Now Playing: Harvester (1996)

I’m going to go nuts with the pics and vids on this one because there were just so many fucked up things in this game that needed showing off. This is easily one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. Probably even weirder than Fahrenheit. First a quick introduction to the plot though. You are Steve, a guy who wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange faux-1950s town named Harvest. You can’t remember anything, but you quickly get the strange feeling that this family in your house is not really your family and it becomes clear very quickly that something is seriously wrong with this town.

Howdy, neighbor!
Howdy, neighbor!

Yeah. So just about everyone in Harvest is completely insane, except your alleged bride-to-be, Stephanie, who you find out also has no memory of anything. No one has any answers for you though. They all just laugh off your amnesia claims and tell you that you need to go to the Lodge and join the Order of the Harvest Moon if you want any answers or respect in this town, so off you go to begin a typically convoluted series of adventure game quests just to be able to even get an application form to get into that Lodge. So you get to visit some interesting locations while wandering around town like…

The meat factory!
The meat factory!

or…

...your parents' bedroom...
…your parents’ bedroom…

or the local school, suspiciously named Gein Memorial…

 

Seeing a theme here yet? Most of the game is a standard point and click adventure where you run around town picking up items to use in nonsensical ways to complete various fetch quests so that you can get brand new items to use in nonsensical ways. Oddly, a lot of the items you end up finding don’t seem to have any use at all. I had somewhere around a dozen completely useless items in my inventory by the time I finished up the town-searching part of the game. You find a lot of different weapons that you have absolutely no use for either. I had another dozen different melee weapons in my inventory during the town part of the game and only had one fight in all that time. None of them seemed to be really any better than the others either, except that one or two of them also served as items that needed to be used as if they were standard items. All the rest of the combat is packed into the Lodge in the end, and you lose all your items when you enter it and have to find all new items and weapons anyway. AND…there are a few locations/characters that seem to have no purpose whatsoever. For example, you can find the “wasp lady” in an abandoned house for instance. There are no items in the house and all she does is ramble insanely about her wasps.

Sexy.
Sexy.

There was also Colonel Buster Monroe, the guy who runs the local nuclear missile base. He has as much purpose as he has legs, which is to say, none, but he is pretty damn funny.

dosbox 2015-03-08 23-37-39-336

dosbox 2015-03-08 23-37-57-790

Oh, and he will kill the shit out of you and launch all the nukes if you say the wrong thing to him…

 

So a good chunk of all your exploring of the town turns out to have been entirely pointless. Were all these things supposed to have hidden optional uses that I just didn’t find and no walkthrough seems to mention or was this game just unfinished? I don’t know, but I was annoyed that I had gathered all that junk for no reason at all.

Anyway, after get your hands on an application, which naturally involves bribing a chronically masturbating deputy with porn so you can steal evidence from the police station in order to blackmail an arsonist postman, you are given a series of tasks as your initiation into the lodge. The tasks start out as “harmless pranks” like finding a way to scratch up Mr. Johnson’s prized car without being seen, but soon become much darker pursuits such as burning down the local diner at night, which leads to the diner’s owner killing herself and her young daughter the next day. In fact, behind all the wackiness and comically excessive gore there lies some genuinely disturbing stuff. There were more instances of implied rape, molestation, incest, and various other forms of abuse than even I was comfortable with. There was this scene too, from inside the Lodge, where the game gets extra insane, which was particularly messed up.

dosbox 2015-03-10 17-48-39-936
How cheery!

This conversation goes on for a while with brief cutscenes between lines showing these demonic children happily eating this mother alive and talking about how tasty she is. After she’s done talking the kids get up and attack you and you have to kill them all. It’s hard to believe that this game came out in a post-Mortal Kombat world and somehow went completely unnoticed by the censors. I don’t think it even had a rating on the box, because it was a PC-only game and what kind of sick weirdos paid attention to PC games back then?

So the other part of the game is made up of the Lodge itself, once you finally are allowed in. Naturally, you still aren’t given any answers and now that your initiation is finished it’s just time for the trials instead. If you thought things were strange before, reality just goes right out the window in here. You have to make your way to the top of this surreal labyrinth and try to finally get some answers and free Stephanie (the Lodge kidnaps her as part of your trials). There are a few more puzzles here, but mostly you are just suddenly faced with a ton of combat. Almost every other room has some weird creature waiting in it and again, all of your items and weapons were taken when you were let in here, except for one knife. You’ll find a whole new set of gear in here, but you have to fight your way to it. Combat is simple, but barely functional. It just consists of you clicking on an enemy over and over again. You can try to time your strikes well and you can aim at upper, lower, or middle positions, but mainly it just seems to be a matter of luck. Some guys just seem to be able to hit you no matter what and you just have to reload a few times until you get lucky and your hits register on them first.

 

You will also meet, and kill, several people you met in town earlier, some of which were already dead, none of which should possibly be in here with you. The further you get into the Lodge the more it seems as if you are suddenly traveling through the various circles of hell. Could that be what’s going on here? Close, but no, the truth is actually even stranger than that. Here is the big secret once you finally reach the top. Don’t watch it or continue any further if you don’t want the story spoiled for you.

 

Huh? So…this has all just been a training program for serial killers? Were we just picked at random off the street or what? Who or what are these people? Who knows, that’s all you get in the way of answers. So you’re left with quite a final choice there: kill Stephanie and join the Order so you can go back to the real world or spend the rest of your life “happily married” to Stephanie in the virtual environment of Harvest. Spending the rest of my life in a town full of virtual rapey serial killers didn’t sound like much of a happy ending to me so I decided to do away with poor Stephanie. The game slaps you in the face with one more dose of sadism here as you don’t just go straight to a cutscene of killing her, but have to slowly, manually beat her to death with your weapon as she screams in terror with each strike. You then perform a Sub-Zero style finishing move on her and win the game. Back to the real world where you are greeted by the true forms of the Harvesters, which disappointingly turn out to just be some regular dudes in gas masks, and off you go to enjoy your new career as a random serial killer. Hooray! But wait, there’s one more thing. Afterwards you are suddenly treated to this special little scene:

 

What? So…what is the message here? I mean there were some obvious parallels and references to media violence and the old question of whether it has an effect on impressionable minds or not and obviously the whole theme of the game is just one big metaphor about that, but this scene almost makes me wonder which side they were arguing for here. I mean I think this was all just intended to be a kick in the nuts to the video game censorship movement of the time and it was all just using the whole “video serial killer simulator” theme in an ironic sense, right? Parts of this game sure seemed to be products of genuinely disturbed minds though and this final message doesn’t seem to be conveying that sentiment very well at all. I’m sure it was intended to be satirical, but it sure doesn’t come off that way, does it? Maybe it was more about pushing the boundaries and being more spiteful than satirical towards the censors. I don’t know. You have to at least give them credit for the sheer audacity of this game, I guess.

All I know is that while this game certainly would not turn anyone into a serial killer, you’d have to be at least a little messed up to enjoy it, which I guess I am. Despite its flaws and overly disturbing nature, it was still a unique and memorable experience and the moments where I was amused slightly outweighed the moments where I was annoyed or uncomfortable. I would recommend it to serious fans of horror, but warn that is definitely not even remotely suitable for anyone else. In the end, I give it 3 dead Steves out of 5.

rating

Bonus: speaking of that Velvet Acid Christ song…(beware though, this song also completely spoils the ending.)

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