I’d been tracking Finji’s Overland for a while.

It’s combination of Xcom-like tactics, dire Last of Us setting, and Invisible Inc. style roguelike progression isn’t just in my wheel house, but in my house-house. It’s currently in alpha on Itch.io for twenty dollars and I somehow had missed it being there. When I saw it, I pounced.  

Like a  relationship with another person, mine with Overland swung like a pendulum between indifference, joy, disappointment, and love.  Upon first blush it was not as tactically rich as I would like, after coming off of genre-peers like Darkest Dungeon and the aforementioned Invisble Inc. It’s flippant writing is most certainly at odds with the gritty circumstances in which it places you. It’s resource management is limited.  Perhaps it just wasn’t what I was expecting – I was feeling shades of Hitman Go where I wasn’t expecting to.

Then I hit “that run.”

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Let’s back up a bit.  While the newest incarnations of XCom are some of my favorite games of recent memory, I never had the emotional pull that so many have when they lose a soldier. I’d read so many reviews and articles describing that sensation, of losing “Garrett” or “Sarah” late in the campaign.  If I did lose somebody, sure, I’d miss that they could dash across the board and fuck up a bunch of aliens, but so could a lot of my units.  I’d be more upset that I’d miss their performance, that their loss could directly contribute to the Xcom fail-state death spiral. In retrospect, I don’t think I’d ever role-played a game until now.

My troupe in Overland had already been through a lot. They were out of fuel. It was dark, raining, and they had nothing to heal Frank. Frank was an ex-con, who through his description revealed that “he kinda likes all this shit.” Alice and George never felt comfortable with him but were in no place to complain.

They’d spotted a detour that showed signs of life and might bring somebody new into the fold. It seemed like the only way to make sure they had enough bodies to keep going, even though the alternative was fuel to extend their ill-fated road trip.

Alice, the de facto leader of the band hopped out of the car. She couldn’t see too far in the dark, but scouted far enough ahead to detect an alien presence and shout for backup. The ground shuttered and more of the pod-like creatures crawled up from the soil.  Whoever was there, alone in the dark, needed to be found quickly.

Frank, still injured, was the first to spot their new companion. It was a dog.  Alice didn’t know there were still dogs in these parts – she thought the aliens would have eaten them all by now.  It had been such a long road with no hope and no love, but maybe the dog could change that.

She looked over her shoulder to the back seat at Frank. Injured Frank. Ex-con Frank. Liability Frank.

 

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The pod creatures outnumbered the crew three to one and were closing on the party. They didn’t have much time left. The party narrowly reached the car and piled in, the dog not far behind.  Two monsters were gaining when their new friend reached the car. But he couldn’t get in. That’s when it hit me. Sure, they had four seats in the car, but their equipment, rations, and sleeping bags took up the fourth seat. They needed those supplies to keep the party alive. A choice needed to be made. Four people, three seats.

Alice could hear the dog barking from outside of the car. She saw its grey fur turn black in the rain. She had just moments to make the hardest decision of her life. She looked over her shoulder to the back seat at Frank. Injured Frank. Ex-con frank. Liability Frank.

“Get out.”

And so they left. Alice, George, and Dog. They could still hear Frank’s screams in the distance over their sputtering motor as they drove away. This would change Alice forever. In the post-apocalypse, we all need something to hang on to, even if it means sacrifice.

This is when I fell for Overland. It’s a simple game.  From its impressionistic rendering to its thin combat, it keeps a narrow scope. But I think it’s better for that. It trades mechanics for your ability to imprint upon your party and their plight. I don’t know if Alice would have left Frank behind if he was a level eight sniper – I don’t know if I would have let her. Overland’s spartan mechanics might not keep me coming back like other classmates in its genre, but I’ll always remember Alice’s story (everybody died shortly after.)

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