After a good run in early access, Overload was just released on Steam by the team at Revival Productions – which consists of many Descent alumni. We did a full preview not too long ago, so we’re doing something a little different this time – a mini review with a short developer interview attached. For the latter, we talked to Matt Toschlog, one of co-founders at Revival.
As the early access phase showed, Overload is both an homage and a spiritual successor to the PC classic Descent, released over twenty years after the original. Kickstarted by fans of the first game, it knows which crowd it caters to – and it doesn’t stray far from the path. This will no doubt be to the delight of existing fans, but other than that it’s likely that Overload will mostly appeal to those who in recent years played games like Sublevel Zero Redux – and I have a hunch that many of those players will be Descent fans already.
Overload features more of a developed story than Descent did, which didn’t really rise beyond its central premise of taking down installations from within. That’s not to say that Overload is radically different, since it too sees you performing these exact same objectives – ‘overloading’ cores as you fight your way past the AI robots that guard them. It’s nice to see a bit more padding in between though, as Overload has excellent voice acting that helps deliver more of a narrative experience.
The fact that Overload stays so true to Descent also comes with its downsides though. People who were never that into the ‘six degrees of freedom’ shooter won’t be swayed by this one, and there’s a bit too much repetition in the game’s visual design, especially during the earlier levels. Things get a bit more creative later on, but with many of 1995’s technical limitations now lifted I had expected more visual surprises in this sense.
The short story is pretty much that Overload is Descent, except it’s been polished almost to perfection – but while leaving the imperfections of the original intact. As a fan of the original it’s great to play this, but I’m not sure I could get others to feel the same if they never played Descent. Perhaps that’s where Overload’s multiplayer component comes in, but I haven’t been able to play enough of it since the final version went live.
For now, I’d score Overload a solid 7.0/10, but you’re likely to enjoy it a lot more if you’re a Descent fan and possibly a lot less if you’re not.
To mark Overload’s release, we talked to Revival’s Matt Toschlog about the game – here’s our account of that conversation and the extra insights he provided.
During Early Access, we’ve seen that Overload mostly stays true to the classic Descent formula. What are some of the bigger changes that have been implemented?
The graphics and sound are obviously much better than we could do 20 years ago. I think Overload is also a deeper game with more replayability. We have a detailed story with voice acting, an NG+ mode for extra single-player fun, and a Challenge Mode (with online leaderboards) that is endlessly replayable. Another great thing about Overload is that it works really well with a gamepad, so the game plays great on the consoles.
How did the decision to revisit the genre come about? Why now?
It’s something we’ve talked about doing for a long time. A couple years ago the 20th anniversary of Descent was approaching and everything just came together. The right people were available at the same time, so we decided to go for it.
How is the current development cycle different from how Descent was developed back in the day?
It’s really totally different. With Descent we started by writing an all-new graphics engine. And then we still had to figure out how to make this new indoor flying game work from a gameplay perspective. This time around we started with Unity and we already understood the core game mechanics, so we were able to jump right in and focus on features and gameplay. The biggest challenge was dealing with the size and detail of all the content. Twenty years ago our enemies were made from a few dozen polygons and some simple textures. Now we have massively detailed models with complex textures, maps, and effects. It’s a lot of work and a lot of data.
What are your thoughts on some of the other 6DOF titles we’ve seen over the past few years?
It’s been great to see so much interest in the genre, and we hope that people love Overload as well.