Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Watchlist: Overland

Title: Overland
Developer: Finji
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Releasing 2016
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A road trip through a ruined continent
The end has come and gone. Charred corpses litter the ground. Insectoid beings emerge from below. Abandoned vehicles rust on the roadside. Aliens? A tear in reality? Some unknown species released from the bowels of the earth? Whatever calamity ravaged the planet, the only thing that matters now is survival, in the tactical cross-country roguelike Overland.

Overland blends resource-managing map travel, reminiscent of games like FTL and Convoy, with strategic turn-based scavenging on low-poly dioramic stages. Your goal is westward, as you and a companion, either human or canine depending on your luck, travel the roads across America. Considering the focus on travel, fuel is perhaps the most important resource: each stop on the map costs varying amount of gas, and the promise of finding more can tempt you to take on a risky encounter.
Choosing an destination on the map screen drops you into a self-contained isometric encounter, bisected by the road and populated with randomized arrays of enemies, supplies, environmental features, and other elements. At the strategic level, you soon learn that the most crucial tool at your disposal is your vehicle. Your car is your means of escape, your transport through the stage, able to store extra supplies and ram through creatures, and explode in spectacular fashion in the worst case scenario. Lose your car to the encroaching horde, and you'd better hope that there's another vehicle on the map to commandeer.

Playing the recently-released private alpha, the game that I was most reminded of was actually the mobile roguelike Hoplite. Hoplite is often praised for its very almost puzzle-like combat, where you can use the knowledge of enemy's range and attacks to meticulously plan out your strategy and remain unscathed. Similarly, Overland's turn-based encounters are more tactical puzzles than classic roguelike combat. With only two action points per character, and only able to hold one item, each action must be economical, efficient, and carefully considered.
The tactical puzzles grow more complex as you travel from the east-coast fields to dry-grass plains, temperate forests, and beyond. Characters may start with special traits or develop new ones over days, such as improved stamina (extra action point) or CPR training (reviving survivors), You can pick up new passengers if you have empty seats in your car...or leave them to act as a distraction for creatures. The environment is as important to consider as your own strategies. Prairie grass can be set aflame (or may already be burning when you arrive), creating a useful barrier that could turn deadly as the fire spreads across the map. Fuel can be used to fill your gas tank, or poured on adjacent tiles to create a flammable surface. Dumpsters and other debris can block the roadway, forcing you to divide your group between clearing a path, driving the car, and scavenging the map simultaneously.

That juggling act defines Overland's challenge. This isn't a game of clearing out an area to safely loot; it's an ever-tightening vise of tension and danger, as each loud rummaging through dumpsters and derelict cars draws more skittering creatures. as you choose which supplies to gather, as you drive the car to the exit while maneuvering everyone back to the vehicle safely.  Killing is your absolute last resort, as the dying screech of a monster will only attract more. Playing aggressively but cautiously is your best strategy, always being aware of where enemies are in relation to your characters and your car, always weighing the risk and reward of each action.
Overland may already have a solid and compelling foundation, but it's still only an alpha, and the developers have plans for many interesting features in the future, ranging from customizing your vehicle with armor and other additions to groups of survivors that you can trade with...or brutally murder (a choice that come back to haunt you).

You can find more information about Overland on the game's site and Tumblr page.

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