I’ll be honest with you, I wouldn’t survive more than a day if there was an apocalypse tomorrow. I have no useful transferable skills. I can’t build a shelter, do first aid or hunt. My training in experimental theatre wouldn’t be much use either, particularly when everything is on fire and we’re left to eat each other. Overland though is another game set at the end of days and it embraces the difficulty of how hard it is to survive and how easy it is for people to suddenly die. But how prepared do you need to be for these saddening times?
Overland is a game that puts you in the boots of a survivor in a world where strange alien beings have burrowed up from the ground to destroy the world that we know. The gameplay takes place on a squared 9×9 grid map for each level and it’s up to you to find a way to escape in one piece. The story isn’t given to you through loads of cutscenes, but rather you are plonked straight into this broken land and left to try and work it all out. And that learning experience comes about near immediately as even in just the first level, you jump into a car leaving a dying person to be eaten by the monsters. You’ll want to get used to that kind of thing though – and the driving because that is a lifeline and your way through the whole experience.
Overland is basically one big road trip, taking you from one coast to another, with each level leaving you with several choices to make. Firstly you’ll need to keep an eye on the state of your car and whether it’s in a good enough condition to escape the level and continue on your journey. The problem is, it will also need petrol and that’s where I’m afraid you might have to get out of the car.
When you do leave the confines of your metal box, you fast find yourself stumbling upon a number of monsters, all dotted around the stage ready to attack. The question is whether you can action your tasks before the monsters come over to you and attack or destroy your car. The gameplay works in a turn-based manner, much in the vein of a game like XCOM, with your movement turns and actions to complete revolving around picking up petrol cans, siphoning cars for fuel, grabbing a new car, picking up items and recruiting other survivors. From there, you hand over the reins to the monsters to have their turn, as they get ever closer, with some moving multiple squares in one turn, or working their way past obstacles. If you’re really unlucky you’ll be faced with even more creatures rushing you if you don’t escape in time.
They come in a wide variety too; underground alien-like creatures who resemble a mixture of spiders, crabs, or small dogs – just without the cuddly features. As you progress those that you come up against get bigger and grow wings to allow them to move quicker.
The survivors you will stumble across come mixed between humans and dogs. Now brace yourselves because I’m going to have to leave you with a word of warning here… the dogs you encounter are very loyal, lovely and fluffy, but they will die, so you’ll need to prepare for that! In fact, everyone will die at some point and like any roguelike survival game, you will then be left to begin your adventure again from the start, with a different character and background in place. Some characters you meet will have certain skills or weapons that you may need to fall back on, whilst others will just be a bit useless. For example, the dogs can attack monsters in a fight and if you pit two of them up against one, it’s an easy battle. But drop a human into a battle without weapons and they will die. Occasionally though you’ll want to put them up against an alien armed with a pipe, just so that they can at least cause a good distraction and waste some time, allowing others to grab some fuel or move a blockade out of the way to drive through. They may not make it back from the fight in one piece… but you know, choices and all that.
However you go about things though, the best course of action is to get what you need and get out, fast. Sometimes that means leaving fellow travellers you’ve obtained behind and, I’m afraid to say, it also occasionally means letting your beloved best friend take one for the team.
After each map encounter, you arrive at a pit stop; a campfire setting in the wilderness. Here you get a chance to reflect alone or with your team of survivors on life at the end of the world, before making a decision on where to go next. Do you urgently need more fuel or is there another survivor holding out that you feel could bring something new to your team? Surviving at the end of the world is all about making the right decisions, but with Overland you’ll probably struggle to feel like you are ever really making the correct ones.
Overland delivers a rather distinct visual look, one that is almost comic book like in its design. The maps and menus are beautifully created throughout, as are the designs of the foes you’ll come up against. I have particularly liked taking in the little snapshots of towns, cities, and wildernesses left in despair and desolation that you journey through; it all comes together to bring an intriguing journey. And that is helped by the nicely sombre feel to the audio which fits well with the overall tone of the game.
It has to be said though, Overland is as hard as nails and you will die a lot; those are pretty much the facts. This means you will have to persevere and put a different thinking cap on when playing through things, understanding that you can’t always win against the monsters, but you can escape… and that’s the main aim for this game. How you do escape is up to you though and the very earliest decisions are key. I’ve had to sacrifice so many friends and animals to progress through this defeated world and while it’s quite sad initially, you fast learn to be ruthless.
I do however think that at times the game is too punishing, but fans of roguelike experiences will have a lot of fun here. There is something great about Overland on Xbox One, but if it’s taught me one thing, it’s that survival in the apocalypse is a bloody nightmare.