Before the debut of TV’s The Good Place, you might have argued that moral philosophy didn’t have a place in popular culture. But now, many more of us have had a de facto sitcom moral education—one that’s pleasurably stretched by Inkle’s surprise release, the stylish and looping youdunit Overboard. What does it mean to get away with murder, and how does that make you feel as a player?
Veronica Villensey is a newly married, freshly retired actress who’s crossing the Atlantic Ocean with her husband Malcolm. The game opens with a tussle where Veronica pushes Malcolm overboard to his death, setting the scene for a full day of suspicion-evading strategy.
Mechanically, the game is pretty straightforward. As Veronica, you have eight hours to explore the ship and plant persuasive evidence that you didn’t murder your husband. That involves moving around the ship as the time continues to tick away, and mere minutes can mean the difference between a good excuse versus a flimsy lie. There are a few items you can pick up and carry with you, and most of the game is having careful conversations that by now are an Inkle trademark.
Visually, Overboard is one part 2014’s 80 Days and one part 2020’s Over the Alps, with stylised period characters rendered in lively Technicolor. In 80 Days, time passes in a similar way at times—there’s even a whodunit section of the game, although you’re the accused and not the perpetrator—but in Overboard, there is much more urgency. Thinking for an extra second can really change your outcome.
That urgency is tempered, though, by the luxury of making as many loops as you like. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Veronica retains her memory of progress from day to day. She wakes up with a note in mind that will help you on your next run, like a character you need to find a way to silence. There’s also a “to-do list” widget and a ship’s chapel (with God, or gods?) that can help you understand where to go next.
Veronica can wriggle out of this situation in one of several ways. She can be caught and convicted of murder; get away with the murder only; get away plus receive Malcolm’s life insurance payout; or get away with the money and without any “loose ends”. For one run, I got away with just the murder by casting enough doubt that people believed Malcolm jumped to his own death. To get away with no loose ends, I had to do some light breaking and entering and make a few lucky discoveries. There are paths where you must kill additional people, plant evidence, and get your hands dirty. It’s a very replayable game, but each replay takes as little as just a few minutes.
Overboard is a surprisingly light play experience about a grim subject—not just the murder itself but the 1930s setting, the characters’ backstories, and more. That leads to a tonal clash that sometimes threw me out of the action, because it didn’t always feel fun or good to succeed in Veronica’s situation; yes, I got away with murder, but Veronica’s triumph left me a bit cold. That said, Overboard is still much like a rich but tart amuse bouche: just one mouthful to whet your appetite for what will come after.