In strategic games where permadeath is a very real threat, people tend to feel the need to preserve specific people. A character might be important in a game like Fire Emblem, Valkyria Chronicles, or XCOM because they belong to an advantageous class, you’ve invested a lot of time making them strong, or because they are just plain cool. Overland forces you to abandon the idea of attachment. In its dangerous new world, you don’t get to connect to the people you are traveling with. Instead, you have to focus on staying alive.
Each Overland run begins with a single person a single car capable of holding three individuals. You don’t know much about this person, or the other who end up joining them. You get a name and two sentences. Maybe you’re following a woman named Dixie, who is only used to sleeping indoors in a bed and had trouble getting along with her sister. Jowal is actually into this whole surviving during the apocalypse thing, though he wishes that he had left to head west with his brother when he had the chance. (He’s also the sort to take it personally if you leave him behind on a map.) This starting person will be able to carry two things, a major perk in a world where most can only handle one item at a time, making them your second most valuable commodity.
The first is the vehicle. In a game about a cross-country road trip, actually being able to efficiently travel is essential. Overland will kick you to a secondary map and force you to keep going on foot through repetitive, randomly generated ones until you finally get a car you can use to properly continue the journey again. Seeing as how ramming into obstacles, it being assaulted by enemies, and running out of gas can put you in a perilous situation where your survivors are outnumbered and forced to quickly scrounge for a new vehicle and gallon of gas, you quickly learn what your priorities are.
- An undamaged vehicle.
- At least one gallon of gas for said car.
- One person to drive the car and continue to acquire gas for it.
Everything else is optional. Certainly, extra people are helpful. Someone could keep one person in the car and inch it to the edge of one of Overland’s bite-sized map, ready to escape at a moment’s notice after pulling in an adjacent survivor. Another could work on luring the otherworldly creatures that gradually emerge from the Earth away from the group. A third could work on supplies, prioritizing as much gas as possible. First aid kits to heal injuries? Shields to protect against two hits from an enemy? An actual knife that could be used to attack? All are secondary when you’re forced to choose between the lifeblood of the only thing that can get you away from these abominations alive.
The people of Overland don’t talk. At least, not the way you’d expect from a strategic RPG where camaraderie might be expected to bond people together along a journey. As people consult a map between stops, there will be some small talk. Variations of “thanks for saving my life” or “maybe we should head here” pop up. If you abandon someone on a map, they’ll express their disgust while one of the people who did get away offers excuses. When they die, they’ll call out each other’s names. But, what can people say in such a situation? No one is together because they want to be. There are no other options. It’s not like you’d expect them to discuss the latest game they were playing or their hopes for the future. As some will point out during one of the “Out of Gas” scenarios that occur when the party is moving on foot without a car, “We’re all gonna die, you know that right?”
It’s not like Overland’s characters could even partake in battle plans between points. This isn’t an Into the Breach sort of post-apocalyptic scenario, where you can think of it as a puzzle and eventually defeat all of the abominations on the map. If you kill one, at least one more will appear to take its place. Characters who aren’t holding a weapon can’t even attack. Sometimes, just lingering in an area will trigger a hunt, where an influx of enemies will appear and the skies will darken.
So, you have to leave people behind. Not that you ever set out to do it. It just… happens. Maybe you have to downgrade from a van, which holds five people, to a car that can only carry three. Someone could end up surrounded by creatures and, well, you don’t have any weapons. You can’t risk ramming the car into one for a quick save. As heartless as it sounds, you could find someone new for your party that is in perfect health and have a current ally who is injured. If you don’t have the medical supplies your hurt companion needs… well… maybe you need to let them go for the greater good.
It can be really heartbreaking when it comes to the dogs. Sometimes, as you go on your way in Overland, you’ll find a dog like Josie roaming around. A character will name them. You can dress them up in a hat. When you’re looking at a map and plotting your next move, Josie will wag her tail and just… be. She’ll be a comforting presence in a world where sometimes you’ll go through three maps only encountering monsters or humans who want nothing to do with you and your crew. She’ll draw the creatures away from you by barking, so you can gather in peace. Josie is your fuzzy friend. Except eventually, you find other people. People who can actually use the items they are carrying. Who, if you have them in a car, could pull another ally who has used up their moves inside to safety. But all Josie can do for you is… bark. So, you leave Josie at an abandoned gas station after saving another human, wondering if these imaginary horrors will hurt her, because Diane had an actual weapon and could help Weldon actually get through the Woodlands.
Overland is full of difficult decisions. You’ll meet a lot of people, who you’ll barely get to know. You’ll have an idea of who they are and what they are like, but there are no opportunities to socialize with them in such a critical situation. It’s for the best, really. Your goal with each map is to survive until the next map, and keep doing that until you get all the way to the west. Your car matters. A person who can hold two items at once also probably matters. Everyone else is only as valuable as their current capability to carry items, gas up a car, and help the group get by. It forces you to be uncomfortable, which can be an intriguing thing.
Overland is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Apple iOS devices.