Developed and Published by Wolfire Games
Released on October 16, 2017
Available on PC
Priced at $29.99
Overgrowth is a 3D action game, taking the player into a pre-industrial world where anthropomorphized animals not only thrive but have an established racial hierarchy. You control Turner, a rabbit with a rough past, who firmly wields a stubborn tendency to want to do things by himself. Using your refined skills in combat, you (as Turner) fight your way through bandit dogs, literal rats, and high ranking cats of power. There is a great deal that Overgrowth gets right, but its frequently dampened by what they fall short on.
The game alternates between cutscenes, combat, and climbing, giving the player enough lore and logic to be jumping alone into a dog inhabited fortress by yourself. Turner's mannerisms felt somewhat childish at times, frequently scoffing at others underestimating his power, or brooding over the preference to fight alone. The story, while nothing incredible, was good enough to make me want to see what happens next.
The game is a sequel to the developer's previous title, Legaru. After the dramatic events of Legaru, Turner is now looking to settle down in a quiet village, only to discover it is frequently ransacked by slavers. While all he wants is some peace and quiet, he knows that won't be achievable until he takes care of this problem. Begrudgingly accepting their pleas for help is the first of many instances where the protagonist was essentially the rabbit embodiment of Red Foreman, from That 70s Show. Of course, you discover the slavers are part of a larger organization, who happens to be part of an even larger one. Following the metaphorical turtles all the way down.
The combat itself is where the game shines the strongest. It primarily operates from the mouse buttons. Holding the left mouse button would have you attack your target in a series of kicks while holding the right button would put you in a defensive stance, either blocking attacks or countering them with grapples and throws to temporarily disable the target. Simple and fluid, being able to manipulate the battlefield with easy to use controls made for exciting fights. The open nature of each mission allowed you to tackle the objective however you felt best. In levels where the enemies are few and far between, I enjoyed sneaking up on them one at a time for stealth takedowns. Other times, it was an all-out brawl between me and a horde of bad guys. When I would stand alone in success from these adverse odds, it made me feel powerful and confident. Maybe Turner had some reason to be so full of himself, after all.
As the story progressed, so did the variety of those who thought they could defeat me. What started as dogs gradually became rats, wolves, cats, and even other rabbits. The ranks amongst these races were easy to distinguish, whether it was how they commanded their squad, the clothing they wore, or their strength in combat. The established order within these races made the world feel more real, while still allowing diversity in combat. This is expanded upon even more as you progressed and discovered how certain animal types "knew their place" with the others. In the beginning, it seemed that dogs were the big and powerful force in control. In reality, they are just the goons under command of the cats. When reflected on, the world building had to be what I would appreciate the most during my time playing, even if it didn't stand out initially.
As good as the combat and the world it took place in was, it couldn't hide the many moments where the game was not only unenjoyable, but sometimes just disappointing. Engaging combat could easily be replaced with cheap spam, non-combat controls were wild and unwieldy, and the ending... we'll get to that.
Every so often, the goal of the level was not to take out the bad guys, but to scale whatever tall and dangerous platform was relevant to the story. There was nothing wrong with the level design itself. I'd go as far to say that they were well made. The problem is the controls. Being a rabbit, it makes sense to have the mad hops that you do. But jumping did not feel like that of a rabbit, it more closely resembled that of a drunken superhero. With enough momentum, you could jump leaps and bounds over but the tallest of walls and buildings. As cool as it sounds, it was too much to try and manage. If I wasn't careful I would end up a good 50 meters away from the intended landing point. This also meant that climbing the platform levels would result in about 10 to 20 falls to my death for every particularly challenging ledge. It wasn't long before I grew sick of falling flat due to controlling like a fish in a cannon.
The brightly shining combat could easily be eclipsed by pressing 2 buttons, jump then attack. When in the air, the attack button (left mouse click) would activate a 2 footed dropkick. This move is by far the most powerful move in the game, capable of taking out even the hardest of bosses in 2 or 3 kicks, while also knocking them down and disarming them of their weapon. This maneuver became increasingly tempting as the battles became more risky, like when a large dog wielding a 3-foot butchers knife comes swinging at you. Eventually, I would resort to running in circles, jump kicking the enemies repeatedly. This fighting style further accented the wonky gravity mentioned before, since often times doing this launched me farther than the distance Peyton Manning could throw a football.
Both of these issues I could overlook. While they were problematic, they didn't keep me from playing further. It wasn't until the game's ending did it make me want to stop playing. Convenient, if you think about it.
STORY SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
The ending was the only downside that I would consider genuinely upsetting. Nailing that conclusion to an immersive story can be difficult, and many games don't quite capture that to its best potential. Overgrowth ended, but it was missing an ending. After following the slave trade all the way to the top, you are trapped as a slave yourself to the feline empire. Using your cool guy awesomeness you manage to stage a large-scale breakout, allowing you and a number of other slave rabbits to escape. The others tell you of a special safe haven for your kind, where you have to scale to the top and defeat the chief that is denying them refuge. The end. The cats are still in power, the slave trade still active, and Turner leaves the safe haven because "as long as I am here, you are not safe."
The game's definition of resolution consists of saving 3 other rabbits. A hard idea to accept, given you had to fight (and kill) at least 6 rabbits in order to get to this point. I hadn't felt this cheated from an ending since id Software's 2011 title, RAGE.
SPOILERS END HERE
The discontent for these shortcomings was amplified by the game's long time in development. Overgrowth was announced in late 2008 and would spend 9 years in development before its release in later 2017. This lengthy time frame would cause the developer's community to make jokes about never actually releasing.
I would be remiss if I did not make it clear that the development team has largely consisted of 1 to 2 people at a time. Small studios can't churn out quality games at the same rate as a large scale company, and evidence of their extended efforts can be seen in many aspects of the game. Despite this, I couldn't help but wonder how they can work on the game for this long without addressing the seemingly apparent issues it has.
The remarkably enjoyable aspects of Overgrowth stood in stark contrast with its conspicuous flaws. This made it difficult to rate, at first. How would one compare the joy of fresh fruit to the disgust of a rotten vegetable? Though after much consideration, I have decided to rate the game as follows.
Ranking slightly above average, Overgrowth manages to establish itself as a unique and interesting game. The creative combat and well-thought world will remain with me in memory, even if dampened by weird physics and abrupt endings. If a friend was to ask me about Overgrowth, I would recommend they try it next time it goes on sale, though not before a disclaimer or two.
Disclaimer: A review copy of Overgrowth was provided for the purpose of this review