Reviewed by Mark Hasley
The world of adventure gaming has been embroiled in a good many controversies lately. There are arguments about the importance of story versus the value of puzzles. There are discussions about the advantages of first person over third person gaming. There is even some concern that certain casual games are sneaking into the world of 'Adventure Gaming'. In all of these discussions it is often suggested that should this concept or that trend continue, the world of adventure games will collapse and Armageddon will be upon us. To make matters worse, along comes a game like Overclocked. This game is not particularly difficult, adds some new elements to adventure games, ignores the assumed importance of other adventure elements, focuses mostly on one gaming element... and is great fun.
Usually, I write first about the story of a game when reviewing it. In this case that concept is extremely important, because Overclocked is simply an incredibly well written story. Note that I did not say it has a well written story, I said that it is one. I write it like this because the entire game is a complex and effectively structured tale, containing three major plotlines each of which is actually followed, developed and then concluded. These plotlines draw the gamer into what is happening and often makes him forget that heís playing a game. He feels that he is part of and involved in what I suppose should be called an interactive novel. As the gamer proceeds, he becomes so involved in the stresses and mysteries of the game that he forgets heís an adventure gamer. He simply wants to continue on to discover who did what to whom, and how the entire mess is going to wind up. For a game, this is a significant accomplishment. It also allows the creators of the game to get away with ignoring a few generally accepted requirements for adventure games. Because as long as he is totally involved in the plot, the gamer may well never notice what is missing.
The word "Overclocked" is a British phrase that refers to "A computer component running at a rate higher than that which is recommended". It takes rather a long to time understand what the title has to do with the game. The story opens with a weirdly effective cutscene showing a semi-naked young woman walking onto a crowded street and firing a pistol into the air. There is no death of any kind here, nor any real violence. The player simply understands that we have a nut-case to deal with, and so there is no real surprise when we are introduced to and begin play as Dr. David McNamara, a former forensic psychiatrist who is called to New York to examine and treat this young woman and the four other young people who have suffered similar breakdowns. McNamara is hired to find out what is going on and how these five are connected. Once these questions are asked, the game is on.
The story unreels as any good novel will. The player also learns that David himself is not necessarily basking in mental health. His marriage is collapsing and his wife has filed for divorce. His lawyer is now playing a vague and perhaps unethical role in that divorce, and neither David nor the gamer is sure whose side the lawyer is on. Also, it seems that David has a mysterious past, complete with an unnatural military record, which might (or might not) be somehow connected with the five cases heís supposed to solve. There is also a very competent and apparently honest police detective wandering around who doesnít necessarily trust David, but who really doesnít trust the cynically mysterious doctor who runs the asylum or the grim and surly nurse with whom David must work. Oh, and the player also discovers that David is broke and drinks too much. Now be honest, isnít that about as many plot elements as youíve ever seen in a game?
Most importantly, no matter how awkwardly I listed these items, they all work in this context. At first nothing makes sense, then glimmers of understanding begin to appear, and at the end almost everything makes sense. The plot of this game is as effectively presented as any game Iíve played.
The interface is fairly basic, but it adds a few new twists to accepted adventure game technique. As mentioned, the player usually takes the role of David McNamara. The word usually is applied here because as each of the five mental patients is interviewed by David, that patient experiences a series of remembrances which help solve the gameís basic "What the heck happened" question. Each time a patient remembers an occurrence, the game player ceases to be David and becomes whichever patient is remembering. The player is still a third person controller, but he now controls, and solves problems for, a different person. Strangely, this transition is never awkward or irksome. It soon becomes an important part of the game and anyone playing it will hurry, or stay up far too late, or do whatever it takes in order to get to the next 'memory'.
The game is of the point & click variety, but has a few new wrinkles that will keep purists happy while dealing with the problem of multi-task clicking. During play, virtually all actions are controlled by left-clicking the mouse on a hotspot. However, that doesnít end the process as it would with older games. With each initial left-click, a series of possible actions are represented by the appearance of several, often animated, icons (the game manual refers to this collection as an "Action Menu"). Then the player again left-clicks on one of these icons and takes one of several actions. For example, if the player clicks on a book he sees on a desk, he may well see a magnifying glass icon that will allow him to read the book. He might also see a hand icon that lets him pick up and keep the book. He could possibly be shown a 'throw' icon that lets him throw the book. He could possibly see a flame icon that would let him burn the book. However, it is also notable that several of these icons appear only once in the game, and that they donít really need any clarification or definition. Itís clear, without explanation, that this icon will have David walk down stairs or open a door, while that icon will order a drink or cross the street. I liked this system because I like old-fashioned point and click games. This technique allows the feeling of those older games, while adding a great many possible actions to any situation. And the entire process is enhanced by the fact that on any screen, all available hotspots can be located by hitting the spacebar.
The game proceeds through the use of animated slideshows. The story is told by movement from one screen to the next, but each screen has lots of movement. Movement from point to point is fairly smooth and is accomplished by (again) left clicking on a hotspot, which is clearly labeled as to where it will take the character. There are also several automatic cutscenes that fit perfectly within the contexts in which they appear.
At the bottom of the widescreen gaming area is a traditional inventory that is accessed by left-clicking an item with the mouse. An item can be examined or read by right-clicking. There are a few times when items must be combined, and this process occurs in the inventory. Again, thereís little here that is new or surprising. Anyone who has played a few games will rapidly understand how to play this one. However there is one warning that should be made here. A very important item in the inventory is a PDA. It is used for phone calls, voice recordings, video recordings and the sending and receiving of messages. The game assumes that the player knows how to use this device. I do not. The game also assumes that the player has used an ATM machine. I have not. If this causes the reader a problem, be assured that a simple phone call to a ten-year-old niece will clarify the process.
The entire gaming process is also facilitated by the constantly changing cursor. Thereís an arrow shape for direction, a magnifying glass shape for examination, a special sort of padlock shape when a scene can be exited, a speech bubble when conversation is possible, and a plain old cursor when the player wants to move a character for no particular reason. As noted above, there are also several special shapes of cursor that will allow a gamer to accomplish a unique task at a particular time. The characters can be made to run by simply double clicking on the left button. Again all of this is fairly standard. Since the game is extremely linear, it was never possible to get too far lost or run too far afield. Davidís character simply wouldnít go somewhere until it was time to go there. And it is extremely important to note that, while it is all fairly unoriginal, it all works. I played the entire game without a glitch, freeze or any other irksome electronic irritation. The ease of operation was a rather rare and pleasant circumstance.
The voice acting of the two main characters was rather good. Both David McNamara and the police detective were easy to understand, unique unto themselves, and consistent. The mean nurse, the mysterious psychiatrist, and the imperturbable hotel desk clerk were the same stock characters that people have seen in any number of movies. They were there, they added detail, and they moved the story. The five mental patients each sounded crazy, but Iím not sure what that means.
The graphics were adequate, but little more. There was a reasonable amount of detail in each scene. The tale takes place mostly in various urban settings and all the locations looked like what they were. Each individual screen has lots of movement worked into it. There was always a moving tree, a body of water, or a cloudy sky. These items added to the overall reality of the scene and made things a touch more realistic. All in all, things looked realistic enough to maintain the plot and the mood. A bar looked like a bar, the old run-down psych ward looked like an old run-down psych ward, etc. Again there was little that was special, but there was nothing that was bad. The people themselves were obviously animated, but clearly people. They moved fairly well, but they all had the smooth skin and slick clothing that I remember from the early Sherlock Holmes games. If there was any problem with the visual aspects of the game, it was the weather. For no reason I could understand, all five days and all five chapters took place during one continual, violent, horrendous, thunderstorm. There were lots of crashes, flashes, and a good deal of water. This really wasnít a huge problem, and as far as rain can, it looked just fine. There was simply no reason for it. The constant rain didnít add much to the mood or the tone, it mostly just became irritating for the player.
There was little music to comment about. There was a lovely melancholy, piano piece that played over the title scenes and credits, but I didnít notice any other music. The sound effects were normal and adequate, but not particularly notable.
The final element of any adventure game is the puzzles. In Overclocked, these were generally inventory puzzles and frankly they werenít too taxing. There were a couple of code puzzles that caused me some consternation, but there was never the feeling of hopelessness that some of us eventually got from Syberia or one of the MYST games. I always knew Iíd find the answer fairly quickly, and I did. The real 'puzzle' was figuring out the process of interviewing and saving the five mental patients. Certain things had to be done in a certain order, and the patients were all in different padded rooms. Dr. McNamara had to constantly move from one to the other and then back again. It got even more complicated as he began to get, and piece together, the various details. Each patient remembered something, and then another patient could be cued to remember something else. However, David was trying to learn what incident led to a particular action. As a result of this process, each memory was unearthed in reverse order, and it was enjoyably strange to attempt to put these details in the proper chronological order and figure out the actual situation. Here again the traditional 'Adventure Game' elements werenít too difficult. Indeed some players might even consider them offensively simple. It was the unique and all-encompassing plotlines that carried the day, and made the game worth playing. At no time in the game did I find one of those much-despised 'dead ends', and there was no time when I could have died. There were also none of those mazes that tend to drive me to playing a casual game. The puzzles were fairly easy, always fair, and solvable.
There really isnít a great deal more to discuss. Overclocked seemed to be well thought out, well executed, and extremely well written. It installed easily and ran without difficulty on my old and undersized Windows XP computer. The gameís execution was generally quite good, but was seldom excellent. But all of these characteristics were overshadowed by quality writing, and story that involves the gamer and keeps him interested and entertained. I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining, fairly lightweight game that can be played in a reasonable time, and will provide a smooth and enjoyable experience throughout the playing time. I enjoyed Overclocked and am fairly sure that any gamer who is not an overly absolute purist will feel the same way.
© April 2011 Mark Hasley
Developed (2008) by House of Tales Entertainment, published in North America by Lighthouse Interactive (no longer exists) and published in Europe by dtp entertainment.
Rated: M for Mature 17+ (blood, language, violence)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: 1.3 GHz Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon Processor; Windows 2000 / XP / Vista; 512 MB RAM (1 GB Recommended for Vista; 4X DVD-ROM Drive; DirectX 9 Compliant Video Card with Shader Model 1.1; DirectX 9.0 Compliant Sound Card; 5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
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