Every victory in Overland, no matter big or small, is won by the skin of your teeth. That, of course, is the feeling that an excellent turn-based tactical strategy game gives you. But Overland’s limited options, compact cards, and fast-rising stakes mean that almost every decision – the car you drive, the company you keep, where you move, what you transport – is vital and could potentially have significant consequences. This is our Overland Review.
Overland Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Linux, Mac OS
- Developer: Finji, Adam Saltsman
- Publisher: Finji
- Genres: Turn-based tactics
- Release Date: August 30, 2016
Overland Review: Official Trailer Video
Overland Review: Gameplay
A mysterious and ubiquitous race of creatures has ravaged the US, and for the characters under your care, road-tripping from the East Coast to the West Coast seems like the best course of action. The journey through Central America is beautiful but challenging, filled with obstacles to life or death from the beginning, and Overland’s roguelike structure means you will perish tens, if not hundreds, of ordinary people in loaded situations. But the high risk makes his little wins, like finding a cool item or escaping an area unharmed, all the more satisfying, more motivating.
Overland’s post-apocalyptic survivors lack the combat expertise of XCOM or Fire Emblem soldiers. Characters’ randomly generated personality traits are simple, but make them feel more grounded and more sympathetic than your typical strategy soldier, perhaps by encouraging them to be a good shout, or by letting you know someone’s family misses’. Attacking and killing the nerve-racking and aggressive rocky creatures that haunt you in every area you traverse is an option, but clearing the enemies’ playing field isn’t the goal here.
Keeping your engine running is the main challenge of the game, and it is demanding. It would be best if you found new areas for fuel containers, maybe see them in refuse containers, or slowly transfer gas from abandoned cars, and you might find some useful tools and items to help you along the way. But where Overland creates its challenge, and in turn convincing high-risk decision-making, lies in the strict limitations it imposes on what you can achieve.
Limitations characterize every aspect of the game: your characters can only perform two actions per turn and two hits before they die, and being injured reduces your efforts to one per turn; your vehicle can take only two strokes before it explodes, and its movement is limited to the two-lane road in the center of the map, which will often be littered with debris; each character can only hold one item, which means cleaning up is a tricky task that may require a character to give up the ability to defend themselves, and the compact cards mean you’re always a square away from or just slipping through or that you go through a creature.
There are items and character traits that can push these limits. For example, your lone starter character will always be equipped with a backpack to carry an extra item, some features allow survivors to perform specific actions for free, and most (but not all) dogs have an inherent attack option. But it is rare for you to feel that you are in complete control of the situation in Overland, and even then, it will certainly be short-lived.
All of these factors help ensure that every new run of Overland you play will be filled with memorable stories that have come from the game’s natural flow. One time, I searched through a roadblock to remove two characters of debris as a third slowly wound the car through a narrow passage as dozens of creatures landed on us. A larger creature pushed debris between the cleanup crew and the car, leaving me with no choice but to escape on foot and leave the driver behind on a grizzly fate.
In another situation, my team of three came across a brand new, well-equipped pickup truck. But it could only accommodate two people, and after some consideration, I deliberately drove off with my two stronger ones, abandoning the weakest member of the group. Later on the flight, that person came back to get revenge. In one of my favorite screenplays, one of my human characters was cornered, unarmed, by a creature.
In a moment of desperation, I ordered her two other companions, both dogs, to race to the car, grab a wooden pallet from the trunk and work to pass it on to her relay-style so that she can be the hit she was about to block could block. Overland is filled with these kinds of exciting, terrible scenarios in which you have to improvise an immediate solution or decide to drop everything and get the hell out of it.
However, there is a side note to a game with so many difficult decisions: the risk of getting stuck in a bad situation with no apparent way out and the feeling that you are only continuing your ultimate demise. You will likely have a lot of abandoned campaigns in Overland, especially when you start, where the difficulties and hopelessness can be overwhelming. You may be driving on fumes always and find that it is too difficult to get fuel from any of the areas offered to you, or perhaps your survivors are all injured and limited in motion, making it impossible to achieve anything meaningful.
Overland offers you opportunities to crawl back from these hopeless edges – trust me, it’s possible. But it can sometimes feel like the procedurally generated aspects of the game are stacked against you, especially if you have a team equipped with debuffs such as “Bad Driver” and “Clumsy,” which will absorb gas at a higher speed and make a racket with every action they take.
But Overland’s bold, minimalist design is hard to stay away from. The bite-sized wins you barely knock out in every new area are incredibly tastier, and the game feels great for portable play on both Nintendo Switch and iPhone via Apple Arcade. The game’s clean, stylish art direction and gloomy, creepy soundtrack also help build the intriguing sense of mystery – whatever happens in this post-apocalypse is likely far more significant than you or your survivors will ever get a chance to understand it completely.
All that matters is getting your survivors to the West Coast and passing through seven different biomes, filled with an increasingly disturbing variety of threats and hardships with all the tools you can use together. Overland review perfectly captures the feeling of helplessness, just getting around and being afraid to venture too far away from your car in the pitch black of the night. Every move you perform, every action you perform, and every item or character you sacrifice for another will be a scary decision.
But if you take all those complicated steps, you’re even more grateful to hear the soft sound of the alarm from your car door when you return, and the engine speed when you leave the highway relieved that another strange pack creatures behind.