We’re not exactly short of games that take place in some sort of nightmare-fueled post-apocalyptic world but there’s something about Overland’s take that has stuck with me from start to finish and even beyond. It’s a game that had me feeling rotten throughout, distrusting, dreading the horrors that await me at my next destination and generally questioning every decision I made. This isn’t an experience about highs and wins but rather one about dealing with the countless lows that get thrown your way. It’s a fight against what feels like a losing battle. To be honest it’s exactly the sort of mood I want from a game where the world has gone to hell.
Overland is an intriguing mix of turn-based strategy, survival horror, and roguelike. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where bug-like monsters have taken over you’ll embark on what can only be described as a road trip from hell making your way from the East coast of the US over to the West. Your goal is simple, scavenge for supplies, avoid confrontation and keep moving at all costs.
Every run begins with a randomly assigned survivor and a nearby car carrying little fuel but enough to get you on your way. What then unfolds is an extremely tough journey spread across seven areas where every randomly generated stop you make is its own diorama-like environment housing useful items and terrifying monsters. Fuel is your most important resource, the quantity in your possession determining not just how far you’re able to continue driving on the map’s linear route but also opening up more options in terms of side stops. From the said map, you’re able to see the contents of each, from weapons and valuable fuel to other survivors (who you might be able to convince to join your party) and of course monsters.
Each small grid-based island you tentatively visit is a nerve-racking experience as you first assess the often-dangerous situation and then try to figure out the best course of action. Building up your party with survivors – be they human or canine – is key as it allows you to share the effort and perform more actions in a given turn.
Survivors will offer random skills – some good and some bad – that can greatly influence the strength of your growing party. For example, bringing someone onto your team who is able to resuscitate a downed companion or make contact twice with a single melee attack can prove useful in getting you out of sticky situations. Recruiting someone who makes a lot of noise when searching containers meanwhile will make life very difficult. Every member of your party can perform up to two actions (sometimes three depending on their skillset) and this includes anything from movement to searching trashcans to filling up your car with fuel to attacking monsters. Once your party has exhausted all their actions the monsters will then get their turn moving and attacking, their behavior determined by both sound or sight. Thanks to the fact there’s no rush to make your moves, dealing with a couple of monsters is certainly manageable but dodging what feels like a small army quickly becomes overwhelming. Take one hit and that survivor can only make half the actions they did at full heath (leaving them as an easy target unless healed very quickly). Take two and they’re done for.
In Overland, you’ll quickly learn that conflict should always be left as a last resort. It might seem tempting to brute force your way through threats with a makeshift weapon (especially since it’s surprisingly easy with most monsters falling in a single hit) but doing so will cause further monsters to rise from the ground a few turns later. It really forces you to think about your actions, placing great weight behind everything you do. Is it really worth taking down a monster in the way just to search a dumpster ahead that may or may not contain something useful? Will you make it back to your car before the supporting monsters show up? Above all else scavenging for supplies is really your main priority and in Overland, the struggle to gather enough is a constant concern especially as you try to contend with the environment and whatever or whoever happens to dwell there.
What’s so great about Overland is its crushing sense of doom and gloom you feel throughout. You won’t find healthy stockpiles of firearms and explosives to help deal with the monsters. You’ll be lucky if you come across a bottle or stick to be honest. Cars can explode if too much damage is taken. Strangers aren’t always going to be friendly. You’ll even have to deal with differing times of day, nighttime being something I dreaded with vision massively reduced, the threat of hiding monsters a constant fear. The game also has no problem with you getting your original survivor killed for example just so long as you have somebody in your party still breathing. This isn’t the story of a single hero’s journey through this dreadful world but more an observation on how pretty much everyone is screwed and anyone is expendable. Numerous times I found myself making the tough call to leave one of my party members behind so the other two might make it out. Sometimes I drove to a destination only to hop right back in the car after seeing the horrors that await, my fuel bordering on empty and options quickly growing slim.
As I said once before, Overland is not a game about winning. In the few glimmers of hope that might sprinkle your trip, you can guarantee there’s plenty of bad news just around the corner. I absolutely love it.
That love is often tested though, the game bordering into frustrating territory especially as at times your efforts can feel fruitless. Take for example a situation I found myself in multiple times where I’d barely make it out of a pit stop, both my survivors injured and supplies practically at zero. With fuel low, I was then forced to venture into another area filled with monsters, a situation that even at full health would be tough to survive. You can imagine how long I lasted. I get that this game is supposed to be challenging, but there are times where you can’t help but feel the deck is stacked against you. Sure you might argue in a world taken over by monsters that may very well be the case but from a gaming perspective, it can come across as unfairly punishing. The game does allow you to restart a new run from the last area you reached but starting afresh at a later point in the game as you can imagine already puts you on the back foot.
Another area I had an issue with was the controls. While totally fine most of the time, I did find things a little clumsy when picking up items or managing a survivor’s inventory. I even found myself accidentally moving to the wrong spot on the grid, an error that could be undone most of the time but in those situations where mulligans aren’t an option, you’re pretty much stuck with your mistake. In a game as hard as Overland mistakes can cost you everything.
Overland is a truly curious take on the post-apocalyptic genre, its turn-based gameplay turning an otherwise tired setting into something worth your time. You’ll feel vulnerable, desperate, and anxious on your hellish road trip and while that journey might outright frustrate you at times, it’s one you certainly won’t soon forget.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Finji