Coming to consoles later in the year as well, Overload by Revival Productions is approaching the end of its Early Access phase on Steam and getting ready for a full launch next month. Here’s a preview on the game that’s being developed by Descent developers.
What we know
Remember those classic Descent games on PC? Overload is a spiritual successor that’s currently being developed by some of the very same people behind the original Descent, a ‘six-degree-of-freedom’ shooter that first came out in the Doom era and predates even Quake.
Descent, at the time, was celebrated partly because it was one of the first “true 3D” shooters – Doom (like Wolfenstein 3D) used a bit of trickery to achieve its visuals and it wasn’t until Quake that iD moved into “true 3D”. Descent wasn’t a straight up first person shooter though, but rather a sci-fi shooter where you pilot a spacecraft that can pivot on all axes and thus move freely around the game’s levels. These, as a result, weren’t designed as flat maps, but rather like futuristic cave/mine systems with corridors that would go in all directions.
It was quite the revolution at the time, and I remember installing it using a handful of floppy disks as the game predates mainstream cd-rom use as well. Clocking in at about 7 megabytes, it was a real pioneer in the shooter genre. Sequels appeared, but we haven’t had a proper one in almost twenty years now.
Overload doesn’t carry the Descent name (that is licensed out to Descent: Underground, which vanished from Steam Early Access a few months ago but is still being developed), but it certainly looks and plays like a Descent title, and it’s currently in early access with a proper release scheduled for May 31st.
What we saw
We played with the early access version of Overload, which recently hit version 0.9 after about a year in early access. As the game nears completion, the early access build now has about a third of the final game’s campaign available in it as well as a series of challenge levels. Online multiplayer hasn’t been implemented yet, but should be a part of the final release next month.
What we thought
Despite having played Sublevel Zero, an excellent game that’s similar to Descent in many ways, Overload is definitely the best blend of retro Descent and a modernization of the formula I’ve experienced so far. There’s VR support for those who have the right setup, but even when playing on the regular screen a lot of fans will instantly recognize the Descent influences. The map design is excellent, the robots/drones you see flying around look like they were lifted from the original trilogy.
Visually, it’s not the jump ahead that I would have expected after almost twenty years since Descent 3, but six degrees of freedom also means that you need a lot of contrast so people don’t lose their bearings. So picture Descent 3, but with crisper graphics, higher resolution models for the environments and far more detailed ships, weapons and effects and you’re pretty close.
Gameplay-wise there is currently no multiplayer in place so unfortunately we’ll have to wait for that, but we did play the available single player portion of the game already – which currently consists of five levels that are all from the early part of the campaign that will feature fifteen levels. That’s half the number of levels that the original Descent had, but the early levels I played were longer than how I remember the early levels in Descent so that might compensate somewhat.
The game plays VERY much like Descent did, so if you were never into those games then you won’t like Overload either. The main difference, I would say, is that Overload’s levels were designed to allow for a bigger variety of gameplay styles – a subtle nudge to modern game design like we see in different genres, for example in Dishonored. In Overload, missions and levels appear to be designed to make sure they fit with different gameplay styles, whereas the original Descent felt more objective-driven and thus a little more straightforward.
Content-wise, the relative lack of story levels is also compensated by the challenge mode levels that the game has. This mode is already nearly feature/content complete in the early access build, and should appeal to those who enjoy competing on the online leaderboards – another nudge to modern gaming sentiments. Since I’m not that competitive, I’m going to wait another month for the full single player campaign to hit – I already know it’ll be excellent, will bring back memories and I won’t even have to tweak my autoexec.bat file to run it. Descent players from the DOS generation will know what I’m talking about.
Want to check it out yourself? You can jump into the early access version, but – true to the shareware origins of the first game – there’s also a playable teaser on Steam that is completely free to play.