Being cooped up indoors for a few weeks can be taxing on the mind, so it’s important that we keep engaging ourselves mentally, which can sometimes mean playing something completely unexpected. I recently drafted an article on strategy RPGs just before I booted up Overland for the first time, and there are some elements that I wish I could have addressed in that article. I’ll admit, a strategy game (lovingly called a Car-PG by the developers) was the last thing I was ready to sink my time into, but Overland was a surprise delight. Although its mood might be a bit dour, it’s also a very cozy sort of roguelike for a quarantine such as this one. If you want to explore America without leaving your home, read on to learn more about this punishing title.
Life on the Road
Overland has you taking the reins of a survivor- it might be a former waitress who likes working on automobiles in her spare time, or maybe a former high school football star working a deadbeat job. Your initial survivor will have their traits randomized, though they’ll always start with an additional inventory slot. You’ll also get the chance to recruit an ally at the start of your journey- it’s up to you whether you want to do so, of course, as there is a tricky set of in-game achievements that will reward you for pushing the limits with a sole survivor. Your partner- and all party members, for that matter- is also randomized, though they’ll come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be dogs, which receive a randomly-generated name upon recruitment, which can be adorable. One of my personal favorite team members was a good dog named Pancakes. The further you progress across the country, the more likely your recruits will possess more valuable and viable traits. Recruits gathered earlier on might unlock a trait the longer you travel with them, but you’ll likely need to outfit them with equipment. I feel as though I’m getting ahead of myself, though, so let’s determine the gameplay objective:
Your goal is to make it from the East Coast to of the United States to the West in the most reliable way possible: by car. In order to get from town to town, you’ll need to keep the fuel in your car at reasonable levels, as the cost to visit certain areas will vary, with a “no fuel” scenario occurring when you’re all out of gas. Your car is a vital part of your success, as it can ram smaller enemies without fear of damage, store any unnecessary items, and hide characters who have no right being out on the field. With only a few, rare exceptions, all characters only have two actions per turn. This can be any combination of movement and inventory usage, which is a very strict limit, but only slightly mitigated by the game’s small map size. The point of the game is to make ever single action taken feel monumental, and while it will definitely feel that way at first, you’ll eventually fall into the rhythm of the encounter pacing.
Look, But Don’t Touch
Overland doesn’t want you to make noise, which is unfortunate, since just about everything you do in-game does so. Moving from space to space will cause enough of a ruckus to draw an enemy’s attention, but that also means if you’re planning on keeping your car in one piece, you’ll need to keep it turned off for the majority of your skirmishes. I suppose I haven’t actually mentioned the enemy yet, have I? These strange, hostile creatures are a mixture of crystal and insect, and though they behave in different ways, they’re all out to get you.
There are a few varieties of sound, such as general movement, persistent noises like car motors and generators, percussive noises, like bashing a lock or an enemy over the head, and explosive noise, which can happen in a few ways that I won’t exactly spoil. All of these come with a consequence- general movement will alert enemies to your presence, but any noise over percussive will waken the swarm beneath the earth. Even if you kill an enemy, the aggression that exists on the field with intensify, meaning violence should be a last resort, if possible.
When push comes to shove, you can choose to muscle past your opposition, so to speak. Making sure you’ve got a broken set of planks on-hand will grant you a shield from harm, as well as a means to repel your enemies. There are other ways of circumventing danger, as well, as some obstacles are moveable and more importantly flammable, creating a temporary barrier from harm. Fire spreads in a systemic manner, however, as any wooden structures and tall grass will catch flame and potentially exacerbate the problem. It’s best to measure your options and equipment carefully during each engagement, or else you’ll end up overwhelmed and low on supplies.
As if dealing with an ever-encroaching swarm of insect monsters wasn’t enough, you’ll also need to beg, borrow, and steal in order to stay one step ahead of your friends and foes alike. Other humans are on this journey West, and some have valuable supplies. Others, however, are looking for the same resources as you, and when everything seems predictable, the human A.I. can throw their own wrench into things. Entering an encounter against wild dogs is one thing, but inflicting harm on them in any way will make traders hostile towards you. Even if you should resuscitate them after looting their bodies, they’ll hold a grudge against you to the bitter end. and sometimes, when all seems to be going smoothly, a band of ticked-off survivors will roll up with a bone to pick.
All of this lends an air of uncertainty to the game that is hard to wrestle with. Would the better idea be to just move on from that dog-infested scenario, so that you have the ability to trade further down the line? Will you even have the resources to barter with, as survivors tend to favor books, plants, and medical supplies? Will a last-ditch effort cause you to throw caution to the wind and take out a potential ally, and what sorts of repercussions will that have in the long run?
The roguelike nature of the game will not pull punches, and even when you think you’re rolling high with a van full of healthy travelers, things can change in an instant, especially as the enemy variety increases with each new area you progress. While the game will allow you to pick up from a previously visited “region” if you’ve made it that far, that does mean you’ll be dropped right into mayhem of that area’s approximate level, just with fewer resources. In many ways, Overland seems to be balanced best for the long haul… and trust me, it will feel that long.
Impressions and Conclusion
If you haven’t noticed from the screenshots, Overland takes a low-poly, low-texture approach in a way that is mean to make each character and enemy unit feel easily identifiable, yet also gives off a rustic, run-down sort of feeling. Even with its relatively simplistic art style, the game churns out an impressive number of environments and scenarios, even though there are some pretty predictable elements that appear in specific skirmishes. The game’s soundtrack and sound design are fabulous, with some terribly alien and tension-filled mood pieces that swell with the intensity of combat. The sounds the insect creatures make are absolutely unnerving, especially because of how grating they are on the ears- chances are, if they make a sound like that, you can expect some company soon after.
However, Overland is far from a perfect experience. The game didn’t exactly make waves upon release, which I find to be a shame, but that also means its chances of patches and additional content are slim. The game has a tendency to crash in-between level transitions, which is not too severe an issue thanks to how it autosaves between turns, but irksome even so. Likewise, although the game is hard as heck- I’ve yet to see everything it has to offer, myself, and I’ve put in an unhealthy amount of time for how long I’ve owned it- there’s no unlockable content. Though the thrill of obtaining an achievement is a reward in itself and getting further in the game might reveal some new pieces of equipment, your progress doesn’t count towards any new items being made available for the player on new runs. Though I haven’t yet grown weary of the many cross-country trips, I worry that roguelike exhaustion will set in once I’ve “seen it all.” That’s not to say the journey hasn’t been exciting, but I do feel that additional content would vastly spice up the experience.
The last update given by the developers on the game’s Steam page seems to imply that some additional features and content might be appearing down the road, but since the Switch version still possesses a soft-locking bug, I don’t know whether or not this content will ever make its way to the console. With all of that being said, if any of my overview of Overland sounded delightful to you, I encourage you to pick it up. You can pet dogs, hit things with a fire extinguisher, camp out with your squad, and of course, watch them perish horribly against the mysterious, encroaching danger all around.