Overgrowth Alpha Impressions
Enemy spotted. He’s alone, rock face to his left, armed with a broadsword. Approach quietly and note the nearby unattended spear leaning against the rock face. His excellent hearing will alert him to my presence when I’m close enough for a strike. First point of attack; low kick, dodging target’s first sword swing. He’s off balance. Kick to the chest, target is off his feet. Roll left, retrieve spear. Strike! He’ll recover in time to block. Dodge left, quick jab to his gut. Target is bleeding, retaliates with low kick. Jump! Aerial kick to target’s face. Neck broken. Physical recovery? Unlikely.
For the past few months I’ve been playing the weekly alpha builds of Overgrowth, the latest game in development from Wolfire Games, that are available to anyone who preorders the game. When not creating tiny scenarios that allow me to channel my inner Robert Downey Jr., I’ve constructed primitive levels, tested the blood effects on ten character models at once, exploited glitches to gain the power of flight, watched the fight system evolve to include weapons, and overall have had a lot of fun. As of this writing, I’ve played up to alpha build 150.
Like its spiritual predecessor, Lugaru, Overgrowth is an action game involving anthropomorphic rabbits and other animals beating the snot out of each other with martial arts and brutal weapons. Although details of the game’s story and structure are still under wraps, I’ve been able to experience the gameplay by downloading each weekly build to experience the changes. Playing any game in its alpha stage is a rare opportunity for the average gamer. Alpha builds generally consist of basic gameplay with no real structure for the purpose of testing. Developers use these early builds to make sure they’re getting the core mechanics of the game right before moving on to crafting the experience for the player. An alpha build for the first Gears of War, for example, could have consisted of a room with a bunch of walls to rub against and a few targets for the purpose of testing the cover-based shooting.
Overgrowth’s alpha builds are for the most part built to test the combat system. Said combat system is, as I’ve learned from writing this preview, hard to describe. The best I’ve come up with is that the combat is blow-for-blow as opposed to combo-for-combo. When playing a fighting game like Soul Calibur or Blazblue, blocking keeps you from taking damage, but doesn’t always leave your opponent open. This results in you alternating between blocking high and low while you wait for your opponent to finish his combo unless you have the God-like reflexes required to perform a parry. In Overgrowth, every block is a parry. Parrying doesn’t require lightning-fast reflexes either thanks to the combat’s rhythmic quality. Punch! Block! Kick! Block! Throw! He broke your throw! Block! It’s a combat system that somehow actually rewards players for acting on instinct.
Attacking and blocking are assigned to the left and right mouse buttons respectively. You can also roll with the shift key and dodge by tapping a directional key just as your about to be hit. This is useful when fighting an armed opponent since attempting to block a sword with your arms is about as effective as you think it would be. You can actually hold down the attack button to continuously attack, but if any of your hits are blocked, your opponent has the chance to hit you, so you must block. When you successfully block, you can continue to hold the key down to throw your opponent. If he is quick enough, he can pull away from the throw, but is forced to roll if he doesn’t time it right. This quick, back-and-forth feel to the combat is volumes more engaging than waiting for your opponent to finish his 15-hit combo while you hold down the block button.
One feature I haven’t been able to try is primitive multiplayer mode that has just been implemented with build 150. Controller functionality has been implemented, meaning you can assign control of the keyboard and mouse to two separate characters and have at it. Simply playing each build and discussing the changes with the developers on their forums dedicated to preorderers is also rewarding in its own right. It’s the kind of transparency that I’d like to see more often in the development of independent games. The hot keys for testing for the voice acting and blood effects are also good for a laugh.
Overgrowth currently has no release date, but it has the best preorder bonus I’ve ever purchased. If you’re looking for a combat experience unlike any other or are thrilled by the idea of playing the incremental builds of a game in development, I recommend giving the game a try. Preordering will set you back $30 (off of the game’s final price) and it can be transferred to Steam or Impulse once the game becomes available. I can already safely say I’ve gotten $30 of entertainment out of it thus far.