One of the premier features of Windows Phone 7 is the integration of Xbox Live. Without a doubt, the quality of games offered by such a popular platform as well as the social aspects that Xbox live offers are light-years ahead of where we were with Windows Mobile 6.5. One of the first Xbox live games that we saw demonstrated (remember MIX?) was The Harvest from Microsoft Game Studios.
Though I’m sure many people are a little disappointed that we haven’t seen much from the HALO franchise on Windows Phone 7 yet, The Harvest could easily be mistaken for an episode from the Bungee masterpiece. Even aside from the stunning graphics with maps littered with ruins and hostile aliens, the story of a cybernetically enhanced human protecting the rest of us from these extra-terrestrial invaders isn’t an exact mimic of HALO, but it’s pretty close.
The premise of The Harvest is that you control a single soldier who is outfitted with a suit that provides you with the additional strengths and abilities needed to rescue humanity from the Harvesters. Story aside, there is a lot to like about The Harvest. The intent of this game is to be an epic, and as hard as that is on the 4 inch screen of my Samsung Focus, Microsoft has pulled it off.
The best thing about The Harvest is that there are a number of ways to experience the game. Between the three characters you can play the game with and the various abilities and upgrade options you choose, the game allows you to be yourself; guns blazing or cold and calculated. Also, pay attention to the tips that show up at the bottom of the screen as there are some additional ways to maximize your characters effectiveness that aren’t obvious.
The graphics are top notch, and the sound is simple and immersive. Obviously there are some restrictions on the quality of the experience because we are dealing with mobile hardware, but I would pit The Harvest against anything that you could find on a competing phone platform.
The controls for The Harvest are simplicity itself. Movement is handled by touching the ground where you want your unit to move. Targeting an enemy unit is done by simply tapping on them. Activating special abilities (each unit has three distinct abilities) is achieved by double tapping on your unit. There are some awkward moments where your finger obscures your screen in just the wrong way, but this doesn’t take away from the flow of the game.
The diversity in upgrade options are really where the strength of the game lie. Some of the upgrades are permanent, while some last for a short period of time. There are also some upgrades that can be applied to your suit and upgraded independently, this allows for some very interesting choices as to which upgrades are most cost-effective.
Most of the in game options can be accessed by pressing the back button on your device. This gives you quick access to a Map of the current level as well as any available upgrades and current mission objectives.
There are some minor performance issues with The Harvest, but Microsoft has managed to keep these outside of the actual game-play for the most part. Loading the game does take quite some time, with the game essentially buffering itself into memory. I did notice an occasional glitch when running through the levels, but this is minimal and doesn’t really take away from the experience. One more word of warning, keep your fingers clear of the capacitive hardware buttons. I found myself at a Bing search a number of times while strolling through the world of The Harvest.
For my money, The Harvest is easily the highest quality game on the Marketplace right now. Personally, I would’ve liked to see a high quality game from a known series like HALO or Splinter Cell (Splinter Cell Conviction was announced as being available at launch, but it hasn’t hit the Marketplace at this point). If you’re skeptical, go ahead and download the trial version and see what you think. The Harvest is available from the Marketplace for $6.99.