Overlord (2007)
for Xbox 360 and PC
Developed by Triumph Studios
Published by Codemasters

The cowardly Allied tastemakers decided long ago that no video game could feature Nazi protagonists, which would have been the ultimate in playing as the bad guy. In general, nobody wants to sell games (or, in theory, buy games) where you take the role of something truly evil. There have been plenty of games that have approached this idea tepidly, with you playing the role of an "evil" god, or a dungeon master, or something along those lines, and Overlord is no different.

You begin the game as a newly-resurrected evil overlord, who has lost his horde of minions, and whose decrepit tower lies in ruins after an incursion by several do-gooding heroes. Your minion lieutenant is your only remaining follower, so you have to go out and scour the countryside looking for the missing vestiges of your empire, rebuilding your army and your dark tower.

Your power base lies in your minions, little imp-like creatures who unquestionably do your bidding. They come in four colors: brown, red, blue, and green. Each type has a specialty; browns are warriors, reds hurl fireballs and are immune to fire, blues can go through water and resurrect fallen minions, and greens can withstand poison, in addition to being able to turn invisible for sneak attacks. You get control of all four fairly early in the game, but the maximum controllable size of your army starts low, and increases steadily as you make progress. This creates a strategy element, as you need to know which minions are best suited for each environment, and using the right types in concert will make certain situations much easier.

You can control them by either sweeping them en masse to ravage a pumpkin field, for instance, or sending them one by one for tasks that require more precision, such as carrying explosives. The concept is essentially identical to Pikmin, so if you've played that, you'll feel very much at home in Overlord.

In addition to being literally colorful, the minions have personalities to match. They are almost mentally retarded in their manner, getting overexcited over a bit of treasure or gear, or happily jumping into a pool of molten lava simply because you want them to. They also change appearance as you make your way through and find better equipment, and will wear anything you find, including pumpkins and insect heads. It's amusing to no end and gives you a little taste of how fun it is to be evil.

Being evil, though, is not something that you get to truly experience in this game. Your main foes in the game are the aforementioned heroes, but the problem is that each one has been corrupted by the seven deadly sins, begging the question of whether you or they are more evil. I am not sure if this was a conceit by the designers to ameliorate what would have been a much sharper edge to the game, but it does lessen the enjoyment. It would have been much better if your enemies were truly good. Additionally, you have two paths to choose: one of pure evil, and one of a more noble evil, where you feign benevolence rather than killing your worshippers. You can do both if you want, but that would only demonstrate a lack of commitment.

Another aspect of the game is the improvement of your home, the dark tower. As you explore the lands surrounding your citadel, you find components that you can use as upgrades, creating all sorts of nifty additions, such as a gladiatorial dungeon, a forge for new weapons, living quarters, and even a room to contain your riches. Assisting you in the decoration process is your mistress, who is all too happy to spend your money on improvements.

Much of the game's content was lifted directly out of The Lord of the Rings. The overlord looks nearly identical to the movies' Sauron, and you mainly square off against humans, Halflings, elves, and dwarves. The tower you inhabit also looks like the one in Mordor. It's a highly familiar jumping-off point for people who may not have otherwise been aware of fantasy standards, but fairly unoriginal for those who have seen that all before.

A more pressing problem with the game arose shortly after release, as a bug in a dungeon later in the game can potentially prevent you from completing the game. It can be avoided if you're paying attention, but it can also ruin your experience if you are victimized by it. It's amusing that a company called Codemasters would put out a game with such an obvious flaw in the programming.

Despite that, the game is largely satisfying, as watching your minions wreak havoc on all that lies before you is a lot of fun. A good sequel could be made out of this, as the concept could lead down a number of interesting avenues, especially if the developers are not ashamed of outright ripping off existing material.

Until then, I'll be waiting for a game where you can commit genocide and other atrocities, which would symbolize the ultimate desensitization of our society. It would be a good game.

Review by Appomattox Courthouse