Overload, if anything, is a love letter to fans of Descent. I recall losing several afternoons playing Descent back in the mid-90s on my stepfather’s PC, basking in its beauty and its fast-paced fluidity. There’s been a few attempts since that try to pull off that concept, but none of them have really ever come close. Overload, on the other hand, is a sensational modern take on the shoot and escape sci-fi structure, and although it isn’t entirely without fault, it’s certainly an experience that I can easily recommend. Especially if you enjoyed its inspiration.
The game throws you into the role of a character that’s just awoken from cryogenic stasis, with no recollection of your past. Immediately, a ship’s AI informs you that there are colonies in danger, and that you’re the only one that can save them from annihilation. The game sports a few cutscenes and some voice work to carry the story along, but in truth, I was far too busy concentrating on its action-packed gameplay to pay it much attention. Further to that, there’s a robust suite of modes for curious fans to soak up and enjoy.
We’ll get to that shortly. First, I want to tackle the game’s fundamentals. Now, moving back to its likeliness to Descent, Overload is very much a game that feels like a true sequel, despite being a spiritual successor. The HUD looks the same, the mission setup looks the same, the combat feels the same, the handling feels the same, the UI looks the same, and pretty much everything else follows suit. Though, don’t be fooled into passing this off as a mere clone of something great, because Overload serves a greater purpose than that of a cheap cash-cow.
It’s clear that the developer has a passion for the concept, and that’s something that shines throughout the majority of play. It helps, of course, that they’re the creators of the classic, so the pedigree is already present.The crux of play has you moving from location to location, blasting pretty much anything that sets its sights on you. It turns out that the robots that were crafted to mine and defend these colonies have turned rogue, and it falls to you to lay them to waste. Whilst it looks difficult on paper, it’s very simple to pick up on.
Movement is tethered to the left stick, with aiming and alignment tied to the right stick. Players can also slide up and down through the use of LB and LT, respectively. Outside of that, a 90 degree turn to the left or the to the right is mapped (again, respectively) to the X button and the A button. Your primary weapon can be utilized through hitting RT, with secondary weaponry tied to RB. Cycling through your primary weapon pool is as easy as tapping the B button, with the Y button saved for cycling through your secondary weaponry.
Some useful functions can be found elsewhere; such as pressing the right stick for a flare, pressing the left stick for a boost, toggling a headlight with the upper D-Pad, or even calling out for help through pressing left on the D-Pad. The latter of which sees a small holo-guide spawning to aid you through the game’s complex labyrinth-like levels. It’s all very easy to understand, and come the end of your first level, you’ll be maneuvering through the game like a champion. Overload’s accessibility doesn’t end there, there’s several options to tweak.
Not only can you remap the controls, but added extras such as altering the camera shake, changing the UI’s color, right up to adjusting the reticle display, is all present and accounted for. Safe to say that you’ll find no trouble in getting its settings inline with your preferences. The game’s menus remain clean and concise. Booting up the game will take you to the main menu, and here you’ll find a band of options to take to; campaign, challenge mode, and multiplayer. Let’s start with the campaign, seeing as we’ve already touched upon it above.
Overload wastes no time at getting you into the thick of it. You’ll typically begin each level at a starting point, and must navigate its tightly structured environments in search of security clearance keys. These keys grant you access to locked-off areas of each map, and following this method of play, you’ll gradually find a reactor core that you’ll need to destroy before making your escape. Along the way, a wide range of enemies will be gunning for your blood. These foes, although lacking in situational awareness, can indeed prove to be challenging.
There’s a decent variation of enemies to take on, many of which house their own unique movement and attack patterns. It’s a shame, then, that they can be quite daft. Now, as alluded to above, their situational awareness is quite poor. Several times I was able to pop shots off at my enemy without them even seeing me, nor acknowledging that they were under fire. Thankfully this is an infrequent occurrence, but when it happens, it does make a habit of breaking immersion. Hopefully the devs can adjust this in a post-launch patch.
The game starts out quite easy, but that gradual climb in difficulty is indeed present. I found myself breezing through the first few levels with ease, before the game upped the ante and truly put me in my place. It mostly does this by throwing more at you, rather than relying on new tricks and traits. That’s not a negativity by any means. In fact, given that that’s exactly how Descent worked, I rather relished the structure. There’s the occasional boss encounter to be mindful of, and these nasty bots will certainly give you a good run for your money.
They tend to be tankier, larger versions of their grunt-like counterparts, and are capable of dispensing attacks at an alarmingly swift rate. When all is said and done, there’s no knocking the game for its pool of enemies outside of their questionable behavior. They’re all tough, and they’re all fairly resilient. It pays off to get to know your enemy; how they shoot, what they shoot, and whether or not they’ll kamikaze. One thing is certain throughout, and that’s that you’ll need good reflexes and a keen eye to make it through Overload in one piece.
There’s some variation to be found in the game’s mission structure too. For instance, in one level you’ll need to destroy all of its bots, whereas in another, you’ll need to nuke a boss of some form. Though, for the most part, you’ll be wiping out a reactor and then making a speedy exit before the facility explodes. It’s a good thing then, that the game is chock-full of pick-ups, weaponry, and upgrades. Each and every map is absolutely littered with orbs of varying color and design that will improve your output and maintain your ship’s sturdiness.
The bulk of these orbs will simply bolster your energy and armor levels, which is imperative for success. That said, there are indeed other pick-ups that are usually tucked away in some hard to reach (or hard to see) places. Though perhaps more importantly, it’s the tools of destruction that you’ll be seeking out the most, and Overload does not hold back. There’s a plethora of unique weapons to enjoy, both primary and secondary. They all look the part, they all have their own distinct pros and cons, and above all, they all feel great to utilize.
Upgrade points are scattered across each map, and by picking these up, you’ll be able to improve your stats in one form or another. Upgrades can be distributed across a range of factors, from your weaponry, right up to your ship. It’s not a particularly in-depth system by any means, but it’s nice to see some sense of added progression thrown into the mix. Nevertheless, that’s the core structure of play. You’ll load in, pick up goodies, blast your foes to smithereens, search for access keys, fulfill your objective, and haul ass like never before.
The game’s handling is absolutely sublime across all aspects of play. Overload requires a good degree of spatial awareness. You’ll constantly need to bob and weave through enemy fire and tight spaces, oftentimes at once. Seriously, Overload rarely gives you an easy ride once the game’s difficulty rises. It’s a good job then that the game’s responsiveness is absolutely on point. The control feedback is exceptional and fluid throughout, meaning that the majority of deaths and mistakes are usually down to player error above anything else.
Much to be expected, the game is full of hidden areas. It pays off to explore your surroundings in order to maximize your chances of finding all of its secrets. When you reach a level’s end, there’s a stat screen that will tell you if you missed anything. So I suppose there’s some replay value on that front, as far as the campaign is concerned. Unfortunately, despite how much I’ve loved played Overload, there’s some unavoidable issues to be mindful of. First and foremost, screen tearing is present, and it can be quite persistent.
It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but I would be lying if I said that these frequent distractions didn’t hinder my enjoyment a small amount. Outside of that, Overload can feel quite repetitive before long. Whilst it’s nonstop action from beginning to end, there’s only so many ships you can destroy before that samey-samey feeling starts to sink in. Still, for fans of the concept, this is likely going to be easy to overlook. I only wish that there was a bit more variation to the fields of play to keep things fresh and interesting throughout.
When you’re done with the campaign, there’s still more to do. Challenge mode offers two additional modes of its own; Infinite, and Countdown. There’s several maps to take to for each, adding another layer of replay value as a result. These are more arcade-like than the campaign itself, but do prove to be quite fun when you’re looking for some short-burst action. Then, there’s the game’s multiplayer. Overload supports cross-play functionality, meaning that you’ll have the option of being pit against players from other platforms.
There’s a few modes to enjoy here, and although they don’t step beyond the realm of expectation, they’re quite fun all the same. Here, you can customize your loadout, apply modifiers, and alter your appearance. It’s standard stuff really, but then, it didn’t need to be anything more than what it is. When all is said and done, Overload brings the goods. There’s several hours worth of fun to be had here, and despite its repetition and its technical issues, you’re unlikely to find a game that replicates the excitement of Descent any better than this.
I can only commend the game game for its visual and audio design. Whilst the levels don’t really look all that distinct alongside one another, there’s no denying the game of its excellent presentation. There’s a good amount of sharp detail running through Overload, with great lighting, epic ship models, and solid level structure holding it all together. I can extend the same level of appreciation to the game’s audio too, being that it sounds as good as it looks; from the weighty and varied shots of each weapon, up to stellar soundtrack.
The bottom line in all of this? That six-degrees-of-freedom concept is laid out very well here. There’s something particularly gratifying about outmaneuvering enemy fire and bobbing and weaving around tight structures, at the same times as laying waste to the game’s respectable variation of foes. Whilst its issues do pull it back a bit, there’s no denying that Overload is a great game. Do I think that this formula will be as attractive over twenty years since its conception? Maybe not so much, but I would certainly encourage an investment.
Overload is a wonderful throwback that feels more like a true sequel to Descent than that of a spiritual successor. The content-rich gameplay is as constantly hectic as its inspiration’s gameplay, complete with tight and responsive feedback, and a host of varied upgrades and unique weaponry to utilize. That being said, the developer would do well to swiftly address the game’s rather distracting performance issues.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.