Harms Way combines two very simple ideas to create a fresh-feeling arcade racer. You can either race around in off-road vehicles, bouncing along the three desert courses, or you can hop into a gun turret alongside the tracks and shoot at your rival drivers. With a clever co-op twist and impressive visuals, Harms Way is more than just a budget version of MotorStorm - and it's completely free.
When played alone Harms Way feels like a fairly pointless experience. There are only three courses, so there's no sense of progression through the game, with only a single three-race event being available to compete in. The game comes into its own when played online, though, with each of the four racers joining forces with a gunner, making four racer/gunner partnerships. The combination might not be for everyone, but it's certainly unlike anything else I've played before.
On the track your choice of vehicle determines your agility, speed and strength. The buggy is relatively fast and nimble; the pick-up is exceptionally easy to handle, but average elsewhere; the truck is well armoured but slow; and the bus (more like an RV) is super fast and well-armoured, but handles poorly. The actual feel of the vehicles on the dirt isn't brilliant - this isn't SEGA Rally - but the constant threat from incoming fire means you're always darting about trying to avoid being blown up.
Nitro is really your only extra tool when racing, awarded for drifting, while performing barrel rolls in the air will give you a shield. Item pick-ups, laid out in typical video game fashion, replenish your vehicle's health and fill your nitrous. After a few hours with the game you'll likely start to feel the lack of upgrades and vehicle unlocks, as what you see when you start is all you get.
When inside a turret you rotate through weapons, zoom in on targets and cycle through locations in order to keep the ever-moving racers in your sights. Gunning people down is a very different experience, but in order to win online you're going to have to work closely with your racing partner. Roadside objects can be shot and unleashed on unsuspecting vehicles, shortcuts can be blown open, and tyres can be shot out.
Your on-track colleague needs to collect turret pick-ups in order to level up your gun power, while downgrade pick-ups will hamper the efforts of the opposition. Being a gunner is good fun to begin with, when the novelty value is there, but before long it just isn't as engaging as driving - even in the short time the game's been available this has led to people moaning about having to be the gunner in online races.
Each player in a team is awarded points for their performance on the track or inside a gun turret, with scores added together at the end of each round. The winners are those who have earned the most points over the course of a three-event campaign.
While there's a definite lack of content here, there's no denying that the game looks pretty great for an XBLA racer. The environments are huge, the frame rate is steady and there are some neat graphical effects - such as a visibility reducing sand storm.
Harms Way is a free game, and a very good one at that, but it feels like it's lacking the content to make it anything more than a fun way to spend a few hours and then never come back to. Online play can be compelling, but there's no incentive to keep playing other than having fun. If developer Bongfish is able to flesh out the game with DLC (free or otherwise), Harms Way could evolve into something with more staying power, but for now it's a short-lived thrill.