I have been known, on occasion, to exhibit some self-destructive and addictive behavior when presented with something fun. So when I say this is the first game that’s presented a genuine Problem, that’s definitely an endorsement.
Page 1, Game 1: Overland by Finji
The world has been overrun by bugmonsters. You’re fleeing, like you do. You have a car, and you’ll likely have a companion soon. You’re heading west — gotta go somewhere. Given that the road seems to be getting more bizarre and dangerous the further west you go, I’m not convinced this is solid plan.
Along the way, you may rescue other stranded people and invite them along your journey into the heart of darkness. Two fundamental types of people will join you: doggos, and people who have some skills but are unlikely to be as good as doggos.
You’re given some choice over the next stop in your itinerary, but moving forward always costs precious, precious fuel, so prepare to enter a desperate-for-guzzoline mindset worthy of a Mad Max movie. (You can escape a given level on foot, but you’re gonna need to find a replacement ride before you can make any progress in the game. Better hope it has enough room for everybody you’ve gathered.) You’ll also find weapons and equipment and upgrades for your car and maybe even a BETTER car, but your gear only matters so much. The bugs aren’t terribly dangerous — at least, not at first — but slugging it out is a losing proposition. Kill one, and its death scream will summon one more — at a minimum. And even if you feel like you’ve found a position you can defend all day, eventually, a massive rumbling is going to inform you that it is TIME TO GO NOW. I’m not sure what happens if you ignore that rumbling, but I’m assuming it’s very, very bad.
For any given level, you need to harvest what you can, and then get the fuck outta there.
Overland is a roguelike, with all the good and bad that entails. Everything is randomized every playthrough. This makes every game a new experience — but it also means there’s no guarantee it will be remotely fair. In the few (nearly solid) days I’ve been playing this game, I’ve definitely encountered what felt like no-win situations.
In a lot of ways, that’s just part of the deal; if you’re out of resources, shame on you for putting yourself in that position. But it can be a weirdly frustrating, fussy game.
For instance, if there’s something large-but-movable sitting on one of the “Escape” spaces, you can’t just ram it out of the way with your car; the map borders function as an impenetrable wall. You’ll need to send someone out of the car to drag it to the side. Better hope there’s enough room for someone to do that. Most of the cars you can find are VERY tightly constrained as to WHERE they can move; you can’t even try to hop up on the sidewalk even if a horde of neon bugmonsters is about to tear you to pieces. On levels with a four-lane highway, you cannot take your car through any gaps in the jersey barrier, even if the other side is clear(-ish) and the lane you’re in is hopelessly congested with death.
The inventory system in particular is merciless to the point of absurdity. You can carry ONE item — unless you have a backpack, then you can handle TWO. So you’re gonna have to choose between being able to defend yourself and being able to haul back any crucial guzzoline you find hanging out in a dumpster.
This hits its apex with the suffocatingly constrained vehicle restrictions. Each car carries X people and Y items — with NO flexibility. For vans, the numbers are 5 people and 0 items. The fact that you cannot carry junk in a van will likely come as a shock to anyone who’s ever used one.
And why are there no rules for the interaction of dogs and pick-up trucks? If you have two people, a dog, and a two-seat pick-up, you do not have a space problem; what you have is room for at least three more dogs. (When I encountered this exact scenario, I made the only sensible choice: abandon the truck, run for it on foot.)
To mitigate some of its own mercilessness, the game has an “Undo” button (crucial for preventing a misclick from trashing a lengthy run) and — shockingly for a roguelike — a “Restart Level” button. It took me several plays before I even noticed it was there.
It’s honestly kind of a mixed blessing. I wish the game had called more attention to this feature; given that you can only learn what the monsters are capable of by trial and error, I would have appreciated knowing I can be a bit more adventurous and don’t have to sacrifice hours of gameplay if I discover the answer to “What happens when I whack that thing with an axe?” is “LOL.” But on the other hand, my current runthrough is stuck in what feels suspiciously like a no-win scenario. The van is out of gas (dog farts are apparently not harvestable as a source of energy), and the level is so infested with monsters that it might not be possible to get the gas AND leave a path capable of getting the van through. Hell, it’s so infested that I’m not even sure I can get everybody out on foot. The smart move might be to just write off the run and start again, but I don’t wanna leave these guys to their fate.
But that’s the thing: I AM invested. I seriously want these guys to punch through, and get to wherever the hell it is they’re going. I want to know what happens next, and I want it to be something other than “Everybody gets eaten by monsters.”
There are other, lesser frustrations. I sometimes desperately want to zoom in on the map, or have a better idea of what I can interact with and how. The monsters are drawn to sound, in theory, but I’ve found it very difficult to use that to my advantage and manipulate their movement with it. Unless you have sources of light with you, nighttime levels tend to made of pure MOTHERFUCK This, and I will scamper the hell out of there at the first sign of trouble.
But this game does so, so much right. It has a sense of mystery, of threat, of progression. I’d like to have more problem-solving tools at my disposal, but I still feel like I have a very real degree of control over my own fate.
There are elements that I can, and do, quibble with. But on the balance, this is an outstanding gaming experience, and I suspect I’m going to dump a lot more hours into playing it. Whoever assembled the bundle made this the first game for a reason. Highly, highly recommended.
Good thing it’s so much fun to run the random game picker; otherwise, I might have stayed with this game any longer. And the next game shall be:
Page 49, Game 18: That Which Binds Us by Crystal Game Works
“What if you could make someone forget all about you?”
A bit more cerebral than burrowing bugmonsters. A change of pace feels like a good thing.