The Reading Dead
Overlive is a promising mix of things. On one hand the game is a tap-and-shoot zombie shooter, and on the other hand it’s a choice-driven narrative full of decision making. Unfortunately, neither one of these elements stands out memorably. The combat scenarios involve simply tapping at static images to shoot, or swiping a finger across the screen for a melee attack, and while the writing was grammatically sound, by the end of my playthrough I was left with more dead-end subplots than I cared to remember.
In the game, players are tasked with escaping a zombie-filled city before the local nuclear power plant has a meltdown and blankets the area with atomic radiation. Instead of simply tossing players a shotgun and pointing them in the direction of the best way out of town, Overlive has players scrounging the city for a vehicle to use to escape the blast radius of the power plant. While on the hunt for a vehicle, players encounter a number of survivors and begin to unravel the mystery surrounding what really caused the apocalypse.
The problem with Overlive‘s storytelling is that the game can end before the story does. I literally ran the clock out, attempting to unravel the story, and ended up dying on the 180th day when the power plant exploded. I never found any answers to the half-dozen plot points brought to my attention while playing through the game. Now, while that does promote replayability (something which I typically like within a game), the gameplay itself was just too dull for me to want to have to deal with it again.
Each area the player is introduced to is filled with events just waiting to be triggered. Activating one event may lead into a combat situation or a story event where the player’s various skill levels are put to the test. In what ends up being the most interesting part of Overlive, the abilities come into play whenever story events occur. If a player neglects, for example, leveling up their firearms skill, selecting the “headshot all the zombies” option in the decision menu during a text event may end up triggering a fight sequence because the player missed all the shots. If the player has invested resources in lockpicking training, then picking a lock will probably end up being more productive than using explosives to blast a hole in the wall…unless of course the player is more skilled with explosives.
Sometimes the text events take a few unrealistic liberties. At one point I selected to sneak by a stray zombie, only for the text event to tell me I was caught pickpocketing the zombie. Another time I rescued an octopus from an aquarium only to have him save my life later on when I’m in a completely different location. Then there were the half-dozen times where I came across random pills and medication that my character consumed without a second thought. Seems a bit silly to me that Overlive asks me if I’d rather drink the clear water or the brown water, but just assumes I’m ok with consuming random drugs.
To further break the player’s immersion within Overlive, the combat situations don’t always fit with the location the protagonist is currently in. Plenty of times I was exploring an abandoned apartment building, when a zombie would hobble out of a closet and trigger a combat event that had me suddenly outside in a parking lot. This sort of felt like the developer forgot to remove the placeholder combat backdrops when they released the game.
One aspect of Overlive that I thought was neat was the mental health status bar. Similar to the health meter, the psyche meter shows players their character’s current mental health. Being exposed to gruesome scenes, or committing inhumane acts of violence will deplete the mental health of the protagonist, sometimes even permanently lowering the maximum statistic, simulating extreme mental damage. While my character did have his mental health reduced through the game, I noticed no side effects, even though the game mentioned there would be some negative side effects to having a diminished mental state.
Overlive is not a game for everyone. In fact, it isn’t much of a game at all. A few interactive sequences where the player taps or swipes, and lots of reading are in store for anyone interested enough in yet another zombie apocalypse adventure story.