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Gaming Review

'Overlord II' (Xbox 360)

By
Released on Friday, Jun 26 2009



Also available on: PS3, PC
Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: Action Adventure
Release date: June 26, 2009

No-one plays the bad guy. It's not that there is no capacity to do so - it's just that no-one actually wants to. Countless games have experimented with moral choices, even if they were based on binary good or bad decisions such as 'feed the orphans!' or 'burn the orphanage to the ground!', and we all know everyone opts for the goody two-shoes option. Boring. In Overlord, the 2007 sleeper hit from Triumph Studios, you were asked to either crush the bad guy under your tyrannous boot, or make him a slave and lick it instead. Much better! Here you are evil or really evil, and since most of us were too busy handing out rice cakes to the parentless, the Overlord returns so you can do his bidding.

But like last time, he isn't the star of the show. The spotlight rests on the minions; a horde of disgusting, wheezing yet surprisingly cute imp creatures under your direct control. Always one step behind you, they can be set on enemies like a pack of wolves, ransack buildings for hidden loot, and handle primitive weapons like curious children in a toy shop. While they are as disposable as snotty tissues, this time your favourite minions can be resurrected once more, with their levels and trinkets intact. (And as soon they dress up as children and mumble 'Ring A Ring O Roses' in the excellent prelude, you know you won't want to them to suffer. Much.)

The same funky flavours of minion make a comeback; the brute force browns that club anything that moves, the fireball-chucking reds, the backstabbing greens and the zen-like blue healers. Not only do they all perform their own tricks of walking through fire and poison gas, but this time they can mount wolves, garrison catapults and even enter ships. Their resourcefulness will stretch your logic and cunning in the heat of battle, where sticking a few projectile-throwing reds on a cliff, keeping some invisible greens at a bottleneck and sorting which enemies to keep occupied with the browns can save your evil, scaly skin.

While it's a guilty pleasure to unleash them on fluffy white rabbits or even to tear apart inert crates (oh how evil we are!) their application sets the game apart from others. At its core, it's a very solid adventure, throwing you challenges, puzzles or new enemy formations at every corner, and throwing those base minion mechanics on top gives you something new to try them out on. Every objective is cleverly paced with clear goals, whether it be the next minion type, a new spell stone, or a mistress to take back to your playboy tower, giving you regular pay-offs for every minion lost. While the broadened spells on offer won't captivate you in the same way, the ability to enslave or kill innocent villagers for work or pleasure (they can build things for you if left alive) reinforces that 'evil' or 'really evil' mechanic into the actual gameplay. It's good, solid adventuring, with lots of cool toys to mess with along the way.

Although the game is very linear in both its progression and exploration, a central hub houses your minion hordes and abilities to upgrade over time. While it's one of the many visual splendours in the game - a display of hellish rock sculpted into an imposing tower that pulsates with lava - its navigation is far too cumbersome for regular visits or a quick forge before returning to battle. Even though the straightforward adventure has its benefits, cutting out the chaff of backtracking and maintaining a stellar pace, it relies on grinding for many of its optional side quests (even if it includes gnome genocide) and the main objectives aren't often clear despite the addition of a map.

As linear as it is, it paves the way for some lush environments to explore and breathtaking moments when an entire jungle or snowcapped peaks lie ahead to conquer. The excellent score and sound design contribute to a feeling that you're on an epic voyage across the world too. The idea of pillaging and plundering from place to place might sound generic, but the fact that you are taking down a larger evil - the magic-hating, Roman-inspired Glorious Empire - makes taking back every sleepy village or infested cave much more than being evil for the sake of it. The British humour weaved throughout stops you taking your newfound villainous streak too seriously, and while it's not on par with Fable for laughs, its ability to stick two fingers to fantasy clichés, as well as to politics and environmental causes (punching pandas and clubbing baby seals is a regular occurrence) fits the game like a glove, and is better for it.

There are rough edges to its presentation - the animation and voice work in cutscenes is often clumsy, and many of its wider characters are as forgettable as the last bug you trod on. The frame rate becomes unstable when it throws around too much, too. Additionally, despite the efforts in making the camera more manageable, it still becomes a bother. While in theory controlling both camera control and minion movement through two different axes on the right stick works - and in exploration often does – in the heat of battle getting either to function often fails. Even the triggers, which lock on and launch a minion, cannot fix themselves on an obvious target, requiring fiddling and repositioning. Sluggish controls and random damage control made a particular boat chase incredibly frustrating as well.

While its issues won't tarnish your evil schemes, they unfortunately push it away from being an essential, AAA title. Overlord II has enough excellent pacing and design to keep you constantly engaged with every pillage and plunder, and makes copious use of all the squirming, scheming minions at your disposal. Its narrative is awfully clever in its delivery, and makes every evil act feel like a breath of fresh air, and yet as normal as putting the kettle on. While a little unpolished, it's a solid adventure that's unique in execution, and you can't help but have a wicked time.


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