Did you ever watch the film Watership Down as a child? You know, that film from the 80s about fluffy bunnies getting brutally slaughtered by dogs, birds and bigger psycho bunnies, that subtly traumatised an entire generation of kids? Yeah, you know the one. For most British kids, watching it is like a right of passage and most of us have never been the same since.
Anyway, if Watership Down were to be reincarnated as a videogame, it would look a lot like Overgrowth.
Overgrowth is hard to define because, as far as I can tell, there’s really nothing else like it on the market – it’s an indie-stealth-action-parkour-fighting game developed by Wolfire Games, released in 2017 after 9 long years of development in early access. To put it simply, it’s a 3D martial arts fighting game with parkour, stealth and platforming elements. And anthropomorphic animals.
Combat is the antithesis of button-mashing gameplay
Overgrowth’s hand-to-hand combat system might feel familiar to fans of traditional 2D fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken, with punches, kicks, ground sweeps and jiu jitsu throws making up the bulk of your arsenal. However instead of relying on button combinations, Overgrowth’s combat is context-sensitive; timing your attacks is everything. Attacking is done with the left mouse button, blocking is done with the right mouse button and pretty much everything else is left down to dodging and countering at just the right moment. You absolutely cannot afford to mash buttons in this game.
As a fighting game noob of the highest order, Overgrowth’s combat system took some getting used to; it took me at least an hour to figure out how to disarm an enemy and at times I had to resort to cheap, cowardly tactics like jump-kicking enemies over and over just to progress through the story. However, when I eventually did get my head around the combat, I began to appreciate the nuance and strategy involved in winning up-close and personal encounters. There is nothing quite so satisfying as dominating an enemy, swiping his weapon and running him through with it, all with your bare hands, without taking so much as a scratch – this is like 70s Bruce Lee levels of badassery.
I recommend any new players to begin playing on casual difficulty, no matter how good you think you are, because even on casual difficulty the combat is very unforgiving. Even the weakest enemies in the opening levels can ruin your day if you don’t know what you’re doing and you’ll be on your ass with the dagger through your face before you can say “What’s up, doc?”
That reminds me, whilst hand-to-hand combat represents the core of Overgrowth’s gameplay, there are a variety of weapons that can be acquired throughout the story or looted from corpses – daggers, swords, machetes, spears, etc – and these weapons are incredibly powerful. Having a weapon gives you an insane advantage over the AI. It’s actually very refreshing to see a fighting game which realistically depicts how quickly even small weapons will kill things. Life is hard and short in Overgrowth – one well-aimed spear-throw from the AI and you’re dead within a second, no questions asked. But it’s a two way street – if you can get your hands on a two-handed great sword, well… let’s just say it’s less Overgrowth and more Overkill.
Open-plan levels = peak replayability
Overgrowth’s stages are completely open-plan. There are no invisible walls or funnels to herd you in a particular direction; each stage is designed to make any approach viable if you play your cards right.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers a stealthy, cautious approach, you can use the stealth mechanic to pick off enemies one by one, slit their throats and drag their bodies off to where their comrades won’t discover them.
If you’d prefer to ambush the guy with the biggest sword and start chopping enemies up like a murderous machete-wielding maniac, then you can do that too.
This free-range, flexible gameplay is what lends Overgrowth it’s replayability. If one approach isn’t working for you, it’s easy to try another since there are no skill trees or progression systems outside of your own kinaesthetic skills. Even if I beat a level easily, I find myself replaying it three or four times just to see if I could have gone about beating it in a totally different way.
This game has a devoted modding community
There must be little in this life more gratifying for a videogame developer than to see your game improved and nurtured by it’s fanbase through the creation of mods. Overgrowth has a very active modding community who have produced vast quantities of high-quality community content to enjoy from the Steam store.
There’s new maps, new game modes, new story archs, new assets, new character models and new gameplay features – enough for Overgrowth to add “sandbox” to the pick n’ mix of genres that inspired it.
SOME people find the platforming controls floaty
Lots of people in the Steam community feel that Overgrowth’s controls are too floaty and imprecise for a game requiring the player to do parkour, let alone platforming. Personally, I don’t see it this way.
Critics’ main gripe with the game’s controls is that, when you perform a jump, you don’t come to an abrupt stop once you hit the ground like you do in a Mario platformer. Instead, you keep moving for a split second before coming to a stop naturally. You have to be careful not to overshoot your jumps or go careering off the other side of the platform because you gave it too much juice.
If those people are used to straight forward 2D platformers like Mario, I can see why this might frustrate them. But thinking about this logically, it’s not very realistic to expect to be able to jump 20 meters through the air and not have to stick the landing – in this game, physics does actually apply to you. And long as you make sure you have enough space to take off and you’re not trying to throw yourself onto a tiny foot-wide ledge, there’s no problem with the platforming controls.
The story-telling is very limited
Overgrowth is a very short game – you can complete the main story and the three pre-packaged side missions in 6-7 hours (or less, if you’re actually good at the game). This isn’t atypical for an indie game especially an action-orientated indie game but for a price-point of over £20 it’s somewhat hard to stomach.
The main story itself follows Turner, our anthropomorphic antihero, who gets involved with a rebel rabbit militia who seek to overthrow the bloodthirsty regime of their genocidal feline overlords – it’s a dark and melancholy world where life is as short as it is unfair. Unfortunately though, due to the lack of voice acting or cutscenes and the sparse, bland dialogue, it can be hard to immerse yourself fully in this world, which feels like a huge waste.
Thankfully, however, there is a wealth of extra content you can tap into using the Steam Workshop, if you’re left unsatisfied with the base game’s meagre helpings.
Videogames Make Me Happy concludes… that Overgrowth is weird, but weird in a good way
Let’s be honest, there are lots of things about Overgrowth that will make say “Wow, that’s really weird.” The character models and animation are a little bit weird. The ragdoll physics engine is a little bit weird. The premise itself is more than a little bit weird – it’s a game about anthropomorphic rabbits, cats and dogs mercilessly slaughtering each other in unsettlingly realistic and creative ways.
But you know what? I’m totally here for it.
I would recommend Overgrowth if you’re looking for a quirky, entertaining fighting game or if you’re looking for something totally wacky to spice things up… but perhaps not for the full retail price of £23.79.
Given that this is an indie game, and an old one at that, it shouldn’t be difficult to find this discounted on Steam, Humble Bundle or G2A.