Review: Overlord: Raising Hell (Sony PS3)

Overlord: Raising Hell (PS3)
Genre: Action
Developer: 4J Studios
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: 06/24/2008

Doctor Doom, Darkseid, Sinestro, the list goes on and on. Great men, every single one of them. Bringing order from chaos, enriching their lands and their people, helping those about them reach heights undreamt of by mortal man (or resident species). And yet, each and every one of them has been terribly misunderstood.

But finally, they have been given a chance to be heard. Finally someone had the guts to stand up and say, “Yes, they may torture members of your family, destroy your property and violate your livestock; but they do it for your own good.” Finally, the full story of Evil can be told, for the good of us all.

1. Story / Modes

You play as the nameless Overlord, starting the game being woken from the dead by your loyal minions. It turns out the last Overlord did a rather poor job of running things and went and got himself killed by the local heroes. They did a bit of a number on your tower, too. As the new Overlord you must punish those responsible, rebuild you tower and your empire, and generally beat the snot out of anything you don’t like.

You progress slowly, rebuilding your strength. Supporting you are the Browns, fanatical goblin-like minions who’ll obey your every command (as long as it gets Firefly back on the air). They’re the fighters of your group. As you advance through the various levels, all of which are connected in a pseudo-sandbox fashion, you’ll recover the other tribes of minions. Reds throw fireballs and can absorb flames that block your way, Greens can hide, backstab, and absorb poison, and Blues can cross through water and resurrect your fallen goblins.

Overlord: Raising Hell is actually the original game with the expansions thrown in as well. Story-wise, this includes the Abyssal Realms, which mirror the lands you’ve conquered and give you the chance to defeat previous bosses while expanding your territory and power into Hell itself.

Put all this together and you’ve got an entertaining storyline that moves along quite well. At any given time you’ve got around four different missions to accomplish, so if you get bored/overwhelmed in any area you can always try something new. The first few hours are a bit restrictive as you have to re-gather your assets, but afterwards the game really opens up.

Raising Hell also includes a multiplayer mode, both online and at home. When I tried the online content, no one was playing. Not a good omen, but then, the game had just come out. Luckily I was able to play head-to-head.

There are three different modes, each their own variations. Slaughter, as the name implies, challenges you to kill as many creatures as possible in the time limit. Your opposing Overlord and his minions are fair game. Pillage gives points for gold collected, or in one variation, Maidens captured. And finally there’s a Co-Op survival mode, which just seemed weird given the context.

Frankly, the Multiplayer was a bit of a letdown after hours of playing the regular game. Perhaps it’s better online, but the splitscreen version has some definite slowdown, and the camera intelligence seems to have dropped a few points. On one level, neither of us could actually see what was going on for a giant tree blocking the view. The game tried to make it translucent but failed. That’s not to say the Mulitplayer isn’t fun; it is! It’s a nice quick fix of violence and looting, and some days you just need crack open a cold one and lay waste to everything you see without worrying about the well being of your army. It’s just that it didn’t quite live up to the experience of the main game, which was disappointing.

Story / Modes Rating: Very Good Evil

2. Graphics

The most noticeable feature of the game has to be the minions. They’re your focus 90% of the time, and it’s obvious a lot of care went into them. Stylistically, they look like something straight out of the Jim Henson Creature Workshop. A softer-toned Gremlin, if you will. The are, in a word, freakin’ adorable. They bounce, they drink, they cheer, they dance. They’ll get drunk and little cartoon bubbles of intoxication will float over their heads. They’ll even drop heavy objects on their toes and hop around in agony. Awww…. Whenever one gets a new item it will hold it above its head, waving triumphantly. And they get armor and weapons from everywhere. Pumpkin helmets and zombie arms isn’t an unknown combination. It’s impossible not to fall in love with these pint-sized demon spawn.

The developers didn’t stop there, though. Background and scenery are well thought out, too. Each level has it’s own flavor rather than theme. You know the usual deal: “It’s a fire level so we’ll just swab the map with glowing rock and lava rivers. Done now!” Instead, Overlord gives us levels with variation, details and personality. Motes of dust will float through the light, the scenery reflects realistically off the ripples in the water, there’s even a variety of flora in the different levels. I’ve probably noticed at least two dozen different types of vegetation, each fitting in perfectly with their surroundings. And color, too! While it’s not an overwhelmingly bright spray of color, there’s a lot to this palette besides brown, gray, and a different shade of brown.

If I had to find any criticism, it’s that there are some flickering issues from time to time when the camera gets too close to something. Also, sometimes the frame rate will drop, or an individual enemy will stammer in it’s movements if there’s too much going on at once. Thankfully (given the horde-like nature of the game) this isn’t too common.

Graphics Rating: Very Good Evil

3. Sound

The sound is quite well done. There are occasional helpful narrations from other characters, and townsfolk like to chat a bit. Sometimes too much, which inevitably leads me to killing them and destroying all that they hold dear. But hey, they were asking for it. Stupid peasants….

Overall it’s a British theme to the voices, though some of the commoners will drawl something awful. I suppose that’s only right though, since English accents are always used for evil (Death Star anyone?) and of course the farmers will drawl because we’re stereotyping them, and stereotyping is evil! See, there’s a plan at work here….

The music fades in and out, but what there is of it has been pleasant, unobtrusive, and fitting. Much like the graphics, they made sure the music fit the mood of the level too.

The highlight here, again, is the minions. They’re constantly jabbering, sometimes even coherently. But the best is when they bring you stuff. Nothing in the world will perk up your mood faster than a tiny demon delivering spoils (or souls) of war to you with a chipper “For you, master!” It never gets old.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control / Gameplay

Controls are pretty simple; R2 will raise your hand in a magnificent evil pose as your horde lashes out at everything in their path. Circle will bring them back again. L2 will lock on to a certain location, Square will cast a selected spell (chosen from the D pad) and Triangle will set down a flag for the minions to guard. Left stick moves you, right stick moves the minions (it’s called Sweep, but Swarm is more appropriate.) And if you really feel like getting your hands dirty, X will swing your weapon.

While simple, these controls allow for quite a bit of strategy. You can use R1 to select a single color of minion. From there, you can give them a flag to guard, effectively positioning a separate unit from the main horde. It’s a little difficult to get used to, and hitting the wrong button at the wrong time will mess everything up, but mastering this is essential to certain parts of the game.

Which leads me into something I really like about this game. It allows for different strategies. Okay, most games do that to some extent, but this gives you an equal chance for success no matter how you play it. Personally, I like to charge in, throwing spells like they were going out of style, and directing tiny contingents of minions at my enemies, engulfing them in miniature hordes. My wife, however, will use a decoy or two, lead a couple of enemies away from the safety of their group, down a bottleneck, and right into the slavering jaws of an angry mob of goblins. Both equally successful and equally enjoyable.

The game’s not perfect, however. For starters, the camera control could be better. There’s no direct control on your end, you can only hit L1 to have it swing behind you. You get used to it, but a full sweep would have been much better. The minions are an excitable lot and sometimes overshoot what you’re Sweeping them towards. Often into water. And while it’s funny to watch them splash around and die, it’s awfully inconvenient. They also have a tendency to overlook treasure. I can’t count the number of times I’ve Swept them over the same spot, trying to get one to pick up an armorment. Sometimes it’s because they’re fully equipped, or it’s of a lesser quality than what they have, but sometimes you just need to have the right one walk over it; difficult when you’re controlling a swarm of 30. Finally, would it have killed them to give the Overlord a combo or something? I know he’s not the main offensive weapon, but it’s kinda boring mashing X to see left, right, left.

Overall, the controls are simple, yet deep, the gameplay is as fast as you want it to be, and most importantly, fun.

Control / Gameplay Rating: Very Good Evil

5. Replayability

This one’s a keeper. One of those games you can go to when you’re bored and need something to do. You can jump in to your old save without missing a beat, because there’s always someone to kill and something to destroy.

What really helps is the enjoyment you get from playing. I mean, what other game allows you to kick an ally and then have them run off to bring you a bag of gold? Or where you can mercilessly beat the royal jester until he adds “Denier of Free Jester Speech” to your list of titles and honorifics?

This is one of those games you’ll keep to play even after you’ve bought your next-gen system. And that’s saying a lot.

Replayability Rating: Classic

6. Balance

Overlord: Raising Hell is pretty good at keeping you from going where you shouldn’t, especially in the early levels. Even after that the difficulty builds at a challenging, but not overwhelming, pace.

Some parts do get a bit tricky (damned Water Serpents), and I’ve already bookmarked one of the walkthoughs, but the overall challenge never gets to the controller-chucking point.

The only speed-bump I could find was the lack of a good save system. You only save when you first find a portal back to your tower, or whenever you use the portal. Not so bad on paper, but there’s only 2-3 portals per level. This means if I find myself in a tricky area I can’t just save, try a tactic, get killed, and repeat. I have to start over halfway across the board, build up my horde, possibly re-equip them, and then trudge back to the problem area.

It adds to the challenge, yes, but also adds to the irritation.

Balance Rating: Good Evil

7. Originality

Okay, I’ve been gushing this whole time, I’ll admit it. To listen to me ramble on about the game would give you the impression that it’s the second coming of Lucifer and we’re all going to get to live in his new world with Elaine and that weird Hedgehog girl watching over us.

So the whole Originality thing, err… well, I mean, the whole Horde thing is great! And the storyline! And being Evil! C’mon! Not a lot of Evil games out there! Just Anti-Heroes at best. This is Evil! And… umm….

Okay, fine, you look just like Sauron!

Are you happy?

*sheesh*

But at least you get to kill those damned hobbits halflings.

Plus, copyright infraction is evil.

Originality Rating: Good Evil

8. Addictiveness

Like I mentioned before, this is a game that’s easy to pick up and get lost in. Swarming through town, ransacking and pillaging, savaging flocks of hapless sheep, beating down clusters of knights and zombies. Before you know it, hours have passed and your cat is seriously contemplating whether or not to eat your face since you’re obviously not going to get off your lazy gaming ass and feed him.

Alright, maybe that’s just me, but you get the picture.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

I find it hard to believe, but there are people out there who don’t really see the appeal of evil. I know, they probably just haven’t experienced the right kind of evil, or they’re all hung up on that “going to heaven” thing, but still; it is conceivable that a game that revolves around slaughtering the innocent or those that pretend to be holy could somehow… offend.

But *&@# them; we’ll use their bones for clubs and wear their heads as hats!

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, so the game is fantastic. Evil abounds. But how well do they portray that evil?

Very well, as it happens.

Early in the game they point out that many of the enemies you face are, themselves, evil. The bosses are the heroes who destroyed your tower and your predecessor, and have fallen from grace. Yet they still convince the public that they’re still on the side of good. Your advisor points out that Evil that won’t come clean to being Evil isn’t worthy of any respect. Not that they’re referring to anything in the real world. No….

The game also takes new steps in the Evil Female. Rather than the standard evil dominatrix, your Mistress is a sweet, demure woman, who adores the minions and just wants to spruce up your tower. After you retrieve her luggage and eviscerate her enemies of course. (She did say “Please”.) A nice change of pace, using a more subtle kind of evil, and reminding us once again that the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

As a side note, I’d like to call attention to the use of sheep in this game. The minions know them as “sheepies” and use them as much for food as for entertainment. At one point they seem almost concerned for one who escapes a group of, *ahem* adventurous experientialists. The last game to use sheep as a source of nourishment/amusement was the hugely successful and awesome Spyro The Dragon series by Insomniac. Overlord follows proudly in its anti-ovine footsteps. What is it about killing sheep that makes a game so wonderful?

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores

Story / Modes: Very Good Evil
Graphics: Very Good Evil
Sound: Great
Control / Gameplay: Very Good Evil
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Good Evil
Originality: Good Evil
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Great

FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD EVIL!

Short Attention Span Summary
A wonderfully fun and evil time, good for solid gaming, or simply blowing off steam. Kill, pillage, and run amok all in the comfort of your own home. Who could ask for more?

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