Overclocked: A History of Violence
Developer: House of Tales
Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Players: One
Words By:

Overclocked is a very scary game. Not because of any really great story telling, atmospheric locations or tension-ridden plotting mind you. It scared me half to death because when I put the game disc in the tray the sound it made (think jet-engine meets jigsaw) as it spun up made me think my disc drive was about to explode, raining red hot disc shrapnel right into my face. An experience which, in hindsight, wouldíve left a more pleasant impression than actually playing this game.

Sitting down to Overclocked and trying to play through the first hour is a truly harrowing experience. Part of this is the setting for the game. Itís New York during what seems like the biggest and most prolonged storm in history, and you control David McNamara, an ex-military psychologist brought in by the NYPD to deal with what appears to be no more than a few cases of linked psychosis. Several people have been picked up walking around New York in little but their skivvies after going unexpectedly and inexplicably bat-shit, and have been incarcerated in an ageing asylum on Staten Island for your troubled doc to have a look at.

From the get go itís a startling, uneasy game. McNamara is in the middle of a messy divorce with probable mental problems of his own, the staff at the asylum (a building looking like something out of the early 1900s) are less than pleased to have him on board and most of New York seems to dislike him too. The atmosphere is relentlessly dreary, verging on the oppressive. And thatís good in a way I suppose, but thereís a catch. For an adventure game itís trying extraordinarily hard to build a sense of place, but that sense ends up being one of unending, ever-present despair which never lets up. After a time it becomes monotonous, grating even, despite the continuing developments in the plot.

Youíll spend most of your time with the point-and-click in-session with your various patients, taking control of them in flashback segments as you try and uncover what befell them. Itís a clever little piece of design, putting you in the shoes of the victim and challenging you with puzzles that, while occasionally bordering on the illogical or obtuse, are mostly straightforward affairs with the majority of items you pick up having an immediately obvious application. The inventory is kept to what seems like a bare minimum Ė thereís no need to try and pick up anything and everything in sight, which has the dual benefit of keeping the puzzles clearer and the pace much more even and brisk than youíd expect. Thereís nothing stellar in the mechanics or the design, but itís all solidly competent.

What lets Overclocked down are the usual culprits. She's no looker for one thing Ė the graphics are at least a couple of years behind what Iíd consider to be standard, and the backdrops are all pre-rendered with the only true 3D elements being the characters. The cutscenes are slightly better, but the animation is a little off in some and the load times can be a bit jarring, especially as the game disc will probably make a tremendously loud whirring sound during each of them. Aside from that the gameís art palette could use a little flair. For the most part everything is grey and wet and washed-out, and it starts to look very bland very quickly.

Most of the acting, predictably, sounds phoned-in or spoken by people for whom English is most definitely not their first language. The script isnít nearly as tight as it could be and regularly produces awkward or just plain stupid dialogue for our characters to spout, all while they maintain a fixed, wide-eyed expression for every emotion (another handicap of the gameís graphical technology). This takes a lot of the gloss off of any exposition and goes a way towards neutering the intensity of any truly tense or emotional moments. More so than most other genres an adventure game lives or dies on the strength of its characters and its conflicts, and itís still a mystery to me why developers still insist on hiring plainly second-rate voice and script talent to try and do their ideas justice.

And yet there is a solid little adventure yarn bundled up in Overclocked, if you can stand the relentless darkness at its heart. Billing it as a psychological thriller only gets it about half right Ė thereís more thrills to be had racing snails, but the story does its best to draw you in and tie you down with a modicum of success. The flaws above let it down, but in a genre as still as sparsely populated as this it deserves attention for its efforts to refresh the traditional approach.

Best Bits

- Stronger-than-expected story
- Solid adventure gameplay
- (Mostly) sensible puzzles
Worst Bits

- Graphics
- Acting
- The usualÖ

by: Barry 'Imperial Creed' White

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