by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
The tall order of stealth action
It is a well-known fact that stereotypical action gamers get bored easily and often the so-called stealth sequences in otherwise explosive action games will induce groans from them. Whereas in real world, a camouflaged sniper might spend several hours crossing a distance of a few hundred yards, a gamer usually wants to reach the same goal in only a minute or two, maximum. This is why stealth action games are few and far between, or the stealth aspect only surfaces a couple of times over the entire campaign.
Black Lion Studios are bravely facing the challenge and try to find the perfect recipe for a stealth action title in Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops. The backstory is set in 2025, in a future near enough to be familiar to today's gamers (if they follow the news), but also far enough to offer some tweaks and surprises in what the world has become and, of course, what sorts of stealth toys and weapons are available (can you say Giant Death Robots?).
In short, in 2025 the world is getting a worse place to live in as resources are dwindling while arms race is picking up speed. Trouble in the form of, for example, dictators is emerging in various hot spots around the world and the USA is still trying to act the role of a world police, using as shady methods as always. One of these shady methods is an organisation going by the acronym ISA, which sends covert action teams to take care of the problems arising around the world.
Familiar hot spots
Since the game is set only 15 years (or 14 by the time it is released) into the future, the developers have chosen to pick up already familiar hot spots and imagine what they will be like – and what sort of trouble they might end up in - in little over a decade.
One of these hot spots is Mogadishu in Somalia. Anyone who's been following up on current events will probably know about the piracy issue in the region today and they might even know that CNN elected the city as the most dangerous place on Earth (probably because of the political situation, given that they excluded active volcanoes from the list). In Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops, Mogadishu will be presented in different kinds of neighbourhoods, such as the city's overpopulated outskirts where people have escaped from the violence-ridden city centre where the remains of skeletal skyscrapers cast shadows over the battling factions. In addition to these two areas, there's also the better protected governmental palace area which is the realm of the present dictator.
Another hot spot is Dubai in UAE. This is the place where the wealthy warlords gather to live in luxury with the riches they've robbed from the less fortunate. But, naturally, they haven't been able to get rid of their criminal nature and thus crime and violence infest also this city. The locales include the skyscrapers and the offices therein, the HeliPads and the marina.
Yet another hot spot will be Havana in Cuba, which the developers see as a potential environment for future conflicts. The developers seem to feel that it is safe to assume that Fidel Castro will be out of the picture by this time and this has resulted in civil war as one faction would like to continue in communism, while another is striving for a more democratic Cuba. This conflict naturally attracts arms dealers of all sorts and – also naturally – the USA sees this as rather a worrying development. The game will feature the historic centre of La Habana as well as some of the Cuban coastlines.
Enter the covert action team
Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops features two characters, each with a specific and fully fleshed out set of skills, preferences and abilities. Myra Lee, an ISA agent, has a background in espionage and stealth operation, while Aron Alvarez is a combat specialist of US Army 1st SFOD-Delta. They are both working for ISA as a direct action team that gets sent to hot spots around the globe to conduct covert operations.