Action


Overlord takes no chances with its potential to be evil, but still offers a fun and strangely pleasant experience.

overlordbox.jpgMost Zelda-like adventures star a hero embarking on an epic journey to vanquish some all-powerful threat, but your quest in Overlord is to become that very threat and to force your sinister will upon a bright and colorful world in dire need of corruption. Your sole purpose is to absorb every city, home, and willing resident into your dark and vast empire. You have been awakened from ages of sleep and it is time to reclaim your kingdom while at the command of an army of goblin-like minions ready to kill and die for you with cackling glee.

Sounds truly sinister, doesn’t it? Some would certainly hope that Overlord is a taste of the Forbidden Fruit, a deliciously decadent experience. In truth, Overlord has more of a darkly comic tone due to its light-hearted nature, fairy-tale artistry, and general goofiness. It’s probably a good thing that Overlord doesn’t take itself too seriously. Such creative direction makes it rather hilarious to burn hobbits alive.

You, as the nameless Overlord, command minions that babble like children, play dress-up, and chug ale on sight then urinate seconds later. As it turns out, these silly little imps can kill and loot with alarming ruthlessness and speed. They are the standout unique feature of Overlord and, frankly, represent the only reason to play the game at all. Without them, Overlord would have been yet another remedy for insomnia.

The right thumbstick guides a single band of minions within a wide radius wherein they will destroy stockpiles, ransack houses, fetch items, and kill every enemy while the Overlord just stands there staring into space, if he so chooses. Thanks to decent AI, your minions are quite independent once guided to their target. They auto-attack any nearby hostile or container, outfit themselves with dropped gear, and will even run back to you with offerings of treasure and minion-generating lifeforce harvested from defeated enemies (or even friendlies). Running these guys around to wreak havoc and collect riches is terribly fun and just doesn’t get old. Although the minion feature is well-designed and mostly efficient, it is imperfect. Sometimes minions try to attack unreachable targets, get lost or hung up somewhere or misbehave in other ways, but these problems occur sparingly and never hurt the fun. I approve of how Overlord handles the concept of commanding followers to do your bidding. Really, little need be done to change it.

Those with concerns about potential repetition from giving little helpers all the work need not fear. Story progression unlocks minions with different abilities such as ranged attacks and resurrection, thus adding minor puzzle-solving, very basic resource management, and a bit of strategy to battles. Conveniently placed portals act as minion dispensers that shoot out the desired number and type of minion. However, having to mix-and-match minions can be either tiresome or unchallenging. Sometimes slightly tedious backtracking is needed in order to find the proper minion dispenser, and sometimes the exact minions you need are available in the right place all too conveniently. Being able to summon any minions at any time but with more strategic resource management may have been a better idea.

overlord.jpgFans of similar games will be reminded of one particular title the instant Overlord starts: Fable. Overlord’s artistry, level design, and even some of the voice cast are ripped straight from Lionhead’s Xbox hit. Technical graphic quality, however, isn’t much different between the two, which is now a bit of a problem given the 360’s power. Think of Fable in high definition with a smooth framerate and hilariously bad NPC animations, and you have pictured Overlord’s appearance almost exactly. And the NPC animations are terrible. Peasants flee like circus clowns, “sexy” women strut with great exaggeration, and faces in cutscenes morph grotesquely during dialogue as if cycling through several random emotions per second. Thankfully, this is the only laughably bad aspect of Overlord.

At any time during your conquest you may return to your black castle with expectedly pointy architecture and tinker with the most shallow aspects of the game. You have access to very limited castle upgrades such as placing a long red carpet before your throne or flanking it with ominous statues. This feature is just another stripped-down form “upgrading your crib”. There’s also a forge for making improved gear and a dungeon where you can practice battles with previously defeated enemies. These are Overlord’s functional if obligatory attempts at the customization and mini-games we have come to expect in recent years. These side tasks are mostly unremarkable, but those dungeon battles can pose a mean challenge.

Another problem with Overlord is its disappointing writing. You would expect this light-hearted tale of silly evil to have been laced with more irreverence and satire. Although the plot takes jabs at RPG cliches, the dialogue itself is on a par with mediocre cartoons: no groaners, but no whoppers. Gnarl, the Yoda-like minion who acts as your guide, has a few choice phrases here and there but the competent voice actors are given nothing clever to say otherwise.

If nothing else, Overlord is amusing. The minions are the stars of the show and set Overlord apart from all other fantasy-adventure titles. Although the game could benefit from sharpened graphical detail and a rapier wit, it still generates all the appeal necessary for a person to see it through to the end. Overlord is simply fun, and really doesn’t need to be anything more.

mohairborne.jpgThe obese WWII shooter genre still lumbers forward despite years of overindulgence.  Now up on Xbox Live Marketplace is a taste of the latest edition of the franchise that started it all, the Medal of Honor: Airborne demo, weighing in at a shade under 1GB. 

Hopefully the full game will provide the necessary thrills for those of us who just can’t mow down enough Nazis.  I hear the parachuting strategy and cover system add just enough freshness to a terribly stuffed genre.  I sure as hell hope I’ve heard right.

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halo3collectors.jpgNew word has hit on how much you can screw up Halo 3’s multiplayer in ridiculously fun ways that go far beyond the mere options of match type, weapon load-outs or power-up availability.  Apparently, you can change up everything except the structure of the map itself.  That is, you’ll be able to experiment with the very placement of spawn points, vehicles, weapons, and power-ups. 

The Unreal Tournament/Championship games boast a great feature called “mutators”, which are options that allow ridiculous abilities such as one-shot kills.  Halo 3 is going to offer such customization to its power-ups, whereas collecting one can enable such things as a speed boost, high jumping, and others.  What’s even better?  Halo 3 will also offer a feature called The Forge where a person can monitor a multiplayer match and rearrange items while other people are playing, and you can still be attacked!

Of course, all these new features will result in hilariously unbalanced matches and will deactivate achievements, but I’m more than ready for some serious advances in console MP gaming customization.  This kind of variety has been around for PC shooters for over a decade, and it’s time the love was shared more widely with us thumbstickers.

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Hey, another one!  This forum post at AdultGamingEnthusiasts.com contains a cam-phone shot of an email sent to Gamestop stores from corporate.  The email clearly states that Stranglehold, originally slated for August 27th, is being rescheduled by the vendor for release on September 5th.  Can’t blame Midway for this move.  I’d want to give BioShock a little more room, too.

stranglebio.jpg

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Silicon Knights founder Dennis Dyack, in response to a bit of pessimism in the Too Human forums, has assured the board that the game will be out in 2008 and that a demo is on the way, along with more exciting info.  The post is literally that vague, but the story’s all about the possibility of a demo, which is always instant newsworthiness.

Source: IGN

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turok.jpgAnother interesting title has been thankfully pulled from the holiday crowd lest it be trampled in a stampede of more popular games.  Disney has announced that their futuristic dinosaur hunter has been moved from the expected window of fall 2007 to February of 2008.

This upcoming version of Turok is a reimagining of the well-liked original which debuted back on the Nintendo 64.  Personally, I’ve never gotten the chance to play any Turok game except for the less-than-stellar attempt that hit last-gen consoles a few years ago.  But this new Turok by Propoganda Games is looking pretty tasty, and I’ll be right there trying to stay at the top of the food chain if reviews are favorable.  Turok also features multiplayer, and if the game earns a warm reception like King Kong then the franchise will have redeemed itself in my eyes.

Source: Eurogamer

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As if the demo wasn’t evidence enough of BioShock’s magnificence, 2K’s Force to be Reckoned With looks well-prepared to walk away with a truckload of Game of the Year awards and leave the competition mercilessly crushed under Big Daddy’s massive iron boots.  According to metacritic, the dystopian juggernaut is earning scores ranging from 95 to a perfect 100 thus far.

These scores almost justify the $80-$100 some people are paying those eBayers for copies snagged at Toys R Us this week…almost.

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