Dying For A Road Trip
Overland is hard to define by genre alone. At first glance, this is another isometric strategy game with a post-apocalypse aesthetic. As you play, you find an indie film-esque survival horror with a layer anxiety-induced stealth roguelike on top. In short, it's not worth trying to place Overland into a genre, because it's so much more than it leads on to be. This is a game that may have flown under the radar for most on traditional platforms, so it's great that found a home in Apple Arcade's launch lineup. It's a post-apocalyptic cross country road trip, similar to The Organ Trail. Unlike most survival games, Overland ensures you fail in the best way possible.
Telling A Story With Less
Overland's narrative is definitely its strongest point. There aren't any long cinematics or exposition dumps here. Instead, it's going to take dying quite a few times to fully realize how depressing and dark this world truly is. Instead of dialogue trees or long-winded monologues from a narrator, you get brief conversations between each survivor after finishing a level. These can be inconsequential or surprisingly deep depending on your previous actions. In my first playthrough, I ran across a woman and her dog who wanted to trade a health kit for an axe. Needing the axe (and health kit) I decided it would be best to cut her down and permanently borrow the health kit back. When finishing the level, I expected my newly acquired partner to berate me or just ignore what happened. To my surprise, they asked if killing people is "what we're doing now" and that was it. Between simple interactions and small context clues around the world, it's clear that developer Finji wants to let players build the world of Overland in their mind rather than handing out every last detail upfront.
Like most games from Finji, Overland's use of color and music really help bring this miserable and depressing world to life. In film, color can change the way the viewer reacts to a scene without them noticing. Soft bright colors can calm the viewer and give them a sense of warmth and security. Drab and dark colors may give them a sense of urgency and dread, Overland uses a bleaker color pallette to help give every level a menacing and unwelcome feeling. The use of browns and earthy tones give off an "indie film" vibe while still making every environment feel like its been long abandoned.
Not to be outdone by visuals and writing, the music is a step above most horror titles. Instead of the standard melancholic score, Overland goes with a more experimental wall of sound approach. This chaotic blend of looming strings, sound effects, and synths creates a distorted backdrop that feels like something pulled out of a night terror instead of a video game. There is an acoustic song that plays every so often between levels that's one of the few positive and welcoming feeling things in Overlands otherwise dreadful and menacing world.
It's pretty clear that Finji intends for you to put the narrative pieces together and imagine what happened to the world around you. While this wouldn't work as effectively in a AAA title like The Last of Us, Overland's creative use of player-driven storytelling really makes this one of the best horror games I’ve played since PT. You just gotta let yourself get lost in it first.
Driving To Death
As previously stated, Overland is so stacked against you at times, it feels like it wants you to die. Everything is disposable, from people and cars to items and even dogs. You're going to lose a lot of survivors (and gas cans) along the way, and you're going to more than likely find yourself in a situation where suicide is the only way out because Overland's randomly generated maps. While this concept seems frustrating, it's quite engaging thanks to the small scale of each map and its intuitive control scheme. Simply tap or click where you want to do and if you feel like you fucked up you can just select undo and try something else.
Overland is less of a stealth game and more of a smash and grab game. Sounds alert enemies, and they'll call in reinforcements when they detect a kill. Because of this, it's just not worth killing anybody unless its absolutely necessary, and even then you're more than likely to get wounded doing so. While this may seem offputting at first, it incredibly rewarding once you figure out how to quickly and efficiently clear a level and drive off before any aliens realized you were there.
Characters have their own set of abilities and can toughen up via equipable items such as backpacks and wooden shields. The RPG-lite aspect of the game is barebones at best, which makes sense due to the fact that you're going to go through survivors pretty quickly. Each character has small perks and personality traits, which does help make you feel that much worse when you drive off without them or leave them to die in a noisy corner somewhere. You can't always be the good guy.
My biggest gripe with Overland is its almost comical ramp in difficulty when you reach the end of a map. You're tasked with clearing off some debris in a level stacked with enemies. This is expected with a "boss" level, but it does mean I was occasionally driving into a literally unbeatable level. Enemies can attack my car on their first move or blow themselves up to call in the cavalry. The awkwardly placed debris might just be impossible to move or destroy when a map full of enemies. I get the appeal of randomly generated maps in a game like this since it helps the replayability and overall playtime, but I sometimes feel like I waste my time. I'll drive up only to see three enemies blow up my car (with me inside it) on the first turn. It's something that really helps build the world Finji tries to create with Overland. It just would have been nice to have the endgame have some sort of consistency. I'd love to try new tactics on repeated attempts, but that's impossible here.
Overland is currently available on console, computers, and phones. While I primarily played Overland on an iPad Pro, I did give it a chance on the PC and iPhone. I know it was intended to be played with a mouse and keyboard, but it just can't compare to playing with the iPad and Apple Pencil. The speediness of Apple's overpriced stylus and high refresh-rate tablet made Overland feel sluggish and outdated when I played on PC and even worse when playing on an iPhone. While this isn't anything against the game itself, I would highly suggest playing on an iPad if you have the means. Something about physically looking down on everything gave Overland a table top like experience similar to Kingdom Death or Hitman GO, which in turn added even more depth to Overlands simple and blocky artstyle. With a game this difficult and immersive, I found it a much more pleasurable experience by looking down on it from a flat surface.
Overland looks stunning on my iPhone 11 Pro, but the small screen size made it impossibly difficult to select smaller items on the map and get around without hitting that undo button a few times. With that in mind, I really can't see this game being enjoyable on an older iPhone that doesn't have a full screen at its disposal. Its a shame because Apple Arcades built in cloud saves made playing the game at home and then on the go really seamless, It was just a bit too difficult to get anything done (besides die) whenever I switched to my phone.
Overland Review | Final Thoughts
It's not often a horror game like this comes around. While that sort of statement is pretty common, Overland has so much creativity and intrigue in one package. From the haunting soundtrack and bleak character interactions, to lightning-fast stealth gameplay. Overland is by far one of the best games available on Apple Arcade at the moment. It's a miserable yet intriguing experience that should be played by any fans of strategy, horror, or roguelike games. Just try to avoid crashing your car.
TechRaptor reviewed Overland on Apple Arcade and PC via Steam. The game is also available on Mac, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
- Fun and Intuitive Gameplay
- Engaging World Building
- Unique Music Builds Tension
- Character Interactions
- Frustrating Randomly Generated Maps
- Difficult to Play on a Small Screen
- Camera Cuts Off Text At Times