Lose your patience on a beautiful post-a post-a apocalypse day.
How much unfortunate suffering do you record in your post-a apocalypse game? It’s a tough one. Is your nightmare disguised as an action movie like in Mad Max? Or is the despair crushing tang’s soul? The games have landed across the range but I’ve never played anything simultaneously at various points on that spectrum like Overland. The pleasant image hides one of the bleakest gaming experiences I’ve had in a while.
This is a turn-based game in which you guide survivors through one scenario after another on a trans-American road trip, collecting supplies but focusing on finding fuel to get a car and keeping it running for as long as possible. The presentation of these scenarios is lovely; small squares show each scene as a small interactive diorama. There is even a photo mode that is quickly accessible to make the most of it and I can’t help but take dozens of screenshots. The minimalist image evokes the pleasant lightness of the un-unt themed Goose Game and un-released cups. Overland is not like those games. Outwardly may resemble a charming indie girl but inside is the dark ruthless heart of a Cormac McCarthy.
Your enemies are alien creatures that are attracted by sound. Inevitably, clinging to gasoline and furniture will make noise, and the longer you stay in a scenario, the more creatures appear from the ground until the whole screen is filled with them and you can’t move. Sometimes, it’s a harsh but fascinating deadline that forces you to make choices about what you really need. In those moments, the game comes alive, as you struggle between swiping an upgrade to your car or a health ministry for one of your injured survivors.
Rarely are there scenarios like this. Instead, the accumulation to be overwhelmed is often too fast. Either you’ve got smart options from the beginning of the level, or you’re going to die. The ambiguous intermediate area where you hesitate in hesitation barely exists thanks to small scenarios, the map requires no more than a few turns to go sideways and the enemy grows in numbers too fast to be counterattacked or controlled.
The last part is the real detonator and often makes the game feel miserable. Harsh odds and punishing difficulty are no strangers to turn-based tactical games. X-COM thrives on this but X-COM also gives you a lot of tools to deal with these obstacles. Overland gives you too little and worse, due to its random nature, you have little control over what you have and what you don’t.
Once you run you’ll start with a makeshift shield, a healthy dog, and a great car. The next section will see you again with no and less than that after a few bad situations. This led to me constantly starting campaigns again to see if I could make a better start for myself. It’s a tedious job that causes you to lose any attachment to your characters. They are nothing but hopeless meat puppets that will expire within a day. “But Sam!” you cried. “There are dogs and you can feed them!”. It’s true and they’re lovely but I hope you’ll love watching them die dozens because Overland shows people’s best friends without mercy
The game’s unique difficulty options give you the opportunity to restart an individual situation – largely meaningless because you are often subjected to random generation, rarely due to your own actions – or for you to increase the difficulty by adding hard time limits.
Between these brutal encounters, you are on your way. Your characters camp in peaceful points but it’s relatively concise. Disappointingly, Overland doesn’t allow you to use this downtime to manage your resources. Why can’t I heal wounded survivors when we’re resting? Why can’t I fill my car with the amount of gasoline I’ve collected? This can be forgivable scrutiny if each individual turn is not so precious. Losing a script because having to spend time patching up for your team is frustrating.
For a game about driving across America, there’s also little sense of a journey. A road trip that only includes short stops doesn’t give you the feeling you’re going anywhere. Maybe it was deliberate. Overland may want to enhance its uncompromising atmosphere with a sense of a journey you’re nowhere to go. For me? I was depressed. It was tiring to roll up in the next encounter and know that I was going to die in a flash. New options and mechanisms are gradually known but they do not alter the overall trajectory of the experience.
But be it, sometimes post-a post-ao century is just that: hardship without reward. However, even the bleakest apocalypse fiction uses misery to test people, to help us understand the fundamentals of our condition. Overland, with randomly generated and completely interchangeable humans, has no insight to offer. Well, except watching the dogs die constantly will make you dislike a game.