February 12, 2008
It’s nice to see something a little different gracing the 360, in amongst the mountains of FPS games and endless sports re-hashes Overlord occupies a rather overlooked niche. Developed by Triumph Studios as their first ever 360 game it certainly strikes a chord, and it's nice to see Codemaster's putting it out there - no surprise given there eclectic range of titles so far, covering Colin McRae, Brian Lara and Jericho they certainly like to have their hands in a lot of genres. It’s a strategy / action game that requires you to use your ever growing horde of minions to overcome the obstacles in your path to world domination. For anyone who has played Pikmin the game will seem oddly familiar, with one slight difference – the key is to be as evil as possible. Who needs cuteness when there is a world to be dominated?
The basic story sees our slumbering evildoer awoken by some of his minions, apparently seven heroes have taken over your domain and it’s time for you to take it back. Along the way you will have to find the time to rebuild your now dilapidated tower, acquire an army of multicoloured minions and maybe even rustle up a mistress or two. It’s all go when your to do list for the day reads: BE EVIL. The story is full of satire and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself at every available opportunity, the fact that the so called heroes on your hit list are almost as evil as you are makes then ripe for parody. The game also gives you the option of being a full blown evil tyrant or a more goody two shoes benefactor depending on how you approach certain tasks and based on the decisions you choose to make. Obviously none of us want to stray down to path of diabolical evil, do we? Or do we…
While the plot is a pretty obvious one it still allows for plenty of fun at the expense of the fantasy genre in general. You’ll soon decide whether you want to stomp the masses underfoot or actually lend them a hand, or even dole out a mixture of both depending on the mood you are in at the time. You’ll also develop a pretty close attachment to your ever-obedient minions as they scurry around the screen and it’s actually something of a wrench when you lose one of the evil little blighters.
The game breaks you in gently with a brief tutorial on how to guide your minions around and then pretty much sets you loose on the unsuspecting populous. The controls are pretty straightforward, with one stick controlling your axe wielding menace and the other his adorable little sycophants. The view is set up in a third person style and your Overlord has the ability to utilise physical and magical attacks should he want to wade into combat, whereas your minions will automatically attack or utilise any enemies or equipment you maneuver them onto. There are four types of minions with differing abilities: the browns are your basic grunts and are pretty tough in combat, the reds can walk through fire as well as extinguish it and also attack enemies from long range, the greens can walk through poison and have the ability to turn invisible allowing them to utilise a deadly back attack, and finally the blue guys are the only minions who can venture into water whilst also possessing the power to heal other minions. Every time you send another innocent, or not so innocent, soul to meet its maker you will be endowed with more life force which will help you to summon more minions. You can also swipe gold from the creatures you slay or the scenery you destroy in order to bulk up your weaponry or decorate your tower (should the mood take you to install gothic curtains). Finding various artifacts and items scattered around the world can also endow you with more spells and a greater horde, among other things, so it’s in your best interests to have your minions lug any interesting objects back to your crib.
So far it seems quite straightforward but problems arise when it comes to giving your little cherubs more specific orders. You can set guard markers or use one type of minion over another but the controls don’t make such practices particularly easy as the interface is over-fiddly and can often lead to frustration as some of your minions perish needlessly when they disobey what you thought you’d told them. Targeting certain objects is also more trouble than it needs to be, as it can be very hit and miss unless you are facing things at the perfect angle and looking at them just so. The A.I also has a tendency to ‘lose’ some of your minions as you stroll around a level, often with them getting stuck behind or even inside the scenery with the only way to remedy the matter is by leaving the level and then returning – hardly the best solution.
The graphics aren’t exceptional but they have plenty of character, your minions looking suitably cunning and devious, while you stomp around in a satisfyingly chunky suit of armour. The dingy locations and enemy cannon fodder all have their own cartoon style charms, but nothing that stands out exceptionally. To be honest, the game has set its stall out to be a fun satire and the look perfectly matches that feeling. Had the game been a graphical masterpiece of the Mass Effect variety then some of the humour and charm would have been lost by the wayside.
The voiceover talent on the other hand is superb. Your minions displaying delightful glee no matter what orders you dole out, especially your ever loyal Gnarl who directs your activities and your bumbling jester (whom you can terrorise with the odd kick every time you revisit the tower) who proclaims your nefarious deeds with great gusto. It’s hard not to love a primary cast that obeys your every whim. The villains and mistresses are also hammed up to the max to provide great pantomime characters that are hilariously over the top.
Then we come to the biggest failing of the game: the multiplayer. This type of game is story driven and the seemingly tagged on multiplayer mode seems more out of a desire to take advantage of Xbox Live rather than because it is necessary. The woeful battle modes see you fighting it out with another player for either kills or gold, with the victor being determined by a points system. Along the way you’ll be plagued by various enemies from the single player mode – all of whom can be culled for more life force to enable you to chuck more minions at your foe. There is practically no online community at all and the pitiful amount of options and maps make it all feel like a rush job. On the other hand the co-op survival mode does provide some smiles, as you and a buddy team up to fight off an ever spawning army of enemies in a bid to see how long you can last. This provides plenty of laughs and no small amount of close shaves as you struggle against ever increasing odds. Again though the devil is in the details, and with only two different maps serving up some survival style delights it’s hard to keep interested for very long. When will developers learn that just because the 360 has the best online service does not mean every game needs an online mode?
The achievements are a nice mixed bag of story related gimmes and side quests to find all the collectables that you will have to work hard to get, the most satisfying coming in the form of maximum evil or ‘good’ achievements depending on your actions. Completion of the main game in a completely good or evil run through will net you most of the points, but dedicated hunters will have to play the game through twice to grab everything – as certain choices force you down the path of light or dark so each achievement will require its own play through. The online achievements are easily boostable, though the 30 minute co-op survival will usually require some skill and tactics as well as a willing partner – should one of you die then it’s back to the drawing board. Nothing too taxing here that a good guide wouldn’t solve, though beating all the creatures in the arena can be a slog as it is totally superfluous to the main experience and grabbing 10,000 life force can take longer than it really needs to.
Bog standard gothic music bolstered by some amusing voice acting and gleefully evil minions.
Not gorgeous but full of character and vibrant locations.
Easy to get into and thoroughly enjoyable once you get the hang of your little miscreants, plus you get your own sycophantic jester proclaiming your greatness.
Superbly fun single player with a largely forgettable multiplayer tagged on.
A bit more adventure could have been taken and people will groan over the minimum two playthroughs – at least the game is fun enough to make this task a joy rather than a chore.
Finally something different turns up and it’s been worth the wait as we’ve been given a unique game that doesn’t take itself too seriously while at the same time offering up an innovative challenge. The multiplayer lets the side down somewhat, but to my mind this game was always meant to be best enjoyed solo, well, if you don’t include your devoted minions of course.