Nearly a year ago I interviewed Coffee Powered Machine, the developers of the upcoming Okhlos, a Pikmin-like strategy game based on Greek Mythology. While it was incredibly impressive conceptually, I was rather worried that the title would turn out to be simply a chaotic mess. And sadly it seems that those fears weren’t entirely unfounded because Okhlos is shaping up to be one of the most bafflingly uncontrollable games I’ve played in years.
Okhlos is a game about Ancient Greece, or rather the philosophers that inhabited it. You take control of an unnamed philosopher who dared to challenge the rule of the Olympian Gods over humanity, and the immortals see it fit to punish the free thinker and his or her followers with complete annihilation. But as to be expected, humanity isn’t going down without a fight of titanic proportions.
The game seems simple enough on paper. You need to amass a crowd of angry Greek slaves, Spartans, and citizens to power your way through an army of mythical monsters encompassing everything from satyrs to harpies. Oddly enough, the game’s level design reminds me quite a bit of old beat em up titles such as Streets of Rage or Final Fight. Each level is separated into a linear set of zones filled with a dozen or two monsters. Once you’ve slain them all, you can move to a recovery area to gather items, purchase units, or acquire more powerful ‘hero’ units to boost your stats or give you unique abilities. Sounds manageable, right?
Well, take a look at your average combat encounter.
By the time your horde actually faces off against the monsters in question, it becomes a mess of flashing damage numbers, health bars, and crowded onomatopoeia. While there is some strategy involved in boss fights, most encounters are so chaotic it’s impossible to tell when it’s time to take anything resembling defensive measures. Just throw your mob at the enemy, mash attack, and pray to Ares that you can make it out alive.
The only time I found the ability to pull off any strategies were in the boss fights, where the angry god would tower over my troops and precisely choreograph their attacks. The sad thing is that these bosses are quite fun and almost made the slogs through the half a dozen or so procedurally generated arenas worth it.
Did I mention that Okhlos is a roguelite?
On every death, you’ll find yourself at the start of the game with a new philosopher and new arenas to fight through. However, the end boss of each ‘zone’ seems to always be the same, which makes me wonder why the title was made into a roguelite at all if players will always face the same obstacles. The only thing that changes is the arena layouts and the type of heroes available for purchase in between them, which for the most part act as glorified stat buffs.
While the heroes don’t drastically mix up the gameplay, I do have to commend just how devoted the developers are to the source material. There are dozens of heroes to pick from, all of which have some fairly chuckle-worthy encyclopedia entries that reminds me of Paper Mario‘s wonderful Tattle Log. Not only is there a wide variety of heroes, but there are also some pretty deep cuts as well, with mythical figures that don’t quite have the recognition of Perseus or Achilles.
I came into Okhlos cautiously optimistic, and it seemed all that caution paid off. While all the pieces for a great game appear to be here, the developer’s baffling choice to make it procedurally generated and sprinkle in as many particle effects as possible honestly made it a chore to play. At the end of the day, I guess the most disappointing part of my mediocre experience with Okhlos is that I know if it was headed in just a slightly different direction, it could’ve been great.
Okhlos was previewed on the PC with a copy provided by the developers.