Overlord: Raising Hell Review
Third parties are becoming less and less hesitant to bringing over their Xbox 360 games to the PlayStation 3. Overlord is one such example. Last year, Codemasters released Overlord for the Xbox 360 and PC. The game faired well with critics and gamers alike, and even went on to sell in excess of 1-million copies between the two units. The sales of the game are surely impressive considering the fact that Overlord is a new property, as well. As is standard procedure when porting a game to the PlayStation 3, Overlord: Raising Hell now boasts additional content and improved technical merits, such as visuals and sound.
The concept of the game is fairly reminiscent of Nintendo's Pikmin. The center character is the Overlord, himself, who is awakened from the dead by a horde of minions. You assume the role of the Overlord and, in turn, assume the ability to control the minions by utilizing them in a variety of ways. The game does a good job of explaining the uses of the minions with a brief tutorial in the beginning.
In addition to commanding the minions with the push of a button, you'll also be able to take control of them as a group with the right analog stick. With the minions in your control, you can guide them to areas that the Overlord cannot access, such as narrow or short pathways, as well as a bunch of other obstacles. One advantage to controlling the minions includes being able to access treasures that are off in the distance, for example. More importantly, minions can be used to help attack a horde of enemies, or just one enemy, in addition to picking up items dropped by enemies.
The use of Minions varies greatly, as you'll also need them to clear fallen obstacles out of the way. To do this, you'll need to collect souls, which are automatically converted into minions that you can spawn. You can command as many as 50 minions simultaneously; you summon them by vising a Spawning Pit and holding L2 and pressing the circle button. Of course, you won't be able to summon 50 minions immediately; you'll start with three, and work your way up.
Conquering kingdoms will require a solid army of minions that'll follow you everywhere you go, and fulfill your conquering needs. There are four types of minions: the Brown Minions are the fighter breed, they are the best at close range combat, and are smart enough to pick up dropped weapons and items, and use them to their own advantage. Red Minions are the flame throwers; much like archers, these guys throw fireballs from a distance and are also immune to fire. Green Minions are the stealthy assassins who hide, ambush, and sneak up for a kill; these guys are immune to poison and can form upgrades out of dropped debris. Finally, the Blue Minions are the healers, capable of resurrecting and even swimming across waters.
With 50 of them being scattered across the screen, Overlord possesses some rather solid artificial intelligence. Additionally, these little slaves of yours will add a dose of comedy to the game, so it isn't just doom and gloom all throughout. You'll put these minions to use across five main kingdoms that you'll need to conquer, and the PS3 version features additional levels per each kingdom, so the experience will be longer.
As far as enemies go, they are who you want them to be. If the sheep annoy you, then you're free to slaughter them and collect some souls out of it. If a certain townsperson rubs you the wrong way, off with his head! You have the ability to make rational choices of letting those around you live or die. You will often be asked to make a decision with someone's life in your hands - what you choose to do is up to you, as each decision has unique consequences, not necessarily being bad ones. The point of Overlord is to conquer the game's lands with respect and/or fear, and so the game presents you the opportunity of making choices that'll directly affect your campaign.
While you may think the game is strategy based, the gameplay is actually more hack n' slash than anything else. The game even offers a top-down perspective that's reminiscent of games like Boulder's Gate: Dark Alliance, and such. I, personally, find the game even more enjoyable when you've got the top-down camera engaged - as I'm sure other hack n' slash fans will, too. You can also utilize magic skills, and the more you play, the more powers you're granted with.
During your campaign, the Overlord's tower will endure various changes, as it'll evolve with many of the quests you complete. You'll start out with your tower in poor standing shape, and you'll go out on quests to regain some of its key components in order to have it rebuild. So from the start of the game to the end, you'll see your tower evolve. As you rebuild the tower, magic spells, character enhancements, rooms, and customization options will become available to you. Because the tower is the hub of the game, as it features a teleporter, you will spend a lot of time in it. With that in mind, if you're spending a lot of your time somewhere, you might as well decorate - and that's where the customizable stuff comes into play.
An online component offers co-operative gameplay mode called Survival, where two Overlords team up to square-off against a plethora of enemies. A head-to-head deathmatch mode called Slaughter pits two Overlords and their team of minions against each other. Lastly, Pillage mode pits two Overlords to see which team of minions can find the most treasure scattered around the map. Don't expect Overlord to amass an online crowd, as the offerings aren't nearly deep enough. Perhaps a campaign co-op mode that allows a second Overlord to join (without an army of minions) would've been a nice touch, but you can't have it all.
Playing Overlord will require you to get accustomed to the controls just a bit. For example, you won't be able to use just the right analog stick to shift the camera around, you'll have to hold down the L1 button and move the analog stick. The reason for this, as mentioned above, is because the right analog stick allows you to take control of your minions. All in all, though, the controls are straightforward and shouldn't pose a problem to anyone.
Visually, Overlord isn't terribly impressive, but it has its moments. The cutscenes will make poor details glaringly obvious, as a lot of textures look washed out and flat, and you'll often notice how low-quality a lot of the characters are. Still, with so many little characters running around on-screen, Overlord's visual drawbacks can be forgiven. The framerate is just a tad below a consistent 30, but on the other hand, environments can be quite lush, with vivid colors that pop, and very nice lighting that brings them to life. The visuals are a balancing act, really, and the overall result is acceptable.
In terms of audio, there's a lot going on, as you'll frequently hear banter, be it from the minions, the Jester, or Gnarl, your guide throughout the game. Gnarl is an old little gremlin/minion, who you don't control, but rather listen to all throughout the journey. The voice acting is well done, and the amount of humor here is quite high. While there isn't much in the way of enormous explosions coated with extravagant sound effects, you still get a pretty solid audio experience, and the PlayStation 3 version boasts 7.1 Dolby support.
Overlord: Raising Hell is a very good hack n' slash game with a concept that you don't see very often. Having an army of 50 characters following you around wrecking havoc on nearly everything and everyone in sight can be a ton of fun. Even though it isn't the deepest game, the journey is still enjoyable and fans of games like Boulder's Gate should really like it, as well. Watching your tower evolve and gaining power over the lands further enhances the experience. Overlord may not be the most dazzling game you'll play this year, but it is one of the freshest in execution. Gamers looking for an adventure to embark on shouldl pick this one up.
6/20/2008 Arnold Katayev