs for sniping, but no 1st-person shooter has the freedom of movement present in Body Harvest; driving along in a stolen ATV while aiming a shotgun out the window, picking off aliens who venture into your field of vision, is something that's never really been done before, and it's hella cool. The puzzles provide the majority of the challenge, but the aliens make the game a joy to play; blast a harvester with the rifle from 100 yards and see his head explode, spurting orange-brown globs of fluid before he (she? it?) collaspes. Again, like GoldenEye, damage is determined by where you hit the target, and the weak spots are always in cool, sci-fi kinda places. There's no noticeable pop-up, and less of the fog we've all come to expect from the N64, but the real surprise is the almost complete lack of slowdown, even in the heavy firefights (although the explosions can obscure your view, especially during boss fights). In the sound department, the music is cool and unobtrusive (X-Files anyone?), and the effects range from standard (gunshots, human screams) to excellent (alien screeches). The Rumble Pak also does a great job with the larger explosions.
Ultimately, the gameplay is what makes Body Harvest, but I still can't describe it very well. The best I can do is to just say that it's different. Renting it for yourself is really the only way to know what I mean.
I really wanted to not like Body Harvest, but as Suicidal Tendencies said, sometimes I do things, and they don't work out the way I want them to. As Dan Quayle said, how true that is. Body Harvest is a welcome surprise and the most fun I've had on the N64 since GoldenEye.
Peter the Malcontent