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Overlord (Xbox 360)

Rated: 16

Story: You are the aspiring evil overlord of a fantasy realm. You must travel to different parts of the land to pacify the locals and defeat all the heroes who ganged together to defeat your predecessor. Along the way, you need to collect the stolen magical components of your tower and amass enough gold to forge new armour. You'll also need cash to buy some pot plants to keep your girlfriend happy.

Gameplay: You run around in third-person, hacking at enemies and casting spells. The main emphasis, however, is on controlling the small army of goblin minions that follow you around. Among other things, you can send them off to fight creatures, find treasure, obtain items and work levers. As the game progresses, you get to control more minions and gain access to different types:
  • Brown - good fighters.
  • Red - immune to fire and able to throw fire themselves.
  • Blue - can heal other minions and travel through water.
  • Green - immune to poison and able to jump on the back of larger monsters.
Knowing which minions to use is the key to every situation.

Save System: Annoying. The game saves automatically if you move between areas. It also saves the first time you find each of the teleport gates scattered around the landscape. Some areas take half an hour or more to work through, though, and there's no simple way to force a save. Worse than that, upon loading the saved game, all your minions have been returned to storage and there aren't always handy summoning points to get them back.


Dear cousin Sauron,

After our recent conversation, I have decided to follow your example and set myself up as evil overlord of a generic fantasy domain. Things have been going well. I have amassed a small army of faithful minions and we have roamed the land together, bringing a new age of darkness to the world.

I started small, freeing some slaves, smashing crates belonging to the peasantry and then forcing a number of the local women to wear bikinis. Then I bought some pot plants. After that, I moved up a notch, dispatching the monstrous rulers of several kingdoms and keeping their stolen treasure for myself rather than returning it to its rightful owners. I met a girl, I fell in love, she sent me to fight some zombies. We bought some new carpet.

Eventually, I killed some villagers just for the fun of it and because their limited repertoire of one-liners was beginning to get on my nerves. No one seemed to notice much, however, and they'd been replaced by a new set of identical villagers when I returned five minutes later.

I'm beginning to think that I should have been a hero all along. Maybe I could polish up my armour and put my gremlins in pixie outfits. What do you think?

PS Unlike you, I did manage to rid myself of a group of troublesome halflings. Mine were evil halflings, though, so I don't know if that counts.

It would be easy to describe Overlord as a cross between Pikmin and Fable. Because it is. It looks like Fable, it starts out playing like Fable and then you collect some minions and it turns into Pikmin in Fable clothing.

Given the game's influences, it's a shame it isn't a bit better. Nothing is desperately broken but nothing is really that great either. There's just a feeling that the game lost its way somewhere along the line. Most obviously, a lot of the time, it's hard to tell that your overlord is particularly evil. I can't really see Sauron agreeing to rescue a damsel's luggage, for instance. An exploration of the nature and motivation of evil could have been educational. Instead, we have comedy evil without malice or repercussions or, indeed, much evil. What's the point?

If the game was consistently amusing, then it might get away with it but it's just too long. There are too many sections that feel like padding. This is a particular problem at a point about an hour or so into the game. (You know, suspiciously round about where the demo ends). Up till then, the script is witty, it's fun trashing things with your minions and the basic combat is adequate enough. Unfortunately, it's hours more before the next variety of minion appears. With only a small number of brown minions and not much spell power, there's very little strategy to be employed. You're left to trawl through linear dungeons, bashing halflings and getting your minions to smash vast quantities of barrels to obtain treasure.

It's only once you've unlocked all four varieties of minion that the puzzle and strategy elements of the game really take off. The problem is, you could complete Pikmin in the time it takes to get hold of them. That's rather a while to persevere before things get going.

On top of this, the camera is often unhelpful and the controls are difficult to tame. Given time and space, it's possible to send groups of minions left, right and centre to set up a cunning plan but trying to do it in the heat of battle is like herding toddlers in a toy department. They go all over the shop. Often, there's not much to be done except rush the enemy with waves of minions and hope for the best.

Overlord does have its moments. It's occasionally hilarious and having a horde of minions to command is entertaining. It's especially satisfying when some careful planning pays off. If only the level design was sharper, the controls were better and a few riskier decisions had been made at the concept stage...

Ho, well, there's always hope of an improved sequel, I guess.

Right, I'm off to genetically splice some other games and make my fortune. Watch out soon for Grand Theft Halo, Tetris Raider and Brain Training: Cute Puppy Edition. At least one of them is bound to be great!

Conclusion: A good idea that doesn't reach its full potential. Only fantasy fans will bother to plough on to the end.

Graphics: Competent. The distant camera position means it's difficult to make out detail on the characters, however, and the background scenery lacks visual impact. It's all just too similar to Fable to really impress.

Length: Long.

Rating: 3/5.

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