by James Christy1
A Zombie RPG for the Bookworms
The dead horse that is the zombie apocalypse genre gets the boot so often that just mentioning its ubiquity in a game review reads like something of a cliché in itself. I’ll admit to being as bored with the theme as the next embittered reviewer, but I also like to think of Hardcore Droid as the sort of publication that gives every game a fair and thorough shake regardless of the reviewer’s bias. Still, with so many garbage zombie games passing through our hands, is it even possible for a game like Overlive to get anywhere near a coveted hardcore rating despite a natural tendency to dismiss such a product outright? The answer, of course, is, “Yeah sure!”
While billed as a survival RPG, Overlive would be better described as an adventure game with RPG-lite elements. The bulk of the game is expressed in menus and flavor text, and the choices you do get to make have more in common with a choose-your-own-adventure novel than a modern CRPG. When attacking or being attacked by the hordes, a rudimentary combat mini-game takes over that brings the RPG aspect briefly to the forefront. For the most part, though, this side-game rides shotgun to the adventure aspect, as you’re offered plenty of opportunities for avoiding combat altogether anyway.
After naming and gendering your character, exposition gloss places him (or her) in that oh-so-typical apocalyptic scenario, some weeks after the initial exposure has thoroughly blighted the known world. Waking up in an abandoned apartment in an unnamed city, your character is allotted 200 days to find a path out of the city before the game is over. Each new area is expressed in a series of icons, most of which are locked until your choice and actions open them. Without having pursued every possible scenario, I can say that there seems to be a tremendous variety of paths and side-paths toward your final goal, and any combination of these can be opened depending on your skillset and zombie-tapping prowess.
While the basics of the plot might be old hat, the writing is surprisingly fresh and nuanced. Attention to detail permeates every blurb, and a dark sense of humor keeps the intensity of the subject matter from coming across as too contrived. The game is also happily free of spelling or grammatical errors, a quality always deserving of brownie points. A few devious surprises and difficult choices are in store for anyone coming to this game expecting “the usual” from the narrative (Take special care when you come across the Lovecraft references). With countless events and areas to unlock and discover, and multiple paths to take for each event, if anything this will be the facet that what keeps players hooked well after the initial playthrough.
Sanity, health, supplies, and time are all metered and function in the game as both resources and as determinants of the final outcome during events. Curiously, time is the only resource that measures your ultimate failure. Running out of health merely forces you back to your apartment to rest, while a shortage of sanity or supplies just makes things more difficult. There is also a respectable number of skills for you to hone and employ, falling just short of the Fallout series in scope. Your home base offers respite, a place to regain your health/sanity or train your skills (at the cost of sanity/health/supply/time) and throughout the game you’ll find upgrades for your apartment to add more skill training and rest options (a tied up zombie to train in stealth, a cat whose petting regains your sanity, etc.).
Sadly, Overlive’s graphics aren’t going to win the game any accolades. In fact, presentation is the game’s weakest suit. The map of the city looks like a screenshot taken from Mapquest, and other zones pass more for early concept art than a finished project. The combat is especially embarrassing, with unanimated, cookie-cutter sprites slowly growing in size to signify their advance, and visual effects that look like they’re stolen from a Visual Basic tutorial. Fortunately, the audio isn’t as rudimentary. The electronic score works and does a good job evoking the appropriate mood, while the other sounds generally fit the action on the screen (although the pistol tends to sound more like a slamming door than the discharge of a firearm).
In sum, Overlive is a cheap and cerebral diversion that will appeal to a more literary-minded audience than your average zombie game. The mediocre gameplay couldn’t stand on its own without the story, which, draws you in with charm and a subtle originality once it hits its stride.
The amount of content on hand here is also pretty impressive for the pricetag. Had the developers chosen a more imaginative subject and put a bit more work into presentation, the game could have brushed shoulders with the best adventure games Android has to offer. As it stands, Overlive is just good storytelling wrapped up in a primitive survival RPG package.
Summary: A choose-your-own-adventure/RPG hybrid saved from obscurity by quality writing and ample content.