When you’re dealing with giant, robot-like space gods, betrayed by one of their brothers and locked away for all of eternity, who come to seek revenge and destroy all life forms created under their brother’s rule along with their civilisations, there’s very little room for messing things up as far as these types of games go.
Give the player a massive, powerful monster/robot with a few interesting but simple to execute attacks, add some explosions and destructibility to the buildings, and let them loose in an area populated with aforementioned buildings; job done, go home, drink tea. Somehow, Space Overlords meets all of these requirements, and fails on seemingly basic game development principles to deliver a cohesive and consistent user experience, whose failings extend into most of the gameplay.
Space Overlord is a derivative of other destruction-based games such as the Rampage series and its later inspirations such as The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Desctruction amongst others. As your chosen Overlord, you descend onto planets to erase all traces of enemy life from them. You’re also required to destroy all of the buildings, barracks, turrets, and other structures. This plays out in a style that is very similar to Super Mario Galaxy, where you roam around and are able to see around the curvature of the planet. Very little stands in your way towards achieving your goal, which should be a good thing that empowers the Rampage-inspired feelings of power and the momentum of destruction you accrue during your playthrough, but the amount of resistance that meets you is underwhelming even by these standards. There’s also four different kinds of power-ups: strength, shield, speed and super. All of the power-ups make the game far easier than it already was, giving you overpowered damage and speed boosts that generally just let you lay waste to a level and build up enough points to use the same powerup again in succession, to continue accumulating overpowered status. This lack of challenge is further perpetuated by the presence of game-breaking bugs/exploits which make the game easier still.
There’s two basic attacks for your Overlord; X performs one, whilst A performs the other. Apparently, the difference between the two resides in their projected height, but I’ve yet to encounter a situation where either fails to connect with an enemy or building, or where an advantage is found with one or the other. After realising this, I simply went to randomly switching between the two, which led me to discovering the ultimate game-breaking part of the game: animation-cancelling with hitboxes still activating. If you alternate between both attacks very quickly, you can cancel your first attack with the introduction of a second, and interrupt the second with an introduction of a third and so on, as long as you alternate between X and A presses. When you alternate very quickly between these states, your hitbox still activates, and you still cause damage on anything in the affected area. If you tap either button in isolation, the attack animations need to play out before their cooldown timer activates thus allowing a successive attack in the chain to be performed.
The problem with this is that Space Overlords was far too easy to begin with. You can roam around the level at full speed, and generally speaking nothing will ever bring you below 80% health, and even that’s only when you get careless and don’t pay attention to chasing enemies or engaging turrets from a smart angle (i.e head on). With the introduction of this ultimate combo breaker bug I was able to perform with a 100% recreation rate, and the game became laughably easy to beat. Things such as attacking a boss causes them to flinch, and having infinite attacks alternating quickly means they have no chance of recovering – and it’s just a case of button mashing until they keel over in defeat. To give a fair and honest review, I considered this game-breaking bug non-existent (it may even be patched so that would be unfair if such a fix was in progress), and I continued to play the game without using it.
This is however where I’m unable to shy too much away from the bug I mentioned above, because unfortunately, most of Space Overlord‘s content is bug-riddled and functions poorly. After what set me up with quite modest expectations for a game, that I hadn’t become too excited at the prospect of playing after looking at the video/screenshots of gameplay, the main menu lifted my spirits somewhat with a fairly decent soundtrack. With heavy synth high-drive/pumping tracks playing the in the background, things were looking more optimistic for what kind of experience I could be in for. The music’s impression wouldn’t last long however, as it quickly became repetitive and sank into nothingness as the rest of the game’s issues took centre-stage.
Before starting a new game, I retreated to the options menu, to make sure there weren’t any options I wanted to modify before starting, I decided to lower the music levels a bit since I’d already predicted their repetitive nature by this point, and here’s where we encounter another bug; changing any audio levels and saving the changes, will mute the music when you return to the main menu. On starting a new game, it becomes blatantly obvious from the character select screen which Overlord has the best attributes. If you do decide to give the game a try, you’ll most likely balance out the graphs and come to the same conclusion as I did: there’s an easy option to make here with the blue/white Overlord. I then tried to absorb as much of the poorly presented narrative as possible that is quite simply just your chosen Overlord on the left, and character(s) on the right bouncing text dialogue back and forth with the type and quality of music you expect from the game at this point repeating in the background. Nothing too engaging yet, but these types of games are known for their B-Movie style narratives, and it’s the gameplay we come for. After a brief tutorial which can be summarised by you moving your Overlord north into a node that explains to you how to move (bit too late for that now!), you swiftly move onto the main game.
So you choose your first galaxy, and you enter your first planet to destroy. Your Overlord drops down from orbit, and smashes into the ground with an almighty crash, particles spew forth from the landing zone; not bad. Then we have a cinematic camera showing their front perspective, and the camera just awkwardly stares at them for a far too long 5+ seconds. What are waiting for, loading assets? I just saw all the objects and enemies on my entry; the game’s clearly ready to go, so what are we waiting around for? Dramatic animation-less poses? It’s frustrating because the little fun Space Overlords did give me for a few hours has this needless barrier at the start of each level. It takes far too long to get into the action, and quick entry points to engage with gameplay should be an important aspect for games of this type. Alongside enemies, some planets contain a few environmental hazards that either slowly deplete your health (and I mean slowly!), stop you attacking (which can be countered by entering the zone using the attack-exploit I mentioned), and one that slows your movement.
I will admit that I did have a little bit of fun inbetween all of Space Overlord‘s bugs and glitches. Smashing through small buildings at high speeds, and obliterating floating cities and enemies had a certain appeal that was definitely felt. It’s just a shame that this is all overshadowed by bad game design choices, and contradictory ones at its worst. I never used the dash ability, because it was far easier to use the speed powerup and be able to control my movement a lot more, and cover more terrain at greater speeds. Since powerup points aren’t an issue as you’re steamrolling entire cities in seconds, anything like dashing or using your super attack (Y button) is rendered obsolete, as better alternatives exist, or more functional ones. I never used my super attacks beyond the first few experimentations with it, and I never dashed beyond the tutorial. What the game becomes at its most repetitive point of muscle memory, is travelling around at high speeds, executing the alternating infinite-attack-combo exploit, and constantly re-activating your strength powerup. I never used any other combination of gameplay choices than those, as this was the most effective and quickest way of clearing levels. Even without the attack exploit I said I wouldn’t mention again, the game is still very auto-piloted at the point you work this routine out for yourself.
I got excited when I saw there was a level editor; as a game designer I’m a sucker for them. Unfortunately the menu bugs out and my controller is able to move my highlighted cursor off screen leaving me unsure as to where it’s gone. Also when you choose an option, it goes off to a random stage of the creation process of the planet, then pressing B to cancel sometimes takes you a step back, sometimes kicks you out of the level editor completely and back to the main menu. Eventually I gave up and used my mouse. After I finished choosing the texture, terrain, atmosphere and ocean for my planet, I was able to name it and populate it with units and buildings. The process was fun, and was a simple and intuitive way of designing the level. By rotating the planet around a fixed point, you just place your objects down on the centre of the screen; a very straight-forward and approachable method for creating and populating your planet.
Unfortunately once you save your planet, if you leave the level editor menu and return, your planet has disappeared, or has reset itself to the default values. This means that if you don’t upload your planet onto the community levels page as soon as you’re finished, your creation is usually lost. This isn’t such an issue since it only takes about five minutes to build a level, but it’s something you don’t expect to see in a released game. I also had a similar problem with the single player mode. I would complete all planets in a galaxy and move onto the next one, but when I returned later on, levels I clearly remember completing in an earlier galaxy were now locked alongside others once more. In addition, if you leave single player and go back to the main menu, when you re-entee, the level select menu is blank and you’re unable to exit again to the main menu, meaning you have to hard reset the game. My achievements for clearing levels and completing the game haven’t been unlocking beyond a certain point either. I also wanted to try and play the multiplayer modes, where there were different gametypes promised, but there was no one playing, so it’s something I couldn’t test/review (not a good sign for the game’s community lifespan).
In conclusion, what you have with Space Overlords is an incredibly broken and unresponsive game, where any moment that brings promise or elements of engaging gameplay, is completely overshadowed by its shortcomings and failures. You end up using only a portion of the actions available to your character, and you very much rely on a rinse-and-repeat combination of play that you’ll soon acquire once the most efficient method of playstyle has been found for you. No enemy types or challenges cause you to question your approach and adapt, so it very much becomes muscle memory from the first few levels onwards. The only positive things I can find worth mentioning are the well designed level editor (if it saved your work properly afterwards), clear visual design with a semi-low-poly art style, and the blue beams of light that emit from all remaining units on the level when you only have around 10 or so to destroy (this was a nice design choice that many AAA games forget when dealing with expansive environments). Other than that, there’s little interesting narrative beyond the admittedly epic concept it attempts to capitalise on, and so the game falls into relying on its poor gameplay design and shallow content. Alongside various game-breaking bugs, gameplay exploits, and bad design, it’s an experience I can’t recommend to anyone, especially based on the asking price of £10.99.