OVERLORD / Codemasters / PC

Alright, picture the basic World of Warcraft engine and a similar but simplified control scheme, but commanding a squad of grunts a la Warcraft 3 at that level. But the game isn't really an RPG or strategy game. That's Overlord, pretty much. More of a puzzler if anything, I guess, though its hard to shoehorn into a familiar category.

You're supposed to be this Overlord of Evil or whatever that is awakened from 1000 years of sleep to kick some butt, but really the game's story is more like Bored of the Rings as you sort of inadvertently become the protector of a bumbling village of inbred-looking peasants called Spree. In between protecting Spree from evil Halflings and various magical demons that run up out of nowhere for no apparent reason, you hunt about for new stuff to upgrade and repair your ruined Tower O' Evil with. The tone is very much lowbrow fantasy satire and comedy, and rarely do you do anything *really* evil, being well outclassed in that department by most of the foes you face.

Though your Overlord looks a lot like the guy that was slaughtering everyone in the WoW episode of South Park, he's actually not much of a force in melee combat. He can mop up one or two foes that slip through your ranks, but if he gets surrounded by a group he's toast fast, and he has no hope going toe-to-toe with any of the bosses and the game's larger sub-boss enemies. So the game centers around your Imp army, whom you can gratifyingly send out to pillage and destroy everything in front of you by simply holding down the left mouse button.

At first, you only have brown Imps, and a very small squad. Brown Imps do nothing but smash and kill, but that's all you need of them for the first few missions composing the first three or four hours of gameplay time. As the game progresses it reveals itself to be something of a Pikmin clone, as you get new colors of Imps with new powers; Red can toss fireballs and are also immune to fire, Blue can go into water and revive the dead, and Green can cloak themselves and wait in ambush for oncoming enemies.

Normally you just hold the left mouse button down to send your Imps to Destroy whatever you are currently facing, and hold the right button down to call them back to you. When you get different colors, you can isolate your orders to each color with the numerical keys. One major component of the game is "sweeping", which you do by holding down both mouse buttons at the same time. This sort of remote controls your Imp mob, allowing you to guide them directly with the mouse, which is necessary for them to get through various little cracks and crevices that you can't fit through to open doors and lower gates for you and such. At the outset the Imps show pretty good prioritization about attacking stuff - if there's both enemies and smashable items ahead of you, they'll prioritize enemies first before getting wrapped up in destroying stuff. The "sweep", on the other hand, is kind of iffy and often a matter of frustrating guesswork and just kind of bumbling the mouse around to get them where you want to go. What's worse, the mob will often split up, with some possibly detouring around into danger.

There's a lot to like about the game. First of all, the art is surprisingly high-quality for what was a rather low-key release. It was written by Terry Prachett's daughter and has a nice satirical bent, with a lot of genuinely funny stuff throughout. When the gameplay works it can be quite fun in tandem with such as smashing up a representation of The Shire, and later on the game expands from basic resource-management slaughterfests to a puzzle element in using the various powers of the various Imps. And the Imps are the stars of the show, cavorting around, picking up anything and everything to use as makeshift armor, getting drunk and peeing on the hapless peasantry, they're a pleasure to watch.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is shallow and it doesn't take more than a few hours before the whole thing starts to feel like a grind. A lot of the game's action is basically just holding down the left mouse button and watching the Imps do the work for you. Genuinely straining puzzles are few and far between, but the later stretches of the game feature a lot of time-consuming repetitiousness. This is exacerbated by having to walk everywhere in the game world at the slow pace of the Overlord, and things get confusing sometimes as there's no maps of any sort, or even a compass to help when someone tells you an objective is "to the East."

The Overlord can be upgraded to be less of a liability in battle, but it involves sacrificing minions in your furnaces for the most part. Raising enough to sacrifice means collecting the various colors of Mana needed to summon them, which means ... you guessed it ... tooling around the world map and Grinding by killing hapless weak enemies for long stretches.

Where the game really fell apart for me, though, were the boss battles. Outside of the first couple, these are the only genuinely challenging bits of the game ... but not in a good way. The general pattern of boss battles is that one Imp type - usually the one most recently introduced and thus most hard to replenish when dead - has to be protected as they are the only ones that can hurt the boss, but there's an endless wave of respawning assholes attacking who can easily slaughter them if some well-equipped Browns don't hold them off. Juggling the different colors in these cases while facing a never-ending stream of respawning enemies is maddening, especially when the AI of the Imps starts to falter and do unpredictable and dumb things. So basically, like 80% of the game is either wandering around slowly and tediously with no map, or holding down the mouse button and watching stuff happen with no effort. The other 20% is janky infuriatingness. The comedy value and eye candy does help, but it's not enough to compensate for the problematic gameplay.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video