Published on September 13th, 2020 | by Zorbz
REVIEW: Iron Harvest
Reviewed by: SNRUB
Iron Harvest, the first videogame adaptation from the surreal 1920+ universe made popular with the strategy board game Scythe, and had a lot of trailers promoting its depth and cinematic experience, but don’t be fooled – this is a challenging strategy that even on its easiest settings needs a keyboard, a mouse, and a lot of patience. Casual gamers: step aside.
Concept/Story: The game is set in alternate history 1920+ after World War I, based on a brilliant Polish artist (Jakub Różalski). If you don’t play many RTS games it’s like Company of Heroes, Command & Conquer, or Age of Empires but with Steampunk Mechs in it. That’s really the selling point here. There is one campaign split up across three acts which feature playing as three different factions you can choose between in multiplayer: 1. Polania/Poland 2. Rusviet/Russia 3. Saxony/Germany
You start the game controlling a young Polanian girl named Anna, who uses strategy tactics to win a snowball fight against some boys, learns how to hide while hunting deer, and befriends a bear named Wojtek before the game jumps forward in time to a world at war. Each level consists of a main objective and optional challenges that introduce various aspects of gameplay, with cut scenes in between each level.
Levels/battles can last 60 minutes at a time, and it’s no surprise that Iron Harvest boasts a 30 hour campaign because of it. Without going into spoilers though, each act hinges on a cliffhanger, so if you were hoping to see a nuanced emotion-packed story that challenges your moral compass while allowing you to see from the eyes of the “bad guys” to realise that hey, they’re just people like you, then you might be disappointed… as the main bad guys are introduced early as their own faction: Fenris, a branch of Rusviet terrorists who want a war.
Graphics: The camera allows you to zoom in on units, but most of the time you will spend zoomed out as far as possible to as far as you can plan ahead – and while the people look pretty standard, the destructible environments and attention to detail on every machine is beautiful. Buildings collapse as your machines crash through them and the artwork inspiration is strong.
Unfortunately the character models do get some close-ups during attempts at story driven cut scenes where they appear wooden – making that cinematic experience fall flat – but when the action resumes it achieves a distinctive style that sets it apart. I should also note that even on my GTX 970 the game was able to run on high settings, with only minor frame rate drops that never impacted gameplay. Good news! It looks great without needing to fork out big dollars for a PC upgrade.
Gameplay: Anna commands units with machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers and giant machines which you control with point and click. Some levels include elements of stealth or sneaking up behind enemy lines, but for the most part your goal is to build a base, spawn allies, take over parts of the map, and then charge the enemy territory. The campaign mainly exists as a tutorial for the multiplayer, but doesn’t always do a very good of explaining what you should do to succeed… instead it throws up prompts about pressing CTRL+1+ kickflip+backwards alphabet to combine two units into one.
I tried connecting an Xbox One controller to my PC to see if that would make things easier. It did not; instead the right analogue stick became sort of like an old-timey computer mouse turned upside down, while I was left wondering which trigger was meant to represent “CTRL” and why that was important.
Despite the cute friendship between a young girl and her bear, this is not baby’s first RTS game. Sorry, baby.
I did however find that I could get by without the keyboard, and just pointed at baddies until the goodies made them dead. That is however, until the game kicked my ass hard enough to try multiplayer mode… which it turns out is even harder since I was Level 1, and they… weren’t.
Sound: Best enjoyed with headphones, the sound is one of the best things about this game. Even when you start the game it offers you the option between English, or allowing characters to speak in their native languages with subtitles – and honestly, a lot more games should offer this.
Characters speak with more emotion than the story merits. I mean, the characters are sad about a character that has a magic mechanical arm – which is absolutely stupid, but I really believe their performances. Other sound effects are functional and helpful to alert you when off-screen units are being attacked, or are ready to attack.
And the music, the melancholy tones that still has base and warmth to them, and the right intensity during battle… even the title screen passes the “hum test” (where I accidentally catch myself humming along to the music because it’s that damn good).
Awesomeness: I found this game so damn hard, that the only time I felt awesome was after taking a long break, and returning with the courage to stop the enemy from blowing up my battle train.
But it’s because of the difficulty that the victories are more rewarding. There’s no cheap-shot wins, everything you do is trial, and error, and planning, and multitasking – which it turns out I’m not very good at. Remember to pat your head while rubbing your tummy in a circle to see if you’re able to play Iron Harvest.
Final Word: While the game is a good first entry for the Iron Harvest franchise, it’s a terrible first entry to RTS games for newbs and more difficulty options, or controller-friendly controls would broaden the appeal.
This game is unforgiving, but I’m not. I forgive you for kicking my ass, Iron Harvest. Lots of people will enjoy you as much as I wish I could. You’re fun, you’re challenging, and you’re interesting even though you don’t have a lot of new things to say. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s not you, it’s me.
Out of 5 Bugs!