All Hail the

Overlord is a 3 way tie between Fable, Pikmin, and, according to reviewers, Dungeon Keeper.

Having played Fable, I can say that, aside from a fairly mundane action adventure structure, the only truly creative gameplay it offered was along the lines of ignoring the actual game, sitting in the bar, and playing a gambling mini-game of 'memory', occasionally breaking to go sex up your wife, so that, while you sat and played, she would, at random, drop off swords, shields, cloths, and just plain old sacks of cash for you out of the goodness of her sweet little heart. What you absolutely could *not* do, is woo multiple people, have them follow you out into the woods, and sacrifice them to dark gods. I felt that, because I couldn't committ this mass-murder, the product was not functioning 'as advertised'. To be clear, other people, supposedly, have been able to do this, and really enjoyed themselves. What is clear to me is that, whether the possibilities were ever really there or not, the game operated inconsistently and had strange internal absolutes which interfered with its stated intentions of permitting self expression (via murder). I lost interest. It was, however, pretty.

So then there's pikmin, which, in a nutshell, is an RTS game made for console which broke new ground in that genre by taking the basic action adventure structure, and applying it, almost wholesale, to the RTS experience. All vaguely RTS related activities were handled through you main avatar, to the point that you actually picked up your units and flung them at things you wanted them to do for you--whether it was pick it up, kill it and then pick up whatever it drops, or drown in a pool of water, because, apparently, you can't swim. Personally, I'm not a fan of the drowning. Even not being a fan, I had to admit the interface was great for what it could accomplish in a simple, joyful game designed for kids. However, married to the front end of simple joy, where, for the first several hours, you explored, gathered new pikmin, and overcame simple but interesting puzzles, was a back end devised by the people who write the sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle (cruel, vicious carnifexes). Disinterest seized me, though, because I was playing with a friend, and we were trading off... or maybe I'd handed him the controller and switched to hard alchohol.. either way, I witnessed the end of the game, where the tiny man takes off in the spaceship his plant minions helped build. The ending was abrupt and, after the disinterest, anticlimactic. The game probably had replayability engineered into it with secret spaceship parts or pikmin challenges, or maybe even fresh lettuce, but I will never know, because I decided to cut off my head and have it frozen so that, in the future, scientists could leave my head out on the counter until it spoiled.

So then there's these other people who cite Dungeon Keeper. Dungeon keeper was a game about having virtually no control, until you took first person possession of one of your hapless creatures, and then, you still had no control, but you were at least surprised and pleased that they had a first person monster game hiding inside their strange, nearly non-interactive SimDungeon game. The reason people compare overlord to Dungeon keeper is because of this superficial similarity, whereby, instead of being a noble hero blah blah blah etc, you are the evil keeper of the dungeon, who stocks it with incompetent minions and has to stand by and watch with a sense of resignation as your minions wander into the treasure room to get paid while heroes dig a tunnel into your torture chamber to do whatever it is they do. Screw up your good time, I think. Considering how you're just trying to clear out this dungeon and mine all the gold available inside the mountain, as opposed to doing anything actually evil, the whole thing could have been given a quick skin of dwarves and prayer services, instead of imps and torture chambers, and the heroes might as well have been bandits. These kinds of superficial distinctions are really meaningless in the face of frustration and disinterest.

So those are 3 high quality products: arguably Triple A cream dribbling down the chin of PC and console gaming. Overlord falls into that category as well. Using the darkest possible magic, setting the RGB cauldron to 000, they, and by they I mean, who the fuck ever, have made a game worthy of a purchase and about half a play-through.

I didn't think I'd be thinking these thoughts when I broke Overlord open and started into the Gremlinfest. The basic hype around the game was pitched in an understated way and intrigued me--when I got it home, I was at the right level of expectation. I wasn't at the Halo level of 'alright, shoot the brain out the back of my skull with awesome', and I wasn't at the Final Fantasy XII level of 'it's not fair that I have to play this just because it's a square game... is it too late for a murder suicide pact?'. Within the first couple hours, Overlord comes out as one of the better games I've ever played. By the last couple hours, it's easily one of the worst.

I'm a huge fan of gremlins. Always have been. I like them much more than goblins. Goblins, as they are now frequently drawn, are sort of these self-effacing half-assed version of gremlins, instead of the round, toothy, strangely wonderful Tolkien-inspired overwrought European illustrative approach; furry beachballs with huge toothy grinning faces. The people in Overlord go out of their way not to say *what* your minions are, referring to them by color, and as 'minions', but it's pretty clear to any sane, rational person, that they are Gremlins. They are awesome. The ones you order around are awesome, and the old one who's kind of in charge and exceptionally horny is also awesome. From the moment that they hatch you out of your crypt and let you beat on of them with an axe, to the moment that they help you retake your own tower near the very end, they are loyal, happy, cool, and feisty. If you could forge an empty woman and imbue her with gremlins, I'd do it. When I talked about the allies in Advent rising being inspiring and competent, which, it turns out, I never did, even though I intended to--these gremlins are the evil compliment to that example which is utterly useless, since I never made it. They are boisterous and sincere, and they play up the 'we're not worthy' schtick perfectly, such that they aren't too whiny, and they aren't too needy.

Life is great with these little guys. I would destroy every microwave in the world if it meant making it safer for them. They're like the craven brood I'll never had; if I were God, I'd have made them on the 6th day.

That is, until the people involved with pikmin, Dungeon Keeper, and Fable get together, and conspire to make you lose interest.

Initially the whole setup is a sendup for those fedup with the typical high-fantasy schtick. There's always someone evil, he's always hollowing out an obelisk in which to seeth, and there's always a variety of placid, timorous variations on humanity intensely involved in thatching everything within reach who act as the foil for the ambiguously motivated depradations of said evil. What's great about Overlord, is that, as is often the case in reality, the eponymous Overlord is a product of his society. Yes, there are halflings, who are fond of wine and song, but they are also greedy. They steal from the neighboring humans, and there are some indications of cannibalism (though that might be my own gleeful imagination--whenever I see evil and stew in proximity, I forshorten the concepts and it becomes an evil stew). In any case, they are disgusting jackasses who maintain their plump piglet population at the expense of everyone around them. For instance, like management. Having said that, you, the Overlord, arrive at your favorite town to oppress, only to find out that they have come pre-oppressed, without your prior knowledge. This is obviously outrageous, and the Jihad you conduct against violent lard for the next few quests is best summed up by the heartwarming experience of watching 15 gremlins fall upon a halfling chef, tear him to pieces, and then come back to you wearing little chef hats and weilding cleavers. Honestly, I wish I had biscuits.

It gets better! Not only are the halflings causing trouble, but an indolent possibly-cursed incumbent is holding the world of Elves hostage (and they all seem to be dead, as well, which is problematic), the humans who live in the walled city (as opposed to the squalor of excessive thatching) have a sewer full of the ravening undead, and a least one cult that managed to lust so hard, it bridge the gap between the cystlike walls between dimensions, and allowed Succubi to spill forth. There's also Dwarves who are pretty obviously dicks, because anyone who grows a beard that long is going to end up smelling like a horse, no matter what they do, but especially if they spill a bunch of double bitter western European Ale in it. You can get away with a robust mustache and the sweeter, more nuanced Germanic beers, but as soon as you hit that French bitter, or the Nordic fur tribes and their bark brew, it's going to smell like a loofa used exclusively for draft horses. To be clear, the crotch of a draft horse doesn't smell like daisies. In fact, feed it too many sugar cubes, and you end up with a urinary tract infection that will literally drive bobcats away from their feeding ground. In other words, the world is filled with people crying out to be oppressed. Only an Overlord, with his unique perspective on treasure and the accumulation of power is in a proper position to evaluate these cultures, and manage their development. The most excellent possible expedient is, I think, murder.

The murder is great. Even when it's just sheep, the murder is beyond excellent. It starts getting a little off course, around the time you get the blue minions, who's abilities include dying horribly when attacked by anything and everything, killing ghost-elves, swimming, and resurrecting fallen gremlins. They are a weird creature, and it requires some of the most intensive micromanagement, and timing to get them to work well for you. I for one, never have the interest level to *want* to baby-sit minions in this way. I would rather that minions (generic ones, across genres) were good enough to fight and die bravely, and avoid pointless, meaningless deaths. For the first half of the game, this is largely the case. It starts not being the case when you get some blues out, and you start having to split up your forces to do water-exclusive tasks, and then switch to the earlier red-gremlin = red key for red door which is actually a red fire, type gameplay which would be fine if you didn't have to worry about the red gremlins mindlessly drowning in the water that the blues traversed. It was annoying in pikmin, but at least a blue pikmin was fundamentally similar in combat ability to other pikmin. Blue gremlins are *not*. Additionally, the Overlord can wade, but isn't into climbing--no matter how trivial the obstacle, so there are many times when your blues have to get involved in complicated cat-and-mouse games involving dodo bird eggs. It's not worth the agony--or an explanation. Just try to imagine distracting a dodo bird, because, if you don't, it's finely honed predatory instincts will be turned upon you...

Even with the water element, it's still fairly fun, until you reach the place where the developers lost their goddamned minds. They go from riffing on fantasy staples, to, at random, picking fantasy staples to mash up with sci-fi ones, and then coding it in such a way that it bores into your brain and destroys your memories of loved ones. The loved ones, in this case, are the darling gremlins.

You remember me saying I cared about the little guys, right? Maybe I wasn't telling you enough. See, I remember this one guy? He stole a ninja mask from a bandit, and wore it with a suit of armor from halfling guards. He was one of my favorites. Then there were the lovable trio browns who got into the pumpkin patch and wore jack o'lanterns as helmets. Remember the gremlins who killed the halfling chefs and took their hats and cleavers? They were with me from the beginning. I had stories. I remember the first red who picked up a helmet was the leader of my bombard unit. I could trust that guy to lead his 'lins in a saturation bombing of a giant monster with a single hideous eye. He was like my right hand 'lin! I knew when the gremlin had joined my army by the equipment he was wearing. The recent recruits with the dwarven helmets and hammers. The battle-hardened veterans weilding farm implements. They weren't just minions, they were *my* minions.

Then while walking across a rocky path between two sand patches in the desert, like, 50 of them died all at once without warning when a sandworm out of Herbert's Dune novels jumped out of the sand.

Major buzz-kill.

My advice is to buy Overlord, and when someone says something about a desert, tell your minions to set him on fire, loot his house, and steal his woman.

back to the news...