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Platforms: Xbox 360, PC. Version reviewed - Xbox 360.
There are a few ways in which you could characterise Overlord. You could call it a fantasy RPG with a difference. You could get technical and call it a strategy/action RPG hybrid. You could talk influences and describe it as Pikimin meets Dungeon Keeper meets Fable. Perhaps, however, it’s best to just say this: it’s the game that makes you feel good about doing bad. As any British stage actor who hams it up as the bad guy in a Hollywood movie will tell you, it’s the villain that always has the best part. Overlord is a whole game devoted to pantomime villainy. It’s a fantasy game for those of us who preferred Tie Fighter to X-Wing, or who can’t help making the sneering remark in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Rarely has a game made evil so much fun.
The Pikimin comparisons come from the most distinctive element of the gameplay. As in any action RPG, you have a hero – though here he’s an anti-hero – who explores the wildernesses, towns and dungeons of the fantasy kingdom in search of power and glory. Here your protagonist is a wannabe Sauron, attempting to revive his realm of darkness and put his tower of evil back on the map. Your world is divided into a range of discrete but linked areas, all accessible from your stronghold by a number of unlockable magic portals. Each realm has its own quests available – from crashing a Halfling party to finding a mistress with which to share your home – and completing these will open up new areas or further evil aims in other ways.
Now, as anyone who remembers the opening of Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring will know, a decent Dark Lord is no slouch with magic powers or melee combat, and your own novice nasty is pretty handy with a fireball and axe. However, no self-respecting overlord does the dirty work himself: that’s what his minions are for.
Did you ever play Pikimin? Well, in Miyamoto’s overlooked near-masterpiece, a spaceman wanders an alien planet full of giant insects, growing tiny little plant people – the Pikimin – who act as his troops and workers. Overlord takes a similar approach, though with a slightly more direct control method. Throughout the game your evil overlord is followed by a gang of mischievous, malicious and mindlessly destructive gremlins. While the left stick moves your protagonist, the right controls your merry band of minions. Push it upwards, and they’ll sweep into the screen, wrecking everything and anyone in their wake. Push it left and right, and they’ll creep left and right across the screen to match. Squeeze the left trigger to select a target then squeeze the right, and your hench-things will race off cackling towards their new objective. Press Y, and they’ll stand and guard a waypoint. There’s no pointer, no crosshair and no complex order-stacking systems. Just select a team, point them in the right direction, then watch them go!
It’s a good, intuitive system, and it works. As in Pikimin, the key to success remains harnessing the brute force and capabilities of your minions in order to overcome the challenges set by the landscape and by the hostile forces that stand in your way.