After the success of the first Shivers, Sierra put into development a sequel that would attempt to up the ante of everything that went before. Considering it's Halloween (or thereabouts), can it finally succeed in being scary?
Released in 1997, Harvest of Souls had two years worth of development time to contemplate what worked in the original. One that definitely needed an overhaul was the scares. It was previously aimed at teenagers yet, in reality, it wouldn't scare your average Scooby-Doo viewer. Right from the off, you can tell that this follow-up wanted a deeper and darker storyline.
For starters, you are no longer a teenage trespasser with a dubious choice in friends, but a member of the aspiring rock band Trip Cyclone (eagle-eyed fans may spot noted YouTuber Metal Jesus Rocks as a band member). In an attempt to film your first music video on the cheap, the ever-so-90s grunge band descend on a secluded Arizonian town that shares their namesake - Cyclone.
After a particularly cryptic nightmare that could in itself be a staple of late-night MTV, you awake to find your band-mates missing and the town's single mountainous exit caved in. You now have to search for your friends in the eerily quiet town, again solving Myst-like puzzles along the way.
Right from the off, you have the whole town to explore, greatly expanding the size from the original. While you still travel in the first person, the still photo slideshow has been upgraded to a 360° panoramic view. It's quite a nice setup, giving you a sense of realism and direction that the first game lacks. You also have the new ability to carry more than one item, which allows for a greater variety of the types of puzzles. It still prefers to challenge you with logic puzzles, but in this new plot-focused game, they do seem to be more out of place - there's no eccentric museum curator to explain their existence.
Early on in the game, you will find your first Bahos Stick, one of several mystical totems with barely explained powers. Much like the pots in the first game, you can only carry one at a time but it is not so frustrating here. The game is designed in such a way that you'll never encounter two at once. They don't take up space in your inventory, instead replacing your cursor. Be careful, though, as the prayer sticks will also drain your life essence until you place it in it's designated resting place. If you run out, you're dead. Yep, there's dying in this game.
As well as deadly timed puzzles, there are also a number of uninspired puzzles that seem to be a staple of this type of game. The most boring of these is the sliding puzzle - an apparent staple of this type of 90s adventure game. There's more than one too, made all the more obvious due to my complete disdain for them. It's not that they're hard or unsolvable, they're just a tired, over-used pain in the ass. For this reason, it is perhaps commendable that there is an option to skip puzzles with only your overall score taking a hit. I don't recommend using this option for the majority of adventure gamers, but it allowed me to get past such dull sections with my sanity intact.
In comparison to their peers, Sierra tended to choose a higher calibre of actor for their live-action FMV cut-scenes. You can definitely see that quality here, but that doesn't mean it's completely lactose-free. Some scenes are dripping with cheese and stilted dialogue, but it's still of a quality that puts to shame many of their competitors. It says a lot that the acting was not what took me out of the game.
It's not particularly scary, but it's a hell of a lot creepier than the first game. The American Indian mysticism that is the cause of your troubles in both games (and the only real link between the two) provides a great backdrop. It's a shame that not much really happens in between the puzzles. In fact, the scariest thing about it is the superbly realised ambient score that truly does send shivers down your spine. The Trip Cyclone music videos do the same thing, but for completely different reasons.
Is Shivers 2 a better game than its predecessor? In my opinion, no. It's still a good game, but I found the type of puzzles matched the setting and childish frights of the first game. Here, they just seem to cut into the great atmosphere that's been established, taking you completely out of the game. Reviewers at the time tended to disagree with me, preferring the stronger story, darker tone and technical accomplishment of the sequel. In 1997, I too may have felt the same, but I feel the original had better puzzles and a tighter design. That being said, it is by no means bad. Both games are well worth your time and I had a lot of fun playing them.
As of 29th May 2020, Shivers 2: Harvest of Souls is now available to buy DRM-free on Good Old Games.
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Shivers 2: Harvest of Souls is © Sierra On-Line
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me