Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops review

  • Interesting character-switching dynamic
  • Lee has some neat stealth gadgets
  • Games other than this one exist
  • Repetitive, cheaply designed levels
  • AI that's simultaneously dumb as dirt and all-powerful
  • Ugly, amateurish presentation and story

Despite sounding like some strange cross-section between Splinter Cell and a farming and/or cult simulator, Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops is a fitting name. See, like an actual harvest, Phantom Ops is an absolute chore. It's like someone walked in on a bunch of gamers joking about everything that's wrong with modern shooters, took it all seriously, and then decided to toss it in a blender along with all of society's greatest ills. We wish we were joking. Phantom Ops is all at once horribly paced, buggy, ugly, archaic, stifflingly linear, confusing, and laughably cliched. Honestly, that should be enough to send you fleeing back into any other videogame's comparatively warm embrace, but if you really want to dive into the hideous bowels of this horrible mess, read on.

One of most unfortunate things about Phantom Ops is that it begins. Initially, the game sees you squeeze into the thoroughly unimpressive combat boots of Aron Alvarez (read: bald military man so lacking in distinctive features that he bears a horrifying resemblance to Voldemort), but it's not long before Myra Lee (whom Alvarez is shocked to discover – gasp – isn't a man) joins the fray. The two then alternately blast and stealth their way through a series of painfully linear missions en route to bagging fictional Somalian warlord Kimosein. But of course, twists abound, all is not as it seems, the greatest Somalian warlord of all – camera zoom – is man, etc.

That character-switching dynamic is literally the only interesting thing in the entire game. Even then, however, there's no strategy or intrigue to it. If a bunch of dudes need shooting, Alvarez is your man. If you need to avoid being seen, well, come on. Burly bald Rambo man or girl in a cat-suit who's actually capable of turning invisible? If you need to think about this, you may want to reconsider your attempt at blending in with human society, because it's becoming pretty obvious that you're a rock.

Above: Beautiful, huh? Every shade in the brown rainbow 

Depending on who you pick, the game's either one of two things: a bad Metal Gear rip-off or a worse Gears of War clone. Lee's sections, at least, have a few redeeming values. Her arsenal of gadgets ranges from a crossbow that turns its victims invisible (and therefore, hidden) to Wolverine-style claws... that also turn their victims invisible. So she's a bit of a one-trick pony; it's still a neat trick. The actual stealth mechanics, however, are at best creaky and at worst downright silly. If you played a stealth game between the years of 1997 and 1997.5, you know the drill: memorize patrols, dart by at the exact right moment, rinse, repeat. And if you're spotted? Just dive into cover, wait a couple seconds, and enemies who've had time to count your every eyelash will literally mutter “Oh, I guess it was just the wind.”

Alvarez, on the other hand, doesn't fare quite so well. Basically, he inherits all of Lee's flaws (an overly sticky cover system, linear and repetitive levels, vague objectives) and none of her high points. His levels are metaphorical minefields – although they'd probably be less frustrating if they were real minefields. Typically, he's forced to stop 'n' pop his way through trial-and-error-centric shootouts chock full of “oops, six guys just magically spawned on top of you haha now you're dead” moments. In most games, this would only be fairly infuriating, but Phantom Ops takes it into keyboard-tossing territory with a terrible health system and annoyingly lengthy load times. Stirred in with absolutely abysmal checkpoints, that's a perfect recipe for slow slogs back to the last place where you bit the dust. Here's the kicker, though: if you checkpointed with low health (and thanks to the game's refusal to replenish your medkit supply, it's a very real possibility), you'll probably just end up six feet under again. This perfect storm of poor design choices had us replaying multiple 20-or-so-minute sections more times than we could count. The number of new curse words we invented was equally incalculable.

Above: Our intrepid hero, Videogame Character 

Which brings us to the next stop on this trip through the many, many circles of game design hell: terrible AI. Now, normally games ask you to endure one of two species of crummy AI: the wall-starer or the robo-genius. Phantom Ops' AI somehow manages to be both. So it may look pretty silly when enemies gaze at walls like they're going to drop down on one knee and whip out a ring, but there's a reason for that: they can shoot right through them. Sometimes, anyway. It's inconsistent. Meanwhile, shooting enemies usually doesn't produce a noticeable effect until they, you know, stop living, so it's an imprecise system at best.     

As a production, the game seems utterly effortless - by which we mean we're pretty sure the developers put no effort into it. Indoor levels look like brown mud. Outdoor levels look like brown mud. Mud looks, well, let's just say it's the high point of the experience. Despite its bland, low-res ugliness, however, the game still manages to be a tremendous resource hog. Sound design, meanwhile, is shamefully amateurish. For instance, gunshots on an allegedly chaotic battlefield reminded us of slow-popping popcorn, the gentle pitter-patter of a summer rainstorm, and childhood. Oh, and let's not forget the bugs. We encountered multiple crashes that required us to reboot our machine altogether. We used that time to reflect on the life experiences we were missing out on thanks to this game.

Above: Hey, this is kind of coo-- “Hades Nanites”? Well, you had a good run 

If it wasn't already clear, Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops is bad. No, not “maybe it'll at least be a decent laugh” bad. Just normal bad. It's frustrating, derivative, at times nearly unplayable, and frustrating. Did we mention frustrating? Even if you've somehow exhausted all other similar options in the gaming industry - for instance, by being an ageless being who exists outside of time - we'd sooner recommend taking an actual bullet to dodge this one.

Apr 20, 2011

More Info

Release date: Apr 05 2011 - PC (US)
Apr 05 2011 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Action
Published by: Viva Media
Developed by: Black Lion Studios
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence


  • super2j - April 25, 2011 7:13 a.m.

    @lundlar You are soo full of shit. If This was a call of duty game, it would kill the brand and have the series die in a lonely ditch. The author is clearly oozing hate for this game, no amount of bribes or better titles would hide it. I bet u complained about portal 2 also. And I bet u never have to go to the bathroom, u just shit out everything thru ur mouth.
  • rufnux - April 22, 2011 12:55 p.m.

    In my opinion this was a very bad review. It seems you were determined to hate this game, and it shows clearly in your article. As a reviewer you are supposed to be somewhat objective, it is your job to lay the game out so people can decide for themselves if they want to buy this game or not. If I have understood things correctly, you are an intern, and I would advise you to work on your writing skills, or at least put a huge "IMO" at the beginning of every article you write. Captha= Who the fuck cares what your reCaptcha says?
  • Spybreak8 - April 22, 2011 12:26 a.m.

    Hehe I can see it now, "so yeah the dude has the dominant manly missions and the chick gets the submissive hide and seek missions." Lol Also funny read, I saw an ad for this a while ago and laughed at the monochrome yet green eye gear look.
  • QWERTYCommander - April 21, 2011 11:26 p.m.

    "Honestly, that should be enough to send you fleeing back into any other videogame's comparatively warm embrace, but if you really want to dive into the hideous bowels of this horrible mess, read on." Nah, I just wanted to see you lay the smackdown on this pile of rubbish. Great review, Nate. I was laughing out loud at some points. Reading reviews for bad games is a lot more enjoyable than reading the ones for good games.
  • Gob - April 21, 2011 11:22 p.m.

    @lordlundar Really? I've never played a shooter on a console that was remotely that bad. Then again, I haven't owned a CoD title since 4.
  • LTS - April 21, 2011 11:12 p.m.

    I always feel kinda sad when I read these reviews. You know somewhere, at some point, there was some guy who went, "I got the greatest idea for a game!" and went through all this trouble to pile out crap.
  • Mikelssecretlovechild - April 21, 2011 9:49 p.m.

    Day one purchase!
  • Letter11 - April 21, 2011 9:34 p.m.

    @sirdilznik, @boondocks50 Haha I'd never heard of it either. And when a guy who is constantly scouring the internet for game information has never heard of your game, It's probably not a positive indicator on the quality of the final product.
  • netnerd85 - April 21, 2011 9:23 p.m.

    Wow and I thought GameSpot had unprofessional reviews, GamesRadar and sunk to a new low with this rubbish review. Try this professional and objective review: Did you do anything but complain and get all emotional? Try again.
  • Defguru7777 - April 21, 2011 9:16 p.m.

    The trailer was actually somewhat interesting until I saw the horrible character models. Blegh.
  • ZigzMagoo - April 21, 2011 8:28 p.m.

    @lundlar Obviously this game is worse than any Call of Duty game. Call of Duty wasn't terrible. It is just highly overrated. According to ReCAPTCHA, this game is a "permax mistake"
  • Samael - April 21, 2011 7:51 p.m.

    Love reading reviews of shitty games that I don't care about. Especially when they're funny.
  • JBizFoShiz - April 21, 2011 6:43 p.m.

    Great review of what looks like a terrible game. Seriously enjoyed the writing! Best part of the review though: the reveal of the character's name, Aron Alvarez. In UFC 2010, when creating your own fighter, his default name is... "Aaron Alvarez"! It's because it's the first possible first AND last names available, so the game just lumped them together. Quality stuff at Black Lion Studios, who, according to recaptcha, "are lanstedi." Well, that's always good news.
  • kjdubz22 - April 21, 2011 5:18 p.m.

    "Games other than this one exist" That made me laugh...on another note Gamesradar these Best Buy ads suck. That is all.
  • sirdilznik - April 21, 2011 4:36 p.m.

    I never heard of this game until now and I have no comment on it but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this takedown. Well done and thank you for suffering through that game to give us this write up. reCaptcha=calrac appointed. All hail President Calrac!
  • ExcessGiraffe - April 21, 2011 4:06 p.m.

    Totally getting this game, and giving it to someone I really hate for Christmas. reCaptcha: Usedeve cell. Almost sounds like the Captcha wants these devs in jail for atrocities to the video game world.
  • Turboash - April 21, 2011 3:59 p.m.

    That review pleased me.
  • lordlundar - April 21, 2011 3:38 p.m.

    And yet I get the feeling that if it was labelled "Call of Duty: Shadow Ops" or similar and released on the PS3 and/or 360, it would get an 8 or 9 in the review and be promoted as a must have. There's nothing here that AAA console titles aren't guilty of but they get it glossed over.
  • TheFuryOfNick - April 21, 2011 3:07 p.m.

    @StrayGator it's the poor carpenter who blames his shoddy tols...dammit, now I gotta change mine too...
  • boondocks50 - April 21, 2011 2:53 p.m.

    never even heard of this till now guess that 2 is why

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