OVERRIDE: MECH CITY BRAWL
Bite our shiny metal mag! We’re going for a deep dive into Override: Mech City Brawl “Punches and kicks are slow and weighty and, of course, independently controlled”
The weapon-filled robot brawler serves up the crash of metal, the rumble of falling buildings, and the screams of your defeated opponent.
If you’ve read our past previews, you’ll know that this game has been raising our eyebrows in a good way. Giant robots fighting each other, without the complex controls or crushing weight of a million stats this usually entails? Yes please! We were already excited and now, thanks to extended hands-on time – including exclusive access to the story mode and every multiplayer map – we’re even excited.
The fundamental concept is pretty simple: a brawler for two to four players, where every character is a mech, and each limb on a mech is controlled with a different trigger button. In fact, this control scheme came about before everything else. “It first started as more of a tech demo,” says producer Andrew Nguyen. “The developers were actually trying to make a game kind of like QWOP. In that game you control a
jogger with four buttons, it’s super-hard. [Our demo] was about controlling all the different limbs, and it took insane co-ordination just to keep it balanced, just to keep it standing.”
Balance isn’t an issue in the final product (unless, of course, an opponent knocks you over onto your oversized metallic backside during a scrap). The team soon realised that the mechs with individually controllable limbs would work brilliantly in a brawler. So that’s the direction the project took, and the game became much simpler and more accessible as a result.
When we’re handed a controller to play around with the latest build, it’s like slipping back into a pair of oddly shaped, yet comfortable, slippers. Punches and kicks are slow and weighty and, of course, independently controlled. There really isn’t a fighter with a directly comparable system, and we suddenly find ourselves very glad that we’d previously spent time with the beta. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we lose our first match to the developer, but we manage to avoid entirely humiliating ourselves.
Although it’s easy to jump in and start playing straight away, it’s the aforementioned weight to your hits that takes the most getting used to. How, we ask, did the devs manage to strike the right balance between speed and communicating this sense of weight?
“Through a lot of arguing!” Nguyen immediately replies. “This game started off much slower, much, much weightier. It took months to get something that felt good as a brawler. We’re not going to please everybody, but I think we’ve found a good balance.”
However, if you think this means the game’s a syrupy fighter in which matches move at a glacial pace, think again. The dash button alone eliminates that, allowing us to rapidly close the gap whenever we’re bold enough to charge Nguyen (rare) and throw ourselves out of the way when he’s looking dangerous (often). Some of the special moves (dependent on a meter charged by landing hits) are either projectile attacks, or physical ones that launch your mech of choice across the arena, and weapons such as swords, shields, guns, and flamethrowers are randomly dropped into the map to keep everybody on their ten-ton toes. Not to mention the Ultimates, super-powerful attacks available once your mech is down to its last chunk of life.
Maybe you want a purer fighting experience? No problem. You’ll have the option of disabling weapons and Ultimates if that’s what you want to do. Indeed, the developers are keen to put players in control of how matches play out. Online, there will be three match queues: two for traditional 1v1 fights (one ranked, one unranked), and one for four players. A free-for-all, two teams of two, a team of 3v1, multiple people controlling the same mech [see ‘Twenty One Pilots’,
p29]… exactly what a four-player match looks like will be up to you.
We’re looking forward to kicking the scrap out of strangers online, but there’s plenty going on here offline, too – not least the story mode, which your buddies at GamesMaster were allowed to look at in detail. “You play through the story mode with each mech, and they each have a slightly different story,” Nguyen explains. “The arc is the same, but they all have their own dialogue variants. You get to know the pilots behind the mechs, which we haven’t really shown yet.”
It turns out there are squishy humans inside those mechs. You can completely ignore this in the main brawling part of the game, but the story explains who these people are, and how and why they have their own giant robots. “There’s a mech battle league, it’s kind of like a WWE-type thing for mechs. A lot of these guys compete in that league, some of them use mechs for other purposes besides entertainment. In the story, there’s a monster invasion, and now these league mechs are being called on to save the world.”
The monsters that we see are immediately striking, Pacific-Rim-style kaiju beasts. Nguyen gives a bunch of them what-for in the middle of one of the destructible cities, in gameplay that seems comfortably similar to the standard brawling. Though we only get a brief taste of monster designs, we’re promised that the final product will have a large collection of varied beasts of different shapes and sizes.
Each mech’s story will only take an hour or so to play through but, with 12 mechs, that’s at least 12 hours of story mode gameplay. Though in today’s industry, with cries of “single-player is dead!” worryingly common, why make a story mode at all? “We always wanted to take something outside of its normal environment, and do something a little bit different. And,” Nguyen assures us, “we get to do different things here.”
He’s not lying. The story offers elements which are, with good reason, completely absent from the competitive portion of the game. “At the end of each level you get XP, and you get mods that you can collect; and it’s randomised. So every time you play through, it’s a little bit different. You get mods that do things like add lifesteal to your attacks, increase your stamina, add reflect damage, all kinds of weird stuff that we wouldn’t really put into the competitive mode. There’s a lot of mods, and you’re not going to collect everything [in one run].” Despite the roguelite elements, we’re assured that the game will be challenging without becoming overly punishing. “We really like the story that
we ended up writing for it, so we’re like, ‘Wouldn’t it be a shame if people didn’t even try it because it’s too hard?’ We’d rather just open up the content, and let people enjoy it.”
Nguyen skips through the on-screen dialogue between levels so that we can get back to the action, but not before a few things jump out at us. For one thing, there’s an army general who, according to our notes, appears to be named Mavis (we may have misread that, but we really hope we didn’t). We also catch a few snatches of dialogue as it hurtles past our eyes.
“I bring entertainment to the masses,” says a pilot, presumably a participant in the aforementioned mech battle league.
“Well now you’ll bring death from above!” barks the general.
“It’s kind of Saturday morning cartoonish. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously here,” says Nguyen, which comes as no surprise to Team GM. “We just want to make ourselves one cut above ‘fight the roster’. In between each story mission, you’ll have an opportunity to do a few side-missions. These are randomised, and you can see if the reward is some XP, or a weapon pack.” The story mode, therefore, is on track to offer a nice extra chunk of content. A big blob of offline ketchup to dip your gaming chips into, if you will.
Still, you don’t need the magic of the internet to play with three friends. You can enjoy the four-player experience in person thanks to couch co-op, something that the developer felt it was important to include. As Nguyen says, “It’s so rare to have couch co-op […] it’s such a nice thing for people to be able to play together [in the same room]. We try to have something for everybody, make it as accessible as we can.”
With four people in the room – Nguyen, a PR rep, and two components of the GM hive mind – we take full advantage of this. A free-for-all proves to be a story of pain, uncomfortable alliances, treachery, and plenty of crushed buildings. GM goes for the frog-like Cocada and the Egyptianthemed Setesh; we share the city with poster bot Vintage and the dinosaur-flavoured Metageckon. Time to show what we’re made of (or, preferably, show what the others are made of by distributing it all over the map).
A split-screen display gives everybody their own view. Nguyen’s Metageckon quickly gets to work, using claws and tail to dish out pain to anybody foolish enough to get close. It’s not long before his special meter begins to fill, and so, pretty soon, a laser shoots from his mouth (Metageckon’s mouth, not Nguyen’s) and knocks a chunk of health from GM’s Cocada.
Poor old Cocada kicks and punches his enemies more than enough to earn sufficient meter to launch a few homing missiles, but alas, it’s not long before he’s dangerously close to defeat. We trigger his Ultimate, signalled by a brief cutscene before the giant metal frog breakdances his way into a city-destroying, controllable tornado that we steer into his foes, chipping away at their health. Alas, not long after this is over, he is destroyed by… fellow GM mech Setesh. Where’s the loyalty??
The losing mech having exploded, his section of the screen disappears, and the remaining three widen. As the match flows, Setesh and Metageckon temporarily team up to put Vintage out of the picture, before again turning on one another. Metageckon launches his Ultimate, hurtling through Setesh with a sword before dramatically pausing
behind his opponent (“We tried to make that look as anime as possible,” says Nguyen.) Setesh survives with a sliver of health, triggers his own wide-ranging Ultimate… and emerges victorious!
That match took place in one of the cities previously seen in the beta, but we got a look at all of the others, too, including some exclusive time with the Brazil and Mexico maps. Mexico is visually striking, a night-time city scene where the buildings are lit up. Until you crush them, of course. Brazil, in particular, is interesting, offering opportunities unavailable in the other maps. While still a city environment, it’s not so flat, with a raised motorway running through the middle. The supports can offer temporary cover, while retreating to the height of the road can give you breathing space for projectile or aerial attacks.
The latest build also gives us a look at some of the alternate skins for the first time, such as Metageckon doing his best Cthulhu impression, and the retro-styled Vintage looking shiny and, um, wearing a giant-mech-sized rubber ducky ring, At launch, each mech will have 20 locked skins. We know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry: Override will not feature loot boxes or microtransactions.
“You unlock them by playing through the story mode and completing online matches,” Nguyen explains. “So whether you win or lose, you get something. They unlock at random, [but] if you win, you have a higher probability of getting something better. We also wanted to incentivise people to not rage quit. So if you’re losing, you still get something […] the simple ones are just colour swaps, the rarer ones are more striking. Their Epics have more detailing, the Legendaries change their model.” There will also be a total of 30 accessories to unlock at launch, and these are one-size-fits-all. Want to see a towering, city-destroying mech in a hat? Now you can!
With the game almost finished, work has begun on post-launch content. Some time after launch, there will be an additional 16 skins and four mechs available to purchase (or to download straight away if you go for the amusingly named Super Charged Mega Edition). Not even GM could get more information than that, though we’re promised that the additional mechs will, as with the existing designs, be something we haven’t seen before. “[The artists] definitely didn’t want clones, they definitely didn’t want things to just feel like a quick iteration on an existing mech.”
Mind you, with the ability to play with up to three others both online and offline, literally hundreds of items to unlock, and a story mode offering 12-plus hours of gameplay, the base package is set to offer more than enough to keep you busy. The core gameplay is simple to understand, and perfect for a quick blast with a group of friends; giant mechs fighting. Controlling individual limbs is surprisingly easy to get to grips
with, and special moves and Ultimates are activated with simultaneous button presses. No complex movement and button combinations.
There’s depth for those who want it though, as Nguyen explains. “We tried to make everything punishable, in a sense. The game is obviously still very friendly to just button mashing; but for those who want to get serious or get good, we wanted to make sure the game had enough legs to allow for that. A key factor was to make sure that everything has a counter. So nothing feels too powerful, and when everything has counters, then you can do things like mind games and fakes. So for example, if I were to charge a punch, you might have the ability to kick me and interrupt me, or perform a counter, which would make me pay for it. But I can also do things like this [sends our mech flying], where you decide to do a kick counter, and then I cancel, so then you end up doing a counter-manoeuvre that leaves you vulnerable.”
The potential for casual brawls among friends is undeniable, and Nguyen tells us there’s even been positive feedback from the community at American fighting game tournament CEOtaku. “[It’s] always kind of a scary thing to bring something to the fighting game community, and see how they receive it. We knew there was room for casual-type games like Smash [Bros] […] but you never know. So far people are digging it.”
Us too, Andrew; us too.
The effectiveness of split-screen will depend on the size of screen that you use, but it’s a welcome inclusion. Contessa’s Ultimate sees her summon some kind of robotic Grim Reaper, which suggests these mechs have souls of their own. Creepy.
Egypt includes tunnels beneath the sand – useful for when you fancy ambushing an opponent from below.
Don’t make Pescado angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Or even mildly annoyed, to be honest.