Developer: Revival Productions, LLC
Publisher: Revival Productions, LLC
Format: PC, PS4
Released: May 31, 2018
It’s the early 90’s, and the videogame world has been rocked by Doom. A mere year or so later and its sequel is released to the joy of gaming’s still humble audience. How do you improve on a revolutionary game such as this? It’s not possible surely. Such graphical fidelity, and terrifyingly advanced AI! This is the future of videogames. Then out of the blue came Descent. It took the fast-paced high-octane action of Doom and did something totally unexpected. It said goodbye to gravity.
When you put an FPS into a zero-gravity environment everything changes. No longer was it a matter of simply running along the ground, bumping into walls to hunt for secrets when you weren’t busy blasting demons in the face with a shotgun by shooting ten metres below them. Now you’re in a spaceship that can move UP AND DOWN! Now you have to rub your face against the walls, floor and roof for secrets, and get pulled apart by decidedly unfriendly robots from almost any angle. It was groundbreaking, not to mention one of the first games I remember absolutely adoring.
Fling forwards to 2018 and I’m booting up Overload, the spiritual successor to Descent in almost every single way, to the point of developers Revival Productions even hiring members of the original Descent dev team. A massive improvement in visual and audio fidelity, unsurprisingly, as well as some modernised mechanical updates make Overload more palatable to a fresh audience, giving this game a life of its own even with it being such a faithful adaptation of what inspired its creation.
The driving goal to Overload’s Campaign mode is exceedingly simple, but just intriguing enough to actually warrant listening to the occasional audio log and the robotic blabbing of your AI assistant. You’re awoken from stasis to assist the humans working for a huge mining operation spanning Saturn’s moons. Their mechanical drones, referred to as “autonomous operators”, have gone rogue and the people trapped in the mining facilities desperately need your help. In this case, “help” referring to destroying everything that isn’t you, snagging sweet loot and rescuing miners in cryotubes from the myriad hidden locations scattered through each facility.
As I mentioned earlier, this game requires significantly more spacial awareness than a standard shooter, as you not only have to navigate a zero-gravity maze in all 3 dimensions, but also be prepared for enemies to attack you in the same fashion. Thankfully, movement is zippy, reactive and surprisingly easy to get a grip with, assuming you don’t mind your view swivelling and spiralling as you dodge and weave. I distinctly remember feeling more than a little ill the first few times I played games like this, but it doesn’t take too long for your brain to get itself sorted. Not long into the basic tutorial I’d nailed down the controls enough to jump into the game proper. Naturally, you come equipped with a primary and secondary weapon slot which gives a variety of lasers, guns, rockets and missiles to play with in order to destroy the operators that attack you. Despite the variety I was frequently drawn to the rapid-fire popcorn-barrage of the Missile Pod, and the sharp crack of the slow-firing Driller cannon. Each weapon has its niche, and you’d have to be playing on the hardest difficulties for any one weapon to be a must-use over any other.
Most of the time your goal will be to find a reactor deep in the facility, blow it up and then escape, Return of the Jedi style. Other times you need to defeat a boss, or just destroy all operators on the map. Simple goals, that flow into the fast-paced nature of the game. Most maps have a grungy industrial look to them, keeping with the mining colony theme that the game is angling for. Some other varied locations do appear, but primarily get used to zipping through vents, corridors, and open areas filled with angry operators ready to try and mine your ship. Maybe I’m just easy to please, but I very much enjoyed flying through the “standard” mining-facility layouts, finding them a solid mix of maze-like design, with easy to memorize geometry. I will admit the level design harkens back to Descent perhaps too much, forgoing the opportunity to create some truly magnificent levels in favour of falling back on nostalgia-fuelled map layouts.
The malicious operators that you need to fight through come in a pleasant array of flavours, though many of them aren’t very visually distinct. Ranging from simple light drones with slow moving laser guns to bulkier security operators actually designed for fighting, to scary little angular machines that want to hug your ship with their four huge mechanical claws. The menagerie of enemies is far from the kaleidoscopic gallery you face in games like Doom, but they still manage to be plenty of fun to blow up, scattering chunks of debris in brilliantly gratifying displays of gratuitous robo-violence. It’s just a shame that I can’t really recall any one enemy standing out above the others, either visually and in threat level, for better or for worse.
But at least the visual and audio updates to the game play into its sense of visceral destruction wonderfully, as destroying an operator sounds meaty and satisfying, with scrap metal and plumes of smoke flying out in all directions. Your rockets shoot off with a gentle whoosh but impact with a solid blast, and rapid-fire weapons spit out thudding barrages of hot lead, or crackling bolts of energy. Even the soundtrack plays into the overall feel of the game, a heavy energetic beat that is extremely keen to hark back to the classic soundtrack of Descent while still giving it a modern spin.
There are a few problems that I personally think hold this game back, but only in the barest sense. Some later missions can feel exceedingly unforgiving, even by the standards of “old school” games. The deeper into the campaign you get, the more likely it is that enemies will be placed so you almost certainly die on your first encounter. The levels also feel a little visually repetitive as I mentioned before, which I suppose makes sense for the whole industrial mining operation aesthetic. However, the game offers a few ways to mitigate these issues, difficulty settings aside. A little holographic navigator can be summoned and directed to lead you to your objective, or to guide you to Cryotubes, ammo or armour you may have missed on your journey. Perhaps the most exciting is a robust level editor, allowing creative types to slap together whatever maps they please. This doesn’t undo the problems with the levels of the main campaign, but it does give players the chance to find levels that are more interesting to explore, or more visually distinct than what the game shipped with. I’ve personally yet to try any, but am very much looking forward to seeing what dedicated map-makers have come up with.
Being a spiritual successor to quite an old game at this point, Overload is hardly treading much in the way of new ground. Sometimes this is okay though, it’s not like we have a deluge of similar games to this, as we do with Battle Royales or Metroidvanias. Sometimes all we need is a sick soundtrack while we fly through corridors blowing up robots every which way. Sometimes a simple and satisfying chunk of well-polished explosive action is all we want. It’s what I’ve really needed lately, no convoluted plot or deep philosophical implications, just blowing up lots and lots of robots. I know I’ve loved my time with Overload and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who remembers Descent fondly.
A solid and familiar take on classic 6DoF action. Worth taking a look at for sure!