There’s a telling line spoken by Rose – one of the maidens the Overlord takes into his harem – a few hours into Raising Hell. “You look like run-of-the-mill dungeon fodder,” she says – which is gutsy considering she’s being confronted by a seven-foot-tall axe-wielding maniac with a loyal army of goblins. However, she’s right – on the surface, Overlord smacks of familiarity and cliche – dwarves, elves, magic, fantasy environments…it’s all here. Yet then she continues, saying, “But you surprised me.” It might surprise you too. The reason it might surprise you is not because of the ‘choose how evil you want to be’ mechanic, because that amounts to little more than deciding whether you should or shouldn’t smack innocents in the face with your axe. It’s because of the goblins – or ‘minions’, as the game has it.
Overlord: Raising Hell, a spruced-up version of last year’s PC/360 game, casts you as the very spirit of evil and tasks you to beat down your enemies and perform terrible deeds to make people fear and worship you. To do all this, you’re handed control of a group of minions. These are split into four colour-coded gangs: Browns are good at fighting, Reds can put out blazes and lob fireballs, Greens can absorb the fogs of poisonous gas that litter the landscape and Blues can swim and, if they make it to their fallen brethren quickly enough, revive recently-killed minions.
You control your gang of troops with the right stick. So, for instance, you can send them over to a baddie and let them beat him to death while you stand at a distance and watch without so much as tarnishing your weapon. Or you might come across a stretch of water which your minions (Blues aside) will drown in as soon as they touch – but there will most likely be a handy tree branch bridging the gap for them to scurry over. But keeping them together in one big group isn’t the way to get the most out of them. You’ll need to split them up. You can select which colour of beastie you want, then send them off. So if you’re facing a ruck with multiple enemies, you can select Reds and send them to higher ground to rain fireballs down on your foes (by ordering them to hold position), before sending the Browns in to lead the assault. A quick button tap will bring them all back together into one squad. Easy. It’s when you start trying to split a group into individual units that it all gets fiddly.
Let’s take the boss battle in the dungeons of Castle Spree. It’s against a giant, enemy-spawning eyeball, and to either side of said eyeball are two raised areas. So to get Reds onto both areas to fling fireballs from a safe vantage point, you’ve got to send them all over to one place and root them to the spot. Then you have to press the “remove unit” button repeatedly until you’ve detached enough minions from their party. Then you direct the splinter group to the other raised area and tell them to hold position again. All the while, you’ve got to keep an eye on the rest of your gang and ensure they’re not being battered to bits, before sending another mob of them off to grab the pile of clothes (no, honestly) that the eyeball is guarding. A number floats over the pile to indicate how many minions are required to carry it (the same applies in other instances too, for example to indicate how many are needed to break down a door or move a route-blocking pillar).
Not got enough? You’d best leg it round the corner and get some more from the spawning pits. Of course, you’ll come back only to find half the minions you’d left behind to fight are now dead, and you’ve got to go back again. Gnnngh. You’re not helped by the fact the Overlord himself is, for a bloke the size of a small country, feeble when it comes to fighting. He can thwack people with his sword or axe, but he can’t defend himself and he’s about as fast as an ox with broken legs. He can fire magic, but it’s not long until you run out and have to sacrifice minions at the spawning pits to gain more.