A survival game from hell.
The goal of Overland is simple. You need to travel from the East Coast of USA to the West Coast, where it’s supposedly safe(r). To get there, you need to travel along roads infested with monsters. The further you go, the more you’ll see, the quicker they’ll be and the more likely they’ll explode on you.
The game divides the country into seven segments, with each bringing new monsters into play. Your goal is to avoid these while picking up vital supplies and helping other survivors (if you choose) along the way.
Each section of your journey has two parts. The first is the level itself, where you try to salvage anything useful while avoiding attacks. Once you get to the edge of the screen, your character(s) takes a well-deserved break while you look at a map and decide where to go. You’ll find yourself making decisions between fuel runs, rescuing people, grabbing supplies and upgrading your car.
After a very brief introduction, you’re thrust into the action, trying to learn the keys and shortcuts as you go along – through trial and error and frustration.
Every level is randomly created, meaning you get a different experience every time you play. While this comes from the idea that every single playthrough is unique, it also has its negatives. You’ll sometimes have seemingly impossible levels generate in front of your eyes – and on the flip side, when you breeze through other levels you’ll wonder how much was down to your skill and how much was just the luck of getting a simple playthrough.
Annoyingly, the interludes between levels, where your players are generally sitting around a campfire awaiting your instruction, are non-playable. There’s no chance to fill up the car or help a wounded ally, even if you have the necessary supplies, which seems like fairly natural behaviour for someone fleeing for their life. This omission is grating, as is the question of why my characters can’t carry both a stick and a jerry can at the same time.
Movement is turn-based and you’ll quickly find that every decision counts. This mechanic makes you feel constantly rushed, but there’s also a feeling that everything is happening incredibly slowly. You’ll learn the monsters’ movement capabilities to make sure you stand far enough away (or at least on a diagonal square) to keep safe, and the ‘undo’ button will soon become your best friend. Except when it betrays you by greying out, which it does after certain actions or in certain climates.
Throughout the journey, you control the team in its entirety rather than being tied to any one character, so if your starting person dies – or you decide to abandon them – you can carry on with other members of the team.
You’ll soon find yourself frustrated by these people, no matter where they are. Rather than having unrealistically high carrying limits they’ve been designed to the other extreme, to be incredibly restrictive – each person can only carry one item unless they have a backpack. Likewise, the boot of a car can only carry one item and the backseat can only fit one person. While erring on the side of caution has its benefits, knowing that your team is doomed because someone can’t protect themselves while retrieving fuel is not a satisfying way to go.
Unlike games like This War of Mine, where you have action at night and then build up and repair during the day, that’s lacking in Overland. Although there’s respite between levels, there’s no sense of progression. Sure, you slowly travel west, but you’re not building a safe house and you’re not improving your lot.
After more time playing Overland, I didn’t feel like I was getting any better at the game or enjoying it any more. I just felt like I was exhausting some of the ways to lose. I became less attached to my team, knowing that they’d inevitably die; they were all interchangeable and I could replace them as they got injured and proved cumbersome.
I’ll admit that I found Overland difficult and that it was designed to be like that, but more than that I felt it was limiting. There were some nice touches – every time you kill a monster, you attract more, which makes strategy more important than hacking and slashing – but without a sense of purpose or defiance when I overcame my challenges, it was hard to keep going back to it.
[Reviewed on PC]