Reviewed: August 22, 2008
Released: June 24, 2008
Overlord: Raising Hell is a port of last year’s Xbox 360 release, that attempts to take a slightly different approach on the medieval hero saga, namely the Xbox’s hit title, Peter Molyneux’s Fable.
Fable tasked gamers with developing a character into either a hero or a villain via a series of gameplay decisions that affect the levels of fear and respect amongst the villagers. Overlord: Raising Hell follows many of the same design elements – in this case developing an antihero via a series of gameplay decisions that affect villager impressions – but throws in an squad-based control element in which the Overlord can direct a gaggle of minions to do his dirty work.
Overlord received a fair reception during its initial release on the Xbox 360, but amassed a bit of a laundry list of gamer-gripes that the developers have more-or-less attempted to address with the PS3’s Blu-Ray release. The PS3 release also packs in all of the Xbox 360’s downloadable content, and some entirely new content to boot, making it the better of the two versions.
Overlord: Raising Hell tells the tale of a evil overlord (duh) who has been awoken from a long sleep to find his evil empire in ruins. Under the guidance of the ancient evil minion, Gnarl, the Overlord goes on a quest to salvage his kingdom and impose his evil rule.
Much like Molyneux’s Fable, in which the Hero character was housed out of a central Hero’s Academy, the Overlord’s dark tower acts as a central hub for doling out mission requirements and teleporting in and out of map locations. The tower contains a series of rooms and locations that provide training grounds, armor forging, dressing rooms, sleeping quarters, and more.
Once the Overlord teleports into a given area, he must search out a minion well to quickly build up a small army with which to travel the countryside. These minions come in four distinct color-coded flavors; the Browns are the melee infantry, the Greens are stealth assassins, the Reds control fire, and the Blues control water.
The number of minions that the Overlord can have at his disposal at any given time is a function two things; first, there is an maximum total number allowed that grows over the course of the game, and then there are the number of available life force “souls” that have been collected by killing various living objects scattered about the levels.
Some of these objects – like the ever-present sheep grazing in the fields – come with little or no negative effects when blindly slaughtered by your devoted minions. But killing innocent bystanders – although fun – will cause the villagers to feel uneasy and mistrustful, and ultimately resistant to your evil plans. So most missions will actually task the Overlord with helping villagers to gain their trust. It may sound back-asswards, but the Overlord needs to be heroic to ultimately be evil.
The minions are controlled using the right analog stick and basic button commands to set attack levels. Minions definitely come in handy during battles, but there are many instances where environmental features in the level demand the use of certain minions to retrieve objects, release switches and levers, or dispatch of hidden enemies. It is not always clear which features require, or conversely will allow, the use of minions – which leads to a lot of trial-and-error minion directing.
Minion control via the right analog stick makes the process a tad easier than with most squad-based games – but only a tad, as an overall clunkiness mars all aspects of the right and left analog controls. The Overlord is constantly plodding along bouncing off invisible walls and collision detection issues surrounding a large portion of the environmental features.
Overall, when compared to the excellent storytelling and gameplay of Molyneux’s masterpiece Fable, Overlord feels a bit undercooked, even given the additional year of baking afforded this PS3 release. The game is marred with serious technical glitches – one of which required a complete restart of the game, as a poorly timed autosave just prior to a black-hole glitch wouldn’t allow further play.
Still, Overlord isn’t a total loss – it does present some neat concepts and gameplay ideas, and serves as a nice bridge between Heavenly Sword and, well, the upcoming Fable 2 on the Xbox 360.
Overlord: Raising Hell gets the job done on the PS3, but definitely is the classic example of a port. Everything from the muted colors, lackluster textures, and inconsistent framerate just seems to scream “not native” in the visuals department.
That’s not to say that we are looking at PS2-quality stuff – the game still looks like it belongs in this generation, it just does not have all the HD sizzle we have come to expect after playing through the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4.
The character models are solid, and their animations are fairly believable. The real dud comes from the background designs which just aren’t all that detailed or impressive, and the utter lack of shading.
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of glitches that negatively affect the gameplay – and most of these glitches come as a result of graphical hiccups. For instance, the aforementioned black hole seemed to come from a tear in the visual fabric, allowing the Overlord to fall through the frayed scenery and into the bizarre inverse world below the surface.
The visuals might be lackluster, but the sound quality is top-notch. Featuring solid voice acting, great sound effects, and an impressive orchestral soundtrack – the audio package is excellent.
It is always nice when a game of this ilk has a complete script of voiceovers – as many similarly-themed titles seem content with forcing gamers to read page after page of text. The acting contained here is very impressive, and the script keeps a tongue-in-cheek flavor that kept me laughing throughout.
Finally, the audiophiles out there will be happy to know that Overlord is one of the first console games to support Dolby 7.1 sound.
It is always a bit strange when a port comes out on a console a full year after its original release and we have to try to review it through unbiased eyes. This is especially true when the original title is collecting dust in bargain bins around the country and the new release is at full price.
What makes things easier is when the developers have taken the time to try to fix the wrongs of the original, and then add in all of the expansion materials to boot. Capcom did it with Lost Planet earlier this year, and now Codemasters and Triumph are attempting to do the same with Overlord: Raising Hell.
But while many of the previous gripes have been addressed, there are still a slew of problems that detract from (and can put an end to) the otherwise enjoyable gameplay.
Overlord does attempt a multiplayer aspect to the gameplay, but the action often gets lost in the chuggy framerates.
Overlord: Raising Hell is not the worst game of this ilk, but it surely does not match the work of Molyneux’s famed Fable for the Xbox, nor does it approach the work of the PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword. It is a nice diversion for a week or so, but few gamers will feel compelled to add it to their permanent library.