Overlord: Raising Hell

Beyond good and evil.

Version tested PlayStation 3

Apart from the fact there wasn't nearly enough pure evil in the game, Overlord was one of last year's more enticing prospects. Sweeping an army of cackling minions around a series of fiendish fantasy locales was like Katamari genre-fusion, rolling over Pikmin, and bobbling around with bits of Fable and Dungeon Keeper poking out at jaunty angles. It almost grins itself to death. And now on PS3.

The idea is to become an all-conquering Overlord, but Triumph Studios dodges tedious fantasy pomposity, mocking itself at every opportunity. You play the faceless, voiceless, iron-masked brute, the Dark Lord - all flailing, clanking un-sophistication - and you're either too lazy or too cowardly to take on the so-called heroes of the land, the do-gooders who killed your predecessor and wrecked the Dark Tower, which becomes your home and the game's central hub.

Guided by the hand-wringing Minion Master, you're able to call upon a burgeoning army of smack-happy "minions" to do your bidding instead. Evidently inspired by Spielberg's naughty Gremlins, these big-eared little munchkins are only too happy to smash anything, inanimate or otherwise, to pieces at your say so. Guiding the Overlord with the left stick, you stomp around the lush environment and 'sweep' your minions with the right stick, sometimes bringing the shoulder buttons into play when you require a more precise lock-on. Although occasionally wayward, this works well for the most part and proves a distinct and satisfying gameplay mechanic.

1

I want a pumpkin hat!

Despite being evil, you do perform some good deeds for cowering locals, but fortunately you can swiftly ram their thanks down their throats by setting your minions on them. After all, you can harvest their souls and build up a bigger army. This 'destroy and reap' mechanic taps into the OCD in all of us, and we compulsively looted and pillaged every nook and cranny, laying waste to often-peaceful settlements filled with peace-loving folk. It's simple, dumb fun. Charming, too. Are you cold enough not to smile when your happy minions bring master some 'treasure'? Or by how you go from beating up a masochistic jester to slaying a flock of sheep, to mowing down a patch of beastly pumpkins that's troubling the local scarecrow? After which, your gaggle of minions run around wearing the pumpkins as trophy hats? (More of this please, game developers.)

Soon enough, of course, the game gets into its stride with a bit more structure, and the serious side (if you can call it that) is to bring down those forcing the residents of Spree to live in terror, as the lines between good and evil are somewhat blurred. As you progress, you'll gain access to a full set of different-coloured minions, each with their own distinct method of wreaking havoc.

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I'm not surprised they killed those pumpkins. Look at their evil little faces. Death!

The first you control, the browns, are the basic grunts, good in a punch-up and for turning wheels and shifting heavy objects, but not so great, say, when confronted with a wall of fire, body of water or plumes of toxic gas. These duties, you might have guessed, fall to the other types of minion. Reds can put out fire and lob fireballs from afar, greens are immune to the toxic gas and can neutralise it, and blues can cross water without drowning and also resurrect fallen minions, but are completely useless in combat and die easily.

Switching between them is mapped intuitively on the pad, with a tap of the right bumper bringing up a sub-menu that lets you select a specific minion type with the corresponding face button. In addition, the game lets you set guard markers with the triangle button, allowing you to position them strategically where necessary - for example, raining fire down on enemies from above, or allowing the back-stabbing greens to jump on the backs of giant foe.

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