Being evil is often seen as a bad thing, but how often do we really get to see things from the other side of the fence? Take the characters in Codemasters' Overlord. These evil doers go about their daily life with a gleeful smile on their faces, relishing every moment of their frowned upon activities. Is it that these brutes simply love inflicting pain on others or is Overlord perhaps not quite as evil as the story suggests?
In a Fable-esque fantasy world full of make believe creatures and every bright colour known to man, you take on the role of the Overlord. This guy has been resurrected after the ruin of his kingdom and it's your job to bring it back to its former glory. Being the man in charge he's not too keen on getting into fights himself or doing much actual work, so he has a team of imp-like minions to do his bidding.
Overlord is best described as a third-person action adventure with elements of the RTS thrown in for good measure. While you control the overlord in typical third-person fashion, battling enemies on your own isn't wise. You'll need to send your minions in to battles, to ransack buildings, loot chests, pick up objects and solve puzzles. Your minion horde - the maximum size of which increases as you progress - is easy to control, with the right stick giving direct control over the group, but more simple directional commands can also be given. On the PC you also have the option of mouse control, but a dual analogue controller seems to offer the best control system.
At the start of the game things are hugely enjoyable and pretty simple, with you being in control of a small number of 'Browns', the barbarians of the minion world. These guys aren't really good for anything other than fighting, and come unstuck a short way into the campaign. The game soon revolves around your use of the four types of minion that become available: Brows, Reds, Greens and Blues.
Reds appear next in your adventure, allowing you to extinguish fires, walk through flaming areas where the others would catch alight and fire flaming projectiles from a distance; Greens can sort out any swamp gasses that prove hazardous to the others and also come with some stealth skills; and Blues excel against magical creatures, can revive fallen Blues and swim.
The combination of the four types is used throughout the latter half of the game, with previously inaccessible areas now able to be explored due to your new minion helpers. Many of the puzzles are simple, but you'll have to be in good control of your troop at all times in order to succeed. It's easier said than done when these little guys are like demented versions of every naughty kid you ever went to school with.
You're able to easily switch between which colour you're in control of, meaning that you can stay on high ground with your army while you send the Blues off into a lake, for example. Markers can also be laid down and minions can be assigned to guard these positions - it's here that the Greens become invisible, making for nice ambush opportunities.
Problems do arise though. In order for you to gain control of a single minion you need to have a life-force to exchange at the various minion dispensers scattered around the environment. Browns are easy to replenish as their life-force orbs can be found in sheep that roam the land in large numbers; however, Reds need red orbs from fire creatures, Greens need green orbs from swamp creatures and Blues need blue orbs from water creatures.
At times it can be a little tricky and tiresome to go from area to area trying to rebuild your resources before attempting a tricky section again. It doesn't help that you'll regularly send a group of minions to their death by accidentally walking them into water, fire or gas, and they do a good job of ending their own lives if you're not careful. You'll improve your minion management skills as you spend more time with the game, but there'll be times when you have to scream due to their stupidity. I also encountered a few bugs that required sections to be replayed, with minions getting stuck carrying key items. They weren't game breaking, but annoying nonetheless.
The quests you take on throughout the game are all good fun and take you to various locations in the beautifully realised fantasy world, but I never really felt that I was being truly evil. In fact, I was helping people for most of the game. Sure, looting settlements and killing sheep is pretty evil, but it's hardly truly villainous is it? You are given choices at various points over whether to kill or save innocents, but even these moments don't seem overly cruel and they're too few and far between.
While the game's superb comedy feel makes the experience great fun, any evilness is all but lost, which is a shame as a touch more comedy cruelty would have been brilliant. Small details like the constantly in-repair Evil Tower that you can walk around and decorate are nice, but the world doesn't quite work as well as I'd have liked. While the overlord doesn't speak you'd imagine him to have a rather out of place high pitched voice, with a fat cat purring on his lap. You'll also find yourself aimlessly wandering a fair bit, as there's no in-game map to aid navigation.
The single-player campaign will last a good while, bolstered by a fair amount of backtracking and revisiting earlier levels, but once you're done there's multiplayer to experiment with. The versus and cooperative modes on offer feel slightly tacked on, but they'll offer some simple fun if you've enjoyed the main campaign. Versus mode sees you competing with another Overlord to see who can kill the most enemies or amass the most treasure, while co-op sees you team up with a friend to take on AI enemies.
Although Overlord doesn't share the "WOW" factor of certain next-gen offerings, it's a fine looking game with superb audio work to boot. The numerous environments are all beautifully created and full of fantasy creatures. The colour scheme is without doubt the biggest asset here, with the game having the look of a child's fantasy story book. Voice work is almost all excellent, with plenty of humour and solid scripting, with the minions stealing the show with their numerous funny items and continuous quips.
Overlord is an entertaining game that should keep you smiling for its duration, but certain control complexities and a distinct lack of evil keep it from being a truly great next-gen adventure. As much as I enjoyed slaughtering fluffy sheep, this Overlord is no more evil than my old headmaster.