Like a lot of kids, N64 Jamesy resorted to lending and borrowing games with friends to experience titles that were otherwise out of reach. These brought their own joys, competitions and – in the case of Body Harvest – an absolute necessity to beat the game on its hardest setting.
It was my first day back at school after the Christmas break, back in January 2000. It was a brand-new millennium, and contrary to the wild claims made by mainstream media outlets, the “Millennium Bug” hadn’t sent the whole world crashing back to the Stone Age.
For the previous Christmas I’d received Mario Kart 64, as well as Banjo-Kazooie, which I’d bought with my birthday money some weeks earlier. I’d been talking with my good friend Karl about playing the latter, and must’ve piqued his interest, as next thing I knew we were talking about me lending it to him in exchange for borrowing one of his games. I asked what he’d be willing to lend me in return.
“I’ll borrow ya Body Harvest,” was his reply.
“Body Harvest?” I questioned. It sounded like a proper grim game with a title like that. “What’s that about then?”
“It’s a game about killing aliens.”
Aliens, eh? I found myself fondly recalling my experiences of playing Mega Games 3 on my Mega Drive, and the fun I’d had with Alien Storm, despite it being a game I’d never completed. “Sounds like fun – bring it in tomorrow and I’ll bring Banjo-Kazooie in for you. Just don’t tell my sister because she’ll well snitch to my mam that I’ve given my game out.”
The next day came around and off to school I went, having snuck my copy of BK into the side pocket of my schoolbag, taking care to wrap it up beforehand. I couldn’t be too careful, as I usually offered my bag – one of those massive black and green Adidas holdalls – as a goalpost when we all played headers and volleys on the disused tennis courts. Traditionally, after school, we’d run the short distance to Karl’s house and mess around on his N64 or PlayStation and watch CITV for 15 to 20 minutes before I headed home, just a couple of streets away. On this day we did the swap there, I went home and settled down to enjoy my borrowed game.
Playing a dangerous game
The intro sequence to Body Harvest showed that these aliens were pretty nasty, attacking a space colony and attempting to kill all the remaining humans. They caught one – our protagonist – in the arm, which spurted out blood, resulting in an alien scooping it up and investigating it with interest.
Wait, back up a sec… did I just see BLOOD?! If there was one thing my mam had been strict as hell about with me as a child, it was violent video games. I’d never even been allowed to play Streets of Rage, so god only knows how she’d react if she knew I was playing a game with proper, actual blood in it.
The game was set in 2016 – a date far in the future. This band of aliens had harvested all life from the face of the Earth over the previous century, and were in the process of attacking the space station that served as humanity’s last stronghold. These final few humans had been hatching a plan of their own: travel back in time to key points of the alien invasion and fight them off. The final thing seen was a capsule being ejected from the space station, firing humanity’s last hope through a white light, and back to the past.
Hero or zero
Two of the three save files had been used, so I started a game in the only spare one. I was offered the choice of selecting either hero or zero – a fancy alternative to easy or hard, I assumed. I’d never even attempted a game of this sort prior to then, so went for zero, the easy option. My first stop was Greece, all the way back in 1916.
First impressions of the game world were that it was quite open and sparse; I’d been expecting a game more focused on combat, like a modern, 64-bit, 3D version of Alien Storm – it was the only alien game I’d played before this, so it’s all I had in mind. At this early stage, Body Harvest couldn’t have been more different; in fact, it was unlike anything I’d played before.
Immediately, there was a blue van ahead of me, and as I approached, a window came up detailing how to enter vehicles. You could drive? Cool. I pressed the button and the character jumped and did a somersault through the roof, seemingly defying physics to take the wheel. Another window popped up, which showed the same pink-haired lady as before. She was blatantly the player’s companion, residing in the craft that brought you here, and mentioned something about an energy surge. We had our first contact with the bad guys.
The music captured the feel of the area perfectly. There was now different VGM playing, with the intensity to match the situation I now found myself in. There wasn’t set music in Body Harvest; no specific tune for specific areas. Instead, it cycled and interchanged depending on where you were and what you were doing, whether that was indoor or outdoor exploration, or combat.
The indoor and outdoor VGM tracks did a great job of conveying the feel of what was happening: the calm before the storm (or, indeed, the calm after the storm). The serenity was lovely, but there was just enough tension there to remind us there was always another attack just around the corner. The instrumental synths – particularly from the piano – were sublime.
Before I knew it, the orange dots on the radar showed aliens closing in and BOOM! The combat VGM tracks blew me away with their intensity. The composers hadn’t held back, and the massive contrast between these and the more tranquil exploration tracks worked perfectly to convey the gravity of the task at hand.
Learning the ropes
The core gameplay involved dealing with any invaders that might cross your path while protecting the local human populace, and these innocents had some of the worst AI I’d seen in a video game. First up, a Harvester wave. These were the meat and potatoes of the game: teams of aliens that worked together to wipe out the human population. It was spearheaded by the Harvester, which shat out green blobs of jelly that sucked up anyone in their path to be eaten, all the while the other bugs attacked the buildings to force the occupants out. One thing Karl had told me about the game was “always kill the Harvester first”, which I did. There were various objectives to complete as well, which at this early stage involved finding some TNT to blow up a rock, meeting a veteran tank driver and gaining the key to his tank.
Then, the first of numerous secondary objectives flashed up. While part of the main game, failing these objectives wasn’t the end of the world, but it would significantly increase the player’s casualty count. But with so much going on, and the end of the evening looming, I got tired, and decided to knock it off for the night.
Still, I wondered how Karl was getting on with Banjo-Kazooie.
Next morning came around and I was actually looking forward to going to school – or, rather, catching up with my mate and discussing how we’d got on with each other’s games. “How are you finding Banjo-Kazooie?” I asked.
“Where do you find the pebble?” – for the bucket in Treasure Trove – was his reply.
“Use the eggs, just fart them out your arse,” I explained, with all the toilet humour to be expected from a couple of 14-year-old lads. I then asked about the save points in the game I had. That was one of the things about swapping sturdy Nintendo 64 cartridges; there was no need for the box, but it also meant no instructions, so I had no clue how to save my progress.
“You get it after beating the main alien. It’s best to use the tank. I love the tank, it’s got a chaingun.” After the few hours of lessons and the usual after-school ritual, it was time for home, get my last-minute homework out of the way, and crack on with my exploration of 1916 Greece.
I knew pretty much what to do here now. Starting from scratch, I eventually stumbled across the tank hangar, paused to check the map and made my way to where the Alien Processor was. Here, I found the first of what must have been mini-bosses at the end of each stage. These things had plenty of life to erode, but from the relative safety of the tank, it didn’t prove to be too much of a challenge. Once it was defeated, a status beacon was deployed. I was finally able to save my progress.
By land, sea and air
I was now able to access the second area of Greece, through a hole in the shield that had opened up. Within the barriers that split the world, you were free to roam the area fully, so long as it was safe. The next objective involved exploring a cave, and finding a means to light the flaming torch of a statue to access an underground tunnel that took you through to the other side.
Exploring caves and other indoor areas from the second section going forward, I noticed I could adjust the light intensity by lighting and extinguishing candles, making it easier to see. I found a way to activate the statue and make it to the other side, and once there, I had access to another tank. This time, however, it had no fuel. This was a feature that was truly unique to Body Harvest at the time; each vehicle had a limited fuel capacity that slowly depleted as you moved around the map. Luckily, I’d built up a good supply by looting various buildings.
Then in the third area, I was about to cross a bridge to get to the third Processor – but a man dressed all in black blew it up. ‘Sake. After completing a couple more tasks, I was nearing the target airfield I needed to get to, when the same man blew up a bunch of planes. Was he an evil doppelganger? Whoever he was, I knew we were going to have the ding-dong to end all ding-dongs before all this was over.
After a brief flying lesson, an urgent message came through from the Alpha 1 base: some flying bugs were going to kamikaze a bridge as a refugee truck was crossing. I headed to where this bridge was but couldn’t see anything, then the truck appeared, then the flying bugs, which I didn’t completely eliminate. I failed this task. Normally it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but my civilian casualties meter had filled, meaning game over.
You see, while losses didn’t seem much in smaller doses, you were still only allowed to let a limited number of people die. If you exceeded this, an apocalyptic scene would ensue, culminating in the player’s death. Between this, the limited amount of fuel, the restrictive vehicle health and destructible buildings, there was a really surprising amount of depth to Body Harvest.
Then it was a lengthy flight down to Processor #3. This was my first experience of flying in a plane in a 3D environment, covering north to south in a short space of time. I was in awe of what detail was in such a massive open world; I’d just not experienced a game like this before. This part of Greece had been ravaged by the aliens – real post-apocalyptic stuff. Was I too late to save this world? All I could do at this point was take down the third Processor and hope for the best. All that was left now was to take out the shield generator in the centre of the map to complete the area.
All tanked up and no place to go
When I got to it, the Shield Generator looked a bit like a beautiful, ancient, red Japanese castle. Still, it had to go. There were tanks here too, so I cut through the hordes of bugs protecting it. Despite all the rockets it was firing, it only took a few hits to defeat. Cue the generator exploding, causing the scene to transform into a crater and my control pad’s Rumble Pak went into an uncontrollable, intense frenzy. Next thing I knew, the entire Alpha 1 base had morphed into a tank, followed by a prompt to save the game. Clearly something massive was about to happen. And so it proved…
A massive green light shot from the sky, the scene darkened and suddenly there was the biggest crab-like thing I’d ever seen in front of me: the main boss of this area. My only option at this point was the chaingun. This tank was by far the best vehicle in the entire game, and clearly reserved for special occasions such as this. It had other, more powerful weapons on board, just without ammo.
The crab’s pincers had life bars of their own, and took a fair bit of punishment before exploding in a bloody mess. Each one left behind valuable health and better ammo that made short work of the rest. Despite taking heavy damage, the scene eventually brightened and what was left of the big alien disintegrated and exploded into nothing. I’d finished Greece 1916! I wondered where we’d be heading next, and what challenges awaited.
Welcome to the jungle
Our hero’s ship was next seen landing in a rainy jungle environment, the Indonesian island of Java, 1941. Little did I know that this would end up being my favourite of the game’s five core locations.
After defeating the initial Harvester wave, I entered the main house and the occupant let me borrow his uncle’s rifle “to help us fight the demons”. After a couple evenings being unable to progress, it turned out this weapon was necessary to take out the alien blocking the cable car, which granted access to the main area.
After collecting some hovercraft parts and killing off a savage electric jelly, I used them to repair a broken transport that then took my fight to the Processor. No mounted guns here; it was a case of using up all my machine gun ammo, then finishing it off with the meagre pistol. The game wasn’t making it easy this time.
Battling the elements
The main feature in the third part was volcanic activity, and how in some parts the heat of the land could fry most living things. The safest route all around was in the water, by boat. It was during this section, while talking to people in order to secure access to boats, where the charm of the game really shone through. The eagle-eyed out there will have noticed pop-culture references and parodies aplenty – nods to the likes of Casablanca, Apocalypse Now and even Star Wars featured throughout. Soon I had another Processor down.
Later on in the fourth area, the weather finally cleared up. During the final mini-boss fight, I lost the plane I was using but still managed to come out on top. Driving up to the shield generator, I couldn’t help but stare in awe – the clear sky looked beautiful as the backdrop to the environment, and in this instance a truly epic VGM track to boot while I made the long journey there. This became one of those magical moments, like rounding that corner in stage one of Streets of Rage 2 or seeing Cool, Cool Mountain in Super Mario 64 for the first time. Every time I see them, I’m reminded of how amazing I felt seeing them for the first time. These moments of greatness never leave us, do they?
The next major boss was a lot more challenging than the first, with considerably more powerful weaponry which really showed me how difficult Body Harvest was, even on Zero. It took a few after school nights of playing, skipping homework and staying up past my 10pm bedtime. I worked out a strategy to beat this monster, and it was the moment I’d been waiting for; I knew from conversations with Karl that the first section of the next stage was a sticking point for him. I was getting close. Could I surpass my friend’s progress at his own game?
The first suggestion made to me here by my in-game partner was to find some decent firepower – there were some serious bad guys going forward. I entered the building which was in darkness; no candles here, but there were light switches on the wall. I took a moment to appreciate this minor detail – how much had changed in the 50 years since our adventure started back in Greece.
Further exploration of this dusty 1966 American city led me to the part where my friend got stuck, needing to knock down a fence and jump a massive gap. After figuring that one out, and considerably more travelling, I found the Alien Processor on a nearby roof. These were getting tougher and tougher with each nation visited, but with the nearby helicopters having mounted machine guns, I was able to persevere. America part one: done. I’d surpassed my friend’s progress on the game and I couldn’t wait to tell him all about it.
The third area consisted almost entirely of an enormous research base, a clear take on the infamous Area 51. While you didn’t have to explore every nook and cranny to complete your objectives, it was worth it to find even more pop-culture parody. Have you ever thought the moon landings might be staged? And is there life out there, beyond a comet full of massive bugs that want to kill us all? This place seemingly had all the answers.
At the end of this section, I finally had access to what was arguably the best vehicle in the game so far: the UFO, which made short work of both the Processors and America’s shield generator. After tying up a few loose ends, it was time to take on this area’s boss – another huge monstrosity that owned me again and again. With more thinking and planning, America was completed in its entirety. Where would the time travelling take us next?
Stepping up and being a hero
Well, apparently that was it; I’d finished the game. What do you mean, finished? When I’d looked at the options at the start, there was a ‘replay level’ screen that named five locales. Why had the game finished here so suddenly?
A previous conversation I’d had with Karl some years before sprang to mind – it was about Zool on the Mega Drive. He’d asked me about the extra level in it.
“What extra level?”
“The extra level you unlock for completing hard.”
I’d always played games on the easier levels, but decided to give it a go on hard. Long story short, I struggled through, but no extra level appeared. “I made it up,” he smirked, “there’s no extra level. Got you to complete it on hard though, didn’t I?”
Was that the answer here? Would I need to play through on the higher difficulty level to experience the later stages? It was the only thing that made sense. I deleted the save file to start over on Hero difficulty and… oh, shit. That wasn’t my save file.
I’d had the game a few weeks by this point, and we’d talked about giving our games back. It was the start of February half-term; I needed to revise for my Year 9 SATS exams but knowing how difficult Body Harvest was, I couldn’t leave my friend’s save file lost. I never knew what difficulty he’d played on, so I just whacked it on Hero.
There was no difference in objectives between Hero and Zero, but the enemies were more powerful and took exactly twice as much ammo to bring down. The early sections of Greece weren’t much of a chore, but as soon as I stepped into the third area and was ambushed by the giant grasshopper type bugs that lay in wait, I realised this was going to be really difficult. It had to be done though, not only to amend for my lapse in judgement but because I needed to play the later levels and complete the game properly.
Bit by bit, I plowed through. Playing the game for an average of five hours a day for a week, I managed to not only restore the lost file, but also make good progress on my new file, reaching the latter stages of Java again. I’m sure the number of human casualties allowed had been halved along the way. I think. It certainly bloody felt like it. On the plus side, the aliens were giving up twice as many points. There was a real oppurtunity to get the best high score, so I persevered.
Back to school on Monday, I told Karl about getting past the first America stage, and promised one day to show him how to do it. By the time we got home, we had our own games back. I hoped I’d be able to borrow it again someday, as it was one I really wanted to finish, but it just wasn’t to be yet. I knew with the blood and shooting I would never be allowed to own my own copy. Fair to say that its charm and depth had really won me over.
Exploring uncharted territory
Nearly a year had passed. Over that time, we’d done other game swaps. Wave Race for Blast Corps was one of the biggest, and I also got to play GoldenEye courtesy of my friends. In that time, Pokémon fever had taken over the school; even I’d been given Pokémon Stadium for Christmas 2000, making me the only kid in my year who owned it. I’d spoken with Karl about him lending me Body Harvest again; in return I’d lend him my coveted Stadium. I didn’t own a Game Boy Pokémon game, I knew I wouldn’t get maximum enjoyment from that one yet. He agreed, and we swapped again.
My save file was still intact, and with some hard work, I completed America all over again. Unlike before, the game carried on. The next location was Siberia, and it was more difficult than all the previous three regions combined. One of the earliest objectives involved visiting a train driver’s home in one of the villages. I approached the house when two giant ‘Mew things’ – a name I’d given these foes because they reminded me of Mew from Pokémon Stadium – absolutely tore me to shreds. This stage was going to take some doing.
A lot of the monsters here were absolute savages so I couldn’t afford to be away from military vehicles that were dotted around the Arctic Russian territory. The Processors had also upped their game, with rockets added to their arsenal, and all I had was a hovercraft to keep me from freezing to death in the icy water.
It would be the fourth area of Siberia that presented the biggest task. Almost all the section was dedicated to protecting a missile from the bugs. Massively easier said than done with the pittance of health the vehicle I needed had. Drive a few feet in a tank, go back for the missile carrier, drive it to the tank, rinse and repeat. It was a real drag. Eventually I prevailed, and set up things for the fourth boss, which was also horrifically difficult, but beatable. It was finally time to take on the aliens on their home turf.
The ding-dong to end all ding-dongs
So here we were, back in the future. The Comet was one wide-open area I could explore freely from the Alpha 1, which was imperative. After traversing the majority of the map, avoiding the seas and rivers of acid, and shooting down ‘trees’ to build up ammo, I reached the Alien City. What a relief it was to eventually find a save point; the baddies here were horrific to beat, and I really needed all the good ammo I could get.
After a standoff with the man in black, the main objective – rescuing a hostage – was overcome. Ever since blowing up that bridge in Greece a hundred years ago, this fella had been a thorn in my side. Java, America, Siberia and now here, on his home turf. Like a fly buzzing around your head. No matter how many times I swatted him away, he kept coming back. “You’ll get what’s coming soon enough, pal,” I’d assured myself. Then the unenviable task of basically nullifying the threat of the Comet, finishing these monsters off once and for all. Even more aliens, resembling motorbikes with machine guns, made this a nightmare. Then it was time to go home. Well, not quite, as there was one last hurdle to overcome.
The final bosses were cataclysmic battles against seemingly indestructible adversaries. It took patience and persistence. Blood, sweat and tears. Bit by bit, I eventually ground them down. It was the most difficult thing I’d done in the game, but I’d finally beaten Body Harvest. The story had finally come together, explaining where my evil twin had come from, right back to the beginning with that bit of blood. It all, at last, made sense. Yet I can’t help feeling that my main adversary went out with a whimper rather than a bang. One minor change in the ending scenes would have left the door wide open for a sequel, but it didn’t do it, which I found disappointing.
A better appreciation with experience
After completing the game, it was time to give it back. “The void” that normally follows completing a huge game was offset by another friend lending me Pokémon Blue at the tail-end of that craze. Time moved on; over the years games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas became firm favourites.
In 2015, I wanted to relive Body Harvest and bought it for a fiver, dirt cheap given the prices of some Nintendo 64 titles at the time. I finally owned my own copy! I’d learned that Grand Theft Auto III had been built upon the concept of Body Harvest, and it showed. The open world, driving, choice of weapons, the capability of mowing down civilians, they were all there; it’s undeniable that these two games shared the same bloodline.
When I played Body Harvest again, I set myself a personal challenge: to complete the game on Hero with no civilian fatalities. None. Greece was easy enough, though on the third part, making the long plane journey drew parallels with the flying sections late on in San Andreas, particularly the mission where I’d needed to carry out the hit in Liberty City; another moment of magic from the old Nintendo 64 game.
America part one proved to be the most difficult area to avoid deaths. What felt like weeks of mostly rage quits and me even thinking ‘shall I just let that accidental running-over go?’ I didn’t; I persevered, and eventually all the areas based on Earth had been completed with no loss of life. It was an amazing achievement that was worth the effort.
The Comet was as frightfully hard as I remembered. Again I stuck with it, and soon the game was completed. Again. With over one million points on the board and zero humans lost, it was my proudest gaming achievement of 2016 – fittingly, the first year that the game was no longer set in the future.
Playing through evoked so many memories. For a game that only sold roughly 200,000 copies during its prime, I think it’s amazing. People may say it’s inferior now GTA has dominated the world, but this is the game that kick-started it all. The granddaddy of modern Grand Theft Auto. Go and play it. You won’t regret it.
- A unique concept that worked fantastically
- A beautiful soundtrack that captures the game’s atmosphere perfectly – the piano synths are amazing
- A depth of the gameplay that’s so great, it’s easy to overlook the game’s faults
- The visuals were poor compared to other 1998 releases
- Controls and game physics can be awkward and clunky
- An underwhelming ending that doesn’t reward your efforts, which also slammed the door firmly shut on a sequel
N64 Jamesy’s take
It’s hard to give Body Harvest the credit it deserves. It was fantastic idea despite its faults, and having squeezed everything I could out of it, I can’t pick a game from the generation that’s captured me like this did. One day I’ll fulfil my promise to my friend and help him finally complete the game.