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Like the best bits of Little Britain, Overlord shows how a mean sense of humour can work wonders for some otherwise tired subject matter. The traditional peace-loving, soil-tilling Halflings have become a crowd of obese neo-Nazi thugs who have kidnapped the local humans and set them to work in woodland work-camps. The elves who once ruled the sacred forests have become a gang of moaning spirits who bleat on and on about their doom. Putting these gits out of their misery isn’t a crime – it’s practically a public service! In fact, even when you’ve ransacked the innocent village and swiped its stolen food off to feed your own wretched rabble, you still feel a little like (gulp) a hero in disguise.
Arguably, this is the game’s biggest fault. At times, Overlord reminds you of Fable in the overall look and feel, but Fable arguably gave you more actual opportunity to do the wrong thing, and more feedback when you took the villainous route. Here you’ll get lambasted by the townsfolk and feted for your evil achievements by the crazed minion jester in your dark throne room, but it all seems a bit superficial. Your objectives are interesting and varied, but are they really that different from those you’d have in a more conventional RPG? And while you can customize your own dark stronghold, the link between it and the game seems superfluous. Bar facilities that can help improve your arms and armour, there’s nothing to really tie your tower to the core gameplay.
To be truthful, the faults don’t stop there. The storyline is paper thin – more driven by a delight in turning fantasy clichés on their head than creating a coherent story – and there’s no tangible character progression to speak of. You get more minions, more spells, better weapons and better armour, but are you really growing as a force for evil in the world? Are you just playing Christian Slater to Sauron’s Jack Nicholson: a youthful imitator who never becomes more than a pale shadow of the real thing?
This is a shame, but it’s not a disaster. Overlord might be slight, and it might even be a little repetitive, but if it’s lightweight in a bad way it’s also lightweight in a good way. It’s different, fresh and immediately engaging. It’s even graphically quite accomplished, with the sort of beautiful environments that wowed us when we first saw Kameo: Elements of Power, but none of the sub-Zelda tosh that spoilt that party. What’s more, you can’t help but admire the way Codemasters has fitted some complicated requirements into a slick and intuitive control system that even the most ham-fisted console owner can get to grips with within an hour. Maybe Overlord doesn’t take itself seriously enough, but if the end-result is a game so free of pomposity and pretension, and so rich in sheer, simple stupid pleasures, I don’t care. It’s still given me some of the best, unadulterated fun I’ve had playing games in months.
A joyous mix of childish bad-boy attitude and ‘borrowed’ ideas, fashioned into one of the most stupidly entertaining games this year. Overlord may be slight, but it’s wickedly enjoyable all the same.