America’s history has been a rich vein of pop-culture references from the blood-stained origins in the revolution, to the second world war, the paranoia of the cold war, and beyond. Often these reflections on history are used to highlight the issues of the day. When you’re new to the vibrant young storytelling medium of video gaming, and you have a strong story to tell, this vein is perfect to exploit. In 1996 this exact situation happened, in 1996 we got to explore the title of Harvester.
Waking up in a pleasant suburban community of Harvest in the 1950s, a young Steve Mason has no memory. The only information he has to work off of is that he’s betrothed to an equally skeptical Stephanie, He’s a real kidder, and that he should get to work joining the awe-inspiring Lodge that’s plucked in the middle of the community. In trying to join the lodge and reconcile his memory, Steve journeys down a quest of enlightenment, only to have everything he believed in, tested.
While the interface is a simple point and click variety (especially to those who are familiar with adventure games), the game’s focus on live action is what helps it shine over other adventure game offerings of the time. It was still cutting edge in the mid-1990s and has a charm that adds to the creepy atmosphere of the suburban settlement. And like contemporary games (see Phantasmagoria) a lot of blood, guts, and disturbing scenes to add a delicious sense of juxtaposition to the otherwise wholesome surroundings.
Harvester takes a deep dive into the philosophical ramifications regarding… a wide variety of topics. But takes glee in representing them in the most oddball ways possible, the game is a satirical journey through Americana of the 1950s, TV stars who need cue card to be coached through everyday conversation, Suburban moms with literal devotion to the stove and social calendar, and Pinko-hating military generals… missing everything below their torso, make up the inhabitants of Harvest.
Every single action the player can commit has been planned out and has a response written, you can go on a literal killing spree if the player so chooses (and you’d be surprised how often they fight back). The music, despite being MIDI instrumentals manages to feel like a direct homage to the billboard charts of the 50s. These elements combined give the town of Harvest an extraordinary vibe that’s enjoyable to see first-hand.
Any fan of b- grade horror movies, or low budget sci-fi gems would be right at home with Harvester. What starts a simple Twilight Zone-esque adventure game gradually becomes something quite Lynchian and doesn’t stop there. Harvester is a cynical look at times and attitudes gone by that plants disturbing seeds early, and unlike other games with lofty ideals, manages to reap what it sows (as the name implies).
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