Over­land

Finji’s sur­vival strat­egy ti­tle turns ten­sion into apoc­a­lyp­tic ad­ven­ture

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC

Oc­ca­sion­ally, Over­land has a bit of an in­ter­face prob­lem. Our van is filled with fuel, our four party mem­bers hunt­ing for sup­plies across a grid­ded area. Mon­sters slowly sur­round us. A huge one thumps our van, caus­ing smoke to start pour­ing from it. No prob­lem – we’ve stored a tool­box on top of it. But click, curse and try as we might, we can’t get Ben­nie to use it. The ve­hi­cle blows up, two of our party die, and the other two stag­ger on to their death in the next area. It hardly seems fair.

Then again, the cru­elty of it is fit­ting, given this turn-based sur­vival strat­egy game’s premise. An un­known event has trig­gered a dis­as­ter, and neon-quilled man-eaters have in­fested Amer­ica. Each in­di­vid­ual, pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated level has your sur­vivors scav­eng­ing, fight­ing and mak­ing friends on a dan­ger­ous road trip out west. Ev­ery en­counter is teeth- grind­ingly tense: ac­tions per turn are lim­ited, forc­ing you to con­stantly bal­ance risk against re­ward. Dense 6x6 grids, scant re­sources, lim­ited per­sonal in­ven­to­ries and two-hit kills en­sure your group’s level of safety ranges from ‘mod­er­ate peril’ to ‘im­mi­nent death’.

Dif­fi­culty is key, says Adam Salts­man, de­vel­oper and Finji co-founder. “I was play­ing XCOM: En­emy Un­known on Iron­man mode: when you play on the eas­ier set­ting, you miss out. It felt like learn­ing a new sport or some­thing.” It was Adam’s ex­pe­ri­ences with XCOM and turn-based ti­tle 868-Hack that in­spired Over­land: “One was a colos­sal, squad­based game with huge pos­si­bil­i­ties, and the other this com­pact, min­i­mal­ist, ‘ev­ery step is life or death’ type of game. We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have some of the best parts of an XCOM ex­pe­ri­ence in five min­utes, in­stead of an hour?’”

“We started it four years ago in a world that seemed a lit­tle less pre-apoc­a­lyp­tic”

And, tool­box fum­blings aside, it’s close to that lofty goal. A stylish, sim­pli­fied UI be­lies a sys­temic depth that cre­ates unique sce­nar­ios out of in­cre­men­tal de­ci­sions. The longer you stay in one area, or the more noise you make, the more mon­sters sprout from be­neath the earth to at­tack. “We try to build the risk/ re­ward de­ci­sions for drama and close calls,” Salts­man says. “Abil­i­ties and mon­sters are bal­anced around giv­ing play­ers cool op­por­tu­ni­ties to es­cape.” In­deed, send­ing the wounded El­lis a step too far for a med­kit in one stage al­most leaves him stranded when he runs out of ac­tion points – un­til we re­alise we can use some­one in the car to pull him in.

When it all works, it’s slicker than most in­ter­faces in the genre. But fol­low­ing our ex­plo­sive un­do­ing, we worry Over­land’s min­i­mal UI might work against us at crit­i­cal mo­ments. An ‘undo’ but­ton lets you re­verse a misclick, but the is­sue here is more com­plex. “We didn’t re­alise un­til part­way into mak­ing the game that strat­egy games are all user in­ter­face,” Salts­man says. “About 50 per­cent of our work has gone into just try­ing to fig­ure out where the but­tons go and what they do.” Around half of Over­land’s ‘first ac­cess’ play­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced the tool­box dis­as­ter, says Salts­man: it’s not ob­vi­ous in what or­der items and squares should be clicked to fix your ride. The right kind of stress is a thrill, and

Over­land has plenty of it so far. In fact, play­ers are cry­ing out for more op­por­tu­ni­ties for qui­etude. Finji is lis­ten­ing, soft­en­ing Over­land at points: when it’s rain­ing, crea­tures won’t call re­in­force­ments, and re­mote hoarder camps will of­fer a place to re­group and re­sup­ply, pro­vided you can save enough fuel to get there. “More play­ers than I ex­pected found ear­lier ver­sions to be re­lent­less,” Salts­man says.

A game so clever at pun­ish­ing er­rors with the death of a beanie-wear­ing op­ti­mist or a beloved dog per­haps isn’t ev­ery­body’s cup of tea. No doubt keen strate­gists will be up to the chal­lenge, but there’s plenty here for the braver, more nar­ra­tively driven: dar­ing es­capes and mean­ing­ful sac­ri­fices. As clumsy as its UI can be, Over­land’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions of hu­man na­ture are eerily ac­cu­rate. But as de­vel­op­ment has rolled on, Salts­man has strug­gled with the game’s dark premise. “It’s a lit­tle weird to work on now, be­cause we started it al­most four years ago in a world that seemed a lit­tle less [im­me­di­ately] pre-apoc­a­lyp­tic,” he says. “It was very much in­tended as an es­capist thing, like, ‘Oh, imag­ine if real folks were hav­ing to con­tem­plate the end of the world.’

“Back then, that was some­thing that wasn’t part of my life. I was born too late: the im­pact of the Cold War was back­ground ra­di­a­tion, but not con­stantly there. And now…” He pauses. “I don’t know. I feel like if I was start­ing a new game de­sign right now, it’d prob­a­bly be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.”

Aban­doned cars can help you evade dan­ger in un­ex­pected ways. Slid­ing through its seats in one turn both gets you away from a pur­suer and puts an ob­sta­cle be­tween them and you

ABOVE Dump­sters hold use­ful loot – there’s some­thing you don’t hear ev­ery day – but they can also block your ve­hi­cle’s es­cape route. You’ll need to tell a party mem­ber to drag it out of the way be­fore the crea­tures ar­rive

TOP LEFT Petrol sta­tions of­fer a chance to fill your fuel re­serves to the top, but they’re usu­ally crawl­ing with mon­sters. A full party of four strug­gles to find safety.

ABOVE As you might ex­pect, it’s wise to ex­er­cise cau­tion when mov­ing gas can­is­ters around near flam­ing bar­rels. Then again, set­ting a party mem­ber on fire makes for a use­ful dis­trac­tion in a pinch, if you’ve the stom­ach for it

LEFT Your ca­nine party mem­bers can also at­tack mon­sters, search con­tain­ers and carry an item in their mouths. Un­sur­pris­ingly, they can’t use said items – or op­er­ate a mo­tor ve­hi­cle

You’ll have to greet other stranded sur­vivors be­fore you can add them to your party and con­trol their move­ments. They’re of­ten car­ry­ing handy items, too

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