This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Overlord 2.
Overlord and Evil Genius are both games that people often tell me I would probably like and frankly I'm not sure how to take that. Being a harsh critic doesn't make one evil, as hard as that may be to accept while running from an American Idol audition in floods of noisy tears. Criticism is a powerful force for good! Nothing ever improves without coming to terms with its flaws. Without critics telling us what's stupid and what isn't, we'd all be wearing boulders for hats and drinking down hot ebola soup for tea. No, being a harsh critic doesn't automatically lead me towards evil. It's my cannibalism that does that.
Overlord 2 plonks you in the usual generic fantasy world into the big renaissance fair booties of some guy who at least subscribes to the same magazines as Lord Sauron, and your task is to use an army of giggling imp minions to. . .actually, that's a good point. What the fuck are we doing here? Taking over the world, probably - not that they ever tell you that. I guess once you put your big spiky helmet on over your glowing eyes and raise an army of demons to do your bidding, you can't exactly go back to business school. But I find the world-conquering motive a little questionable, since the world is small, boring and linear (and not exactly 'jewel-in-the-crown' material). It reminds me of the Fable games. In fact, this is about as Peter Molyneux as you can get without actually involving Peter Molyneux: shallow levels, flimsy design, unfulfilled ambitions of epicness and liberal use of colloquial British accents.
If one were to pull Overlord 2's trousers down, would one find the throbbing phallus of action-adventure, the quivering vagina of real-time strategy, or the grotesque Man Who Fell to Earth neutrality of the hybrid? Truth be told, you'd probably find an inexpertly stitched-on monstrosity with a label on it reading "Property of Nintendo Corporation," because the core gameplay is most reminiscent of Pikmin. You have a small legion of imps (colour-coded for your convenience - brown ones are your basic melee workhorse, red ones have fireball attacks, invisible ones are probably some kind of psychotic delusion on your part, et cetera), you control them by group or all together, setting up guard points and fingering who to nibble to death - which is where the real-time strategy aspect comes in, except that there is no strategy. All you ever need to do is select all your imps and make them swamp anything you don't like. On the rare occasions that they all get killed, you just raise another batch with practically no penalty and continue where they left off. "Real-Time Stupid," more like!
Another thing Overlord 2 has in common with Peter Molyneux games is that it keeps trying to make us give a shit about its mindless constructions of ones and zeroes. For example, every now and again throughout the story you come across women you can take as your mistress and keep in your doom fortress - which I suppose goes along with the theme, but if you must have this in your game, make them do something besides sit there eating all your evil pies. Give us some gameplay benefit as a reason to want to keep them happy besides the opportunity to have a pair of jubblies bouncing 'round the room. Also, is there a specific imp who has died and for whom you had a particular fondness? No there isn't, you fucking liar - they're all identical. But just in case there is - if you're the kind of person who assigns personalities to their dining room chairs - then you can resurrect specific ones for a small price, you weirdo.
You see, the imps fail to endear themselves to me, which could be because they control like arse! A fat one, to be precise, sitting on a pair of stilts with roller-skates on the end. There's a slight delay between holding down the 'send imps' button and them actually moving, the dozy bitches, and once you attempt tactics beyond "everyone gang up on fuckface A," your control over the little bastards becomes increasingly stiff and unintuitive. But the worst control - the arsiest of the arse - is the control for moving your horde directly. I was playing the PC version (because Steam is so gosh-darn inexpensive and convenient) and the control for this was moving the mouse while holding down both buttons. I want you to try that for me now. Hold down both mouse buttons and imagine you're using it to push a platoon of minions through a labyrinth within a severely brief time limit and the minions interpret your movements more as vague suggestions than direct commands and see how you do. Because that's the puzzle that made me quit to the Windows desktop and start rearranging my shortcuts, which was considerably more fulfilling.
I was actually relieved. "Oh, good!" I thought. "An excuse to stop playing this boring piece of shit!" And as a general game reviewing rule of thumb, that's usually a bad sign. It was only after I'd stopped playing and noticed how fascinating my ceiling had become that I realized how bored I had been. Partly it's the combat, partly it's the long linear levels. In your home base, you have to go through an entire loading screen just to find your upgrade shop. The place'd be needlessly large even if your movement speed wasn't so painfully slow.
Overall, the game should be congratulated for finding a way to suck the fun out of being an asshole. But I think it may have been missing the point anyway, and it's another reason why I dislike moral choice systems. You see, while it is true that people enjoy being a dick in games, it stops being fun when the game actually wants you to be a dick. It's less about dickishness itself and more about defying the rules. That's why it's more fun to be a dick in, say, Half-Life 2, because the game is desperately trying to make you out as the hero even while you're jumping on someone's head throwing broken bottles into peoples' eyes. Being a dick in a dickishness simulator is just as boring as being nice in any other game. It's like the difference between 'lawful evil' and 'chaotic evil.' And I really could not have put that any nerdier, could I?
Don't forget it rhymes with Nazi: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I honestly can't think of anything to put here this week so please enjoy this semi-colon: ;
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