Hands on: Overruled! (PC) early access
Overruled! is a multiplayer game to its core, and if you can play against three other people you should find yourself having an enjoyable, chaotic time – increased by a huge factor if you can get enough people together for a local session.
In the words of another attendee at 2012′s Evolve conference, AJ Grand-Sutton “keeps it real”. After a day of formal presentations by the likes of Oculus Rift’s Palmer Luckey and Microsoft’s Rob Stevens, Grand-Sutton’s account of leaving a larger company to start indie developer Dlala Studio was coloured with humour, stories about working with no budget, and a few unexpected f-bombs.
That feeling of going against the established grain comes across very strongly with Overruled!, Dlala’s second title now released via Steam early access. An anarchic four-player arena battler, aesthetically your first thought may draw comparisons with the Smash Bros series, but Overruled! is very much its own game.
Initially picking a character from the choice of toys available (including a fallen superhero, action movie figure, and naked clown with an appropriately positioned black censor bar) and an arena (with five currently available), you are then thrown into a round of… Well, chaos.
The point is that, while Overruled! looks like an arena battler, it is actually six different and changing gametypes, so what may start as a straightforward deathmatch can be interupted when it becomes a point-to-point race; before that becomes king of the hill and so on. The arenas are also part maze, useful for the other three game modes – swag-bag (holding an item to score points, thus meaning you should run to avoid being robbed), fire-tag (where one player is on fire and not gaining any points, but meleeing will pass it on), and smash-and-grab (coins suddenly appear littering the arena, collected for points – and hitting other players makes them drop theirs too).
Random cards appear for players to collect and use on command, allowing some control over which gametypes get played – and variant rules. These apply tweaks to the current game, spanning from the mundane of score adjustments to the game-mechanic altering of tag-teams.
Keeping a sense of awareness is necessary at all times – if other players are getting involved in brawls then switching to a race may help you gain more points; if another player has the swag-bag then dropping the scoring will cut their advantage, and so on.
Of course, you may not want these to be played against you, which is where the game’s namesake card comes in – with an Over Ruled card you can cancel a change at the moment it is played.
With four players all brawling, reacting on the fly to changing game-types, and playing cards in their favour constantly it is, I repeat, chaos – in the best possible way, of course. But emphasis does have to be placed on four.
A game can be played with two people, but this feels quite empty – the arenas are sized for more, and the intended frenzy of changing game-types slows to one-on-one contests, with controls intended for big moves more than focused duels.
It is also when you have the most time to be unforgiving of the game’s polish – the lack of precise animation and fine combat are less critical when trying to double-jump to safety with the swag-bag from three other, brawling competitors; but will stand out more when there is less distraction and more desire for skill overcoming an equal opponent.
With three people the game wakes up considerably, but it is when a game is filled with four players that it comes into its own – requiring constant action to keep ahead of the field.
Naturally, playing the game in local multiplayer is the ideal – it feels perfectly placed as a party game with friends, giving opportunities for teasing and elbow-jostling… And this is how the game was demonstrated at Rezzed earlier in the year, with a 10-week old version of the game fully playable albeit without some polish now added. At the time, the team claimed development was slowed due to sessions being played – and Dlala team members were quick to jump in and join the public at the show.
With the current release though, online play is likely to get the most full games, and even across the distance of the internet four people can create satisfying levels of anarchy. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that with the game so newly released (and, it should be emphasised, not yet completed) the playerbase is still low, with Grand-Sutton setting up ways of players finding each other; and joining the Overruled! group is also a good way to find other people playing.
There is a single player challenge mode – although in this initial release it only consists of six challenges for one character, with little indication of what is required to hit the bronze, silver or gold awards. As it currently stands it is little more than a tutorial for basic controls, although has the potential to expand into something revealing deeper uses of the game’s mechanics.
However, Overruled! is a multiplayer game to its core, and if you can play against three other people you should find yourself having an enjoyable, chaotic time – increased by a huge factor if you can get enough people together for a local session. It is still in development, so things may change – whether this might involve further game types and rules, or general polish, or simply the unfinished single player being completed remains to be seen.