Weâ€™ve played the part of the heroic adventurer countless times, striding headlong into battle with innumerable foes, exorcising evil and rescuing more damsels in distress than weâ€™ve had hot dinners. How many times, however, have we played the part of the bad guy?
Codemasters are giving us just that opportunity with Overlord, developed by Netherlands-based Triumph Studios (the guys behind the well-received Age of Wonders series).
The premise is simple â€“ you are brought from the Netherworld by the surviving minions of the previous overlord, recently deceased at the hands of a band of wandering heroes. Your evil tower is in ruins and your dominion extends no further than its broken down walls. Your goal, then, is to fix up your tower and rebuild your evil reputation â€“ by any means necessary.
The gameplay is where Overlord sets itself apart from other third person action games. While you technically do control a humanoid avatar from the third person, most tasks will in fact be accomplished by your little goblin minions, which are also under your direct control.
There are two primary methods to control your little goblin entourage, the first of which is by targeting an enemy (lock on with the left trigger) and then telling your minions to attack (right trigger). The other, most commonly used, method is taking direct control of your minions with the right analogue stick (the left is used to move the Overlord himself around). Moving the right stick directly controls all of your minions at once, as they automatically wreak havoc on whatever it is that you steer them into (be it some poor farmerâ€™s sheep or a nasty big troll).
Itâ€™s here that things fall apart, a little bit. The right analogue stick is normally used in these kinds of games to control the camera. Since you need it to control your goblins, the camera is mostly left to fend for itself. You can press the left bumper to move the camera behind the overlord and it does move around a little bit by itself but, by and large, youâ€™ll find yourself annoyed by the camera more often than not.
Additionally, the little goblin chappies can be pretty unwieldy in the thickest of battles, where controlling them in a complicated room whilst simultaneously controlling the overlord (he can swing his axe and do moderate damage too) can be a frustrating experience.
Sending in a pile of goblins to wreck the habitat of some nasty little Halflings (awfully Hobbit-like creatures) and steal their gold is just fantastic fun. Watching them steal pumpkins to wear as hats or pots for armour or even get drunk and then urinate everywhere is a videogame delight that youâ€™ll wonder how you ever did without. It never gets old and thereâ€™s always plenty of stuff to smash, even though sometimes it looks like you should be able to break something that you canâ€™t. A map would be quite useful too as itâ€™s often hard to tell where you are or where you should go next.
Graphically, Overlord is a thing of beauty. While technically there are other games out there that beat it, thereâ€™s none that pull together good tech with the degree of aplomb in evidence here. If you ever wanted to see how good art direction could affect a title, Overlord is an excellent example. Itâ€™s got the right amount of next-gen graphical goodness like bloom, water effects and billowing grass, combined with a gorgeous and cohesive style that helps hold the whole thing together. Whether in the depths of your tower dungeon or in the gorgeous hillside paddocks, the entire world is seamless and feels like it all belongs. It looks cool too.
The game world is packed with amusing little sequences, from the goblinâ€™s behaviour, through to the characters and events that make up the gameplay. Funny little lines, amusing situations and characters which are as much caricatures of classic movie moments of years gone by as they are endearing in their own right heavily populate the world. That someone cared about this game when making it is in no doubt; it oozes polish.
When all is said and done, Overlord is a good game that teeters on the edge of greatness. All that is holding it back, in fact, is the frustrating control / camera scheme. Given that this is the first game of its type, some of that can be forgiven â€“ just make sure you check it out first as the eccentricities of the control and camera combination can be very distracting.
The humour, the art direction, the gameplay and the feature set all suggest that Triumph Studios are capable of greatness â€“ all they need to do for a sequel is nail the camera and controls and theyâ€™ll have themselves one killer franchise!