It's Pikmin with a dark twist. It's evil in all the right ways. It has an intimately detailed world that is a joy to explore. Oh, and it's broken. Overlord has all the makings of a great game, even enough to overshadow a sometimes frustrating camera and control, but all of the fun can't make up for the fact that the game needed more QA before being shipped out to retail.
If you've played Pikmin before, Overlord will be about as familiar to you as your favorite pair of boxers. You play the role of a dark overlord, brought forth to control a horde of minions that wreak havoc upon the world as you work to restore your once glorious kingdom. Your pack of minions begins small, but increases in both variety and size as you progress through the game to uncover new powers, spells, and pieces of your dark tower. These little guys are the key to your success. They fight and die for you, team up to move objects too heavy for you to lift, and provide enough laughs to make even the most angelic of us feel good about doing evil. Without them, you're helpless. This makes harvesting the essence orbs and locating spawning pits an integral part of the game.
The real success in Overlord comes from the interactions that can be had between the minions and the rest of the world. Sweep your horde over a table with a few pints of beer and the minions will drink it and then empty their bladders with a maniacal chuckle. Give them access to a pumpkin patch and they'll tear it to bits and create sweet helmets to wear. The minions are animated well, even though the overlord looks a bit stiff, and watching them smash and interact with their surroundings is a joy.
Since you have to control both the dark overlord and his minions at the same time, control can get a bit frustrating at times. The left analog stick directs the overlord, while the right offers more precise control over your minions. This leaves no room for the camera, which becomes primarily controlled by the game itself. You can swing it back around behind your overlord and are also afforded the luxury of switching to a more overhead view of the action by clicking the right thumbstick, but neither of these solutions works exceptionally well. The camera is an issue, particularly when you go into one of the many small tunnel portions of Overlord and attempt to control the minions in any way that requires precision. The camera is never so bad that the game is unplayable and with practice you can get used to it, but it still presents more frustration than it should.
With four types of minions that each possesses their own unique abilities, Overlord is primed for some fancy puzzles. For the most part, though, the game shies away from forcing gamers to use their brains. Most of the game is in fact a trial in collecting enough minions and directing them forward to overwhelm obstacles or enemies. We did come across a decent number of puzzles, but these are few and far between. When the puzzles do exist, they aren't so difficult due to problem solving. They're difficult due to camera and control issues. In fact, much of the thinking in Overlord comes from being lost as you try to figure out where to head next. An in game map would have greatly reduced this issue, but then the game would be about as straightforward and linear as they come.
And getting lost in the world is one of the best parts about Overlord. The detailed environments, clever missions, and quirky inhabitants are all as interesting as they are visually appealing. Exploring the world as you seek to improve your dark tower and please your mistress (Good or evil, it's your choice as to which to take home. Bonus!) remains interesting for hours on end, even though the puzzle design isn't the most intriguing. There's a lot packed into Overlord that all encourages completists to have a go at nailing every optional task.
Overlord is a visually, and for the most part, aurally pleasing game. The visual style feels ripped straight out of Fable with a healthy dose of The Lord of the Rings thrown in for good measure. The dwarves, elves, and Sauron-esque overlord aren't particularly original, but Codemaster's take on them is. There's a great deal of voice acting that is done quite well, though it could have been coded a bit better. Most non-player characters (NPCs) have speech triggered by your character crossing a specific point on the ground. Walk past a vendor and he asks if your minions are for sale. Cross paths with an NPC in one village and he'll decry his leader. It sounds nice the first time, but if you're lost (and you often are) you'll walk past the same NPC numerous times in short order making the single line of dialogue shift from funny to annoying. Still, Overlord does not disappoint the eyes and ears.
On top of the sufficiently extensive and deep single player mode are several online multiplayer options. There's a co-op survival test and two versus modes. These play fairly similarly to the campaign except for the ever present enemy overlord vying for resources through strategy and upfront attacks. Unsurprisingly, compared to the single player game these online features feel light and unsatisfying. I encountered a significant amount of lag while playing online too, further hurting the experience.
The camera and control are a small complaint, needlessly frustrating though they might be. The weak puzzle design is largely counteracted by the good sense of humor and the sometimes-repetitive gameplay rarely seems so. The real issue with Overlord comes with the bugs. It seems that the mid-dungeon teleportation platforms have serious problems. Using one made the game forever think that I was just beginning a quest as I entered an area, replaying a cutscene that introduced a now dead boss. Another time, using the teleporter erased a key item, preventing me from moving ahead in the game. The game autosaves every time you use a teleporter, so unless you're starting a new save slot every time you load your game (a process that requires several extra and seemingly pointless steps), there is a potential to kill your game at any moment. My game was killed. After roughly 11 hours of playing, the game broke.
Reviewing a game like Overlord is a tough thing to do. It's the equivalent of having to critique a good book only to pause three quarters of the way through and have the author rip the remaining pages out simply because you took a break at the wrong moment. There are a few issues here and there with Overlord of the minor bug or wonky camera sort, but the gameplay and presentation are quite good. It is, or rather was, enjoyable straight up to the point where I hit the game ending bug. What do you tell someone who saved up their money to buy this game only to find they couldn't finish it? That they're unlucky or that the developers missed a critical issue? We encountered one such bug. Who knows how many others exist?
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