Overland review: a fight for survival in unfair territory

By Ian Dransfield. Posted

There’s a line – one that, thanks to some excellent design in recent hard games, has seemed increasingly less obvious. It’s a demarcation between the realm of ‘difficult’ and that of ‘unfair’. Overland never even saw the line in its quest to become a challenging survival title, veering wildly off the road and ending upside-down in a ditch, on fire, and screaming at you to “do better”.

Alright, that’s an exaggeration. This isn’t the kind of game that would ever scream. No, Overland is cool and calm; it would speak to you in a low, husky whisper and you’d get lost in its drawl. It is stylish and atmospheric, creating a real sense of place in this post-apocalyptic world overrun with blind (but great at hearing) alien beasts.

Just hanging out at a hastily constructed campfire with your small band of survivors – and dog – planning the next move west across the United States is genuinely fantastic. It draws you in and holds you tight, forcing you to live through this nightmare with the people you pick up, lose, and abandon along the way. If there were a good game attached to the presentation, Overland would be a classic.

There’s every chance you’ll grow attached to your survivors. Especially the dog contingent.

It’s not the case, though. No, Overland drunkenly stumbles into unfair territory and blindly expects you to just get on with it. Each level is, essentially, a turn-based puzzle. Contained in a small (beautiful) diorama, you walk or drive in, assess the situation, and figure out what you want to do. There’s fuel to the side – do you want to risk going out to get it? There are some supplies to loot – is it worth switching your half-broken thwocking stick for a less-broken one?

You make these decisions, come up with a plan, and execute it. Sometimes the plan is to ignore things and move on, risking running out of fuel but saving your survivors from an alien encounter. Most of the time the plan is to get out of the vehicle (a choice you don’t have sans car, of course), and that’s where it falls apart.

Puzzles need to be logical. Overland is not a standard turn-based strategy game – every character dies in two hits without armour, no questions asked. It’s not a stand-up fight – you have to distract and diffuse, move thoughtfully and execute those plans you made. But enemies, items, placement of obstacles – it’s all randomly generated. Random placement does not lend itself to good puzzle design, and it means in nearly every single playthrough you will encounter an impossible situation through no fault of your own.

Other survivors might be unfriendly. And even if they aren’t, you can still rob them like a psychopath.

Overpowered and outnumbered, you’ll attempt to retreat to your vehicle, friends will die, dogs will be lost, and your efforts will all be in vain. Don’t get me wrong: this can be fun, and stories can arise from it. But for the most part, Overland just slaps you in the face, takes a dump on your efforts, and leaves you to die in the post-apocalyptic sun. It’s not a challenge, it’s genuinely unfair. And despite the game’s good looks, it’s not a good look.

Highlight

Atmosphere is understated yet thick in Overland, presenting a world of enigmatic and unknowable truths. Why the aliens are there, what happened to everyone – questions on those lines are left unanswered. But it does help create an enveloping ambience that – outside of the main game bits – you can happily lose yourself in.

Verdict

Gorgeous and enigmatic, hugely let down by a clunky, unfair core game.

45%

Genre: Survival
Format: Switch (tested) / PC / PS4 / XBO
Developer: Finji
Publisher: Finji
Price: £19.49
Release: Out now

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Other survivors might be unfriendly. And even if they aren’t, you can still rob them like a psychopath.

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