Note: Since (at the time of writing this review) I’ve only had the chance to play about the first third of “Harmony”, this review will only really reflect my first impressions of this game.
Harmony is a freeware FPS game created by Thomas Van Der Velden. Although this game seems to have been made in 2010, Van Der Velden made the sensible choice to use the greatest FPS game engine ever created.
I am, of course, talking about the Doom engine from the 1990s. Seriously, it’s great to see a modern game which uses this timeless piece of gaming technology. Call me a grumpy, cynical and old-fashioned retro gamer – but modern games companies could learn a lot from “Harmony”.
However, although this game is technically a total conversion/very extensive mod for “Doom”, it comes with it’s own stand-alone executable (using the “ZDoom” source port, which allows mouse aiming amongst other things) and you do not need a copy of the original “Doom” or “Doom II” in order to play this game. So, in this respect, it’s a game in it’s own right.
Another thing that sets “Harmony” apart from many other “Doom” mods is the fact that it has it’s own story. Yes, it actually has a story. Although this story is only referenced a few times in what I’ve played of the game so far, there’s a short comic on the “Harmony” website which explains the backstory.
To sum it up, in the near future, there has been another world war which has led to the destruction of large parts of the earth.
In the aftermath of this war, a virus begins to spread. This virus turns men into mutant creatures but somehow doesn’t affect women. The mutated men form an army called “The Pax Pox” to eliminate any uninfected humans. Of course, the remaining women form their own army called “The Amazons” and fight back against the Pax Pox. However, when the leader of the Amazons (Amira) is captured, it is up to her friend Harmony to save her….
Although this story is kind of cheesy, it’s certainly different to any other FPS backstories that I’ve ever seen. Not only that, it’s pretty clear that Van Der Velden has put a lot of thought into everything surrounding this game. For starters, not only does this game feature completely new enemies – these were actually animated the old-fashioned way from physical models, just like in the original “Doom”. Now, that’s dedication.
The weapons in “Harmony” are completely different too and, whilst I haven’t seen all of them yet, they aren’t quite your standard “Doom” weapons (although the shotgun and chaingun look and act like cooler futuristic versions of the original “Doom” weapons).
One cool feature is that you actually get grenades in this game. Yes, actual grenades that you can throw (or fire out of a pump-action rocket launcher, it’s up to you). Whilst I don’t know if this is the first time grenades have ever appeared in a Doom Engine game, they’re a welcome addition. These grenades look like purple crystals (well, it’s one of my favourite colours anyway) and are surprisingly cool.
But you have to be careful because, if you see a flashing grenade on the ground, you can’t pick it up. In fact, the flashing grenades are armed and they will explode if you try to pick them up or shoot at them. This caught me by surprise the first time that I found one.
In addition to this, the deafualt weapon is a rather weak “Quake II”-style infinite-ammo pistol with a slow rate of fire. Whilst I’m normally cynical about infinite-ammo pistols, this one fires three energy projectiles which are vaguely reminiscent of the laser sights in “Predator”. So, it gets a pass based on this alone.
This is a good thing because, especially during the first two levels, you’ll be using this pistol a lot. Although I played this game on “medium” difficulty, ammunition for the other weapons is surprisingly scarce for a FPS game. So are health power-ups too ( well, until I realised that the stimpacks had been replaced by mushrooms [of all things]. Seriously, I just thought that they were decorative). There are lots of enemies and fairly large levels too…
So, yes, “Harmony” is a game which is aimed at more experienced “Doom” players and, despite it’s relatively short length (it’s apparently only 11 levels long), each level will take you a fair amount of time to complete.
Due to the large numer of enemies and relatively low amounts of health and ammo, you’ll also have to play in a more strategic way than usual. In other words, there are at least a few areas where you pretty much have to use monster infighting in order to even stand a fighting chance.
The level design itself is fairly good and, from what I’ve seen of the first four levels, Van Der Valden uses very different textures to the ones found in the original “Doom”. The quality of the textures is probably closer to those in “Duke Nukem 3D” than those in “Doom” and, although there is a fair amount of variety (there’s even a bowling alley and nightclub in level four), a few parts of the early levels look slightly generic.
Even so, there’s quite a few cool posters and pieces of art on the walls and I also absolutely loved these purple textures too:
In terms of the general atmosphere and “feel” of this game, the experience of playing it kind of feels like playing some kind of cross between “Heretic” and the original “Half Life”, this is about the only way I can describe it. It took me a while to get used to the atmosphere of this game (since it’s fairly different to “Doom”), but it’s certainly starting to grow on me.
All in all, “Harmony” is more than just a simple “Doom” mod – it’s a complete game in it’s own right. And if, like me, you miss the golden era of FPS games (where innovation, gameplay and originality mattered more than graphics), then there’s no excuse not to download this game and give it a chance. But, if you’re new to classic-style FPS games, then you might want to play this on “very easy” difficulty.
If I had to give “Harmony” a rating out of five, from what I’ve played so far, it would get at least a four.