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Overlord: Raising Hell Review

To call Overlord: Raising Hell an evil game is akin to saying (with a straight face) that Dr. Evil is, in fact, Satan incarnate. Much like Austin Powers’ nemesis is a tongue-in-cheek satire of every known supervillain stereotype, the Overlord in Codemasters’ new PS3 game can only be taken about as seriously as Mr. Bigglesworth. In short: he’s a farce. Fortunately, as intentionally riotous as the main character may be, the gameplay itself in the new PS3 game has found some very serious improvements compared to its Xbox 360 kin. That’s not to say Overlord: Raising Hell has been perfected; the game in fact still has some flaws. But a couple of the biggest complaints have been fixed this time around, making for a Hell-raising good time.

Developers have for years combined the action and role-playing genres, resulting in the oh-so-creatively named “action RPG.” With Overlord: Raising Hell, however, Codemasters has added yet another genre to the mix, that of the real-time strategy (RTS) game. The result can be a bit heavy on the micromanagement, but the added complexity offers a mix of gameplay styles that you don’t often find in a single box.

Overlord puts you in the role of a recently awakened evil ruler whose tower and empire has crumbled during his slumber. Aggravated by these turn of events, the Overlord must reclaim his empire, rebuild his tower, score a mistress, destroy the heroes and ultimately “wrong” all that has gone right. To complete this quest, the Overlord assembles an army of Gremlin-like Minions broken into four different classes: browns, or foot soldiers; reds, who can survive and control fire; greens, who can act as invisible assassins; and blues, who can survive and control water. Once assembled, the Overlord can go into battle with these Minions at his feet and doing his bidding. Why get your hands dirty when you can have these little dudes do it for you? That’s the premise of the game, and it can be wildly entertaining.

Like an RTS Overlord: Raising Hell lets players command these minions in armies of various sizes and compositions based upon their progress in the game. Spawning more minions isn’t the result of a standard resource-mining process, though; you do so by using the life force accumulated by killing various creatures, like poor fluffy sheep. Once spawned, these armies can then be grouped and assigned to various tasks or enemies, and like any basic RTS, the armies must be strategically managed for the most effective battle tactics.

Two problems plagued the original Xbox 360 version of Overlord, namely a fixed camera and the lack of a mini-map when wandering the land. To its credit, Codemasters has fixed these issues for the PlayStation 3 release, and it has included all the downloadable content released so far for the Xbox 360 (new maps, new multiplayer modes and new forgeable armor and weapons). Overlord: Raising Hell also includes new “Abyss” levels, although for all intents and purposes, these just amount to evil-skinned versions of each stage in the core game.

These changes are definitely welcome, and the fact that they’ve been made to an already-entertaining game should rank Raising Hell higher than the original. Normally that would be the case. The problem is, there are still some lingering issues, and for a one-year-old game, they’re a bit less forgivable this time around. For starters, Overlord: Raising Hell is built on the premise of bossing minions around, but it takes far too long to gain access to all four types and thus maximize your bossiness. Second, the objectives can sometimes feel amorphous or mysterious, almost as though they’ve been revealed too early (Oblivion also suffered from this at times, depending on how much you explored). Third, the pathfinding seems to have been improved slightly over the Xbox 360 version, but minions still require a bit too much micromanaging in order to keep them from walking through certain lethal areas. And fourth, although the mini-map helps immensely in navigating the world, the amount of backtracking is still too high for our tastes.

The one-year-old issue also rears its head when it comes to the game’s graphics, which are filled with personality but definitely show their age, particularly on the HD-friendly PS3. Ironically, the audio has received a serious upgrade, as it now supports 7.1 sound, but the percentage of gamers who can actually take advantage of this update are arguably fewer in number than those who would have appreciated a graphical upgrade. A confusing decision, to be sure.

Still, Overlord: Raising Hell is a fun game, particularly for those who’ve not yet had a chance to boss around their minions. In some respects it’s like having a full army of Darklings from The Darkness, but with even more comedic tendencies. However, while the improvements to the camera angle and the addition of a mini-map are nice, we expected Codemasters to come up with something a bit more after a year of tweaking. As it is, the improvements feel like little more than crutches to cover up gameplay issues that persist 12 months after the original game’s release. If you own a PS3 and want to boss around some minions, the amount of content packed on the disk is worth a purchase — just not until the game joins the PS3’s Greatest Hits program.

Check Amazon’s prices for Overlord: Raising Hell on PS3

Score: 7.8
There’s a nice amount of content, but the updates do little more than gloss over lingering issues, and choosing to upgrade the audio over the graphics is just plain puzzling.

— Jonas Allen

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