Saturday, June 24, 2006

Drug Overlord Review

Drug Overlord, developed and published by Shoot First Games.
The Good: Interesting mix of base building and action, RPG-like character experience
The Not So Good: Too easy, drug angle unnecessary, successive games are played the same way
What say you? Despite what you might think, a fairly entertaining action/RTS hybrid: 6/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Ever since Grand Theft Auto came out, some game developers have relied on “shock value” to sell their products. Relegating themselves to talking about drugs, killing cops, or killing cops on drugs, these games (with the exception of GTA) are generally terrible. That’s the mindset I had going in to Drug Overlord; I figured it was just another game that relies on illegal substances to get some attention. Drug Overlord turns out to be a base-building/action/RPG game where you run a small drug operation and defend it against the long arm of the law. Were my prejudices unfounded? Or ununfounded?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Drug Overlord is played from a low isometric fixed perspective, which makes it hard to see all of the action sometimes, but it’s a lot easier than a movable camera that gets in the way. Drug Overlord features decent graphics for an independent title; all of the characters are in 3-D (although detail is kind of low) and the various plants you keep sway in the breeze. Probably the most notable aspect of the game is the amount of blood dispensed when disposing of the police: they will bleed and occasionally blow into several large, bloody chunks, depending on which weapon was used on them. It’s pretty satisfying. Wrong, but satisfying. They aren’t the best-looking graphics in the world, but they’ll do. The sound is average: weapon sounds, background music, and death effects are all good enough to not be bad.

ET AL.
In Drug Overlord, you are some kind of lord…with drugs. You start by growing marijuana to earn cash. As your level increases, you can grow more profitable drugs such as extacy, morphine, and heroin. These structures are protected by yourself, moving around (using WASD) and pointing and shooting at bad guys (which are actually good guys). To assist in guarding your drug-producing buildings, you can construct automated turrets around your camp. You can also add shield generators (increasing the hit points for buildings), targeting systems (increasing the turret attack values), and power boosters to recharge shields. There is a limit to the number of buildings you can construct that increases with your experience level. Buildings can be upgraded by using your bio-chemical gun, and repaired by using your repair gun. Weapons can be switched by using the mouse wheel, but there are no other hotkeys (that I could find) to quickly access them, so you have to waste time scrolling through all the weapons you don’t need. Experience is gained by killing “the man.” Leveling up means you can spend points to increase your combat, repair, or manufacturing skills. You can also spend money to heal your character or purchase better weaponry, such as laser cannons or missile launchers. Even with all the gratuitous drug references, Drug Overlord is actually pretty fun to play. Once your base becomes fairly large, it becomes quite challenging to cover your entire money making operation. I like the confluence of action, base-building strategy, and RPG character development. It seems that a lot of games are going for the “jack of all trades” (see SpellForce 2), and Drug Overlord pulls it off. There are a couple of downsides to the game, however. First, the game is extremely easy once you get a handle on the situation. Most of the turrets you build can take care of the police on their own, and once you learn how to upgrade buildings using the bio-chemical gun, the money starts pouring in faster than you can spend it, especially with the limitations on the number of structures you can have built. Secondly, the game plays out the same way on the same map every time, so once you have your strategy down, there’s no real reason to play the game anymore.

IN CLOSING
Surprisingly, Drug Overlord turned out to be a pretty decent game. The marriage of base buildings, action, and character development works well. The game would have worked just as well without all the drugs, growing different types of tropical fruits, perhaps. I would like to see more varied environments to play in to change up the gameplay; as it stands, the game is only good until you figure out how to beat it, and then there is no replay value (or real challenge) to speak of. The graphics look pretty good for an independent game, and watching police officers being dismembered provides some kind of sick pleasure. Drug Overlord is more than a title just looking for notoriety based on its subject matter: there’s actually some substance here that results in a pretty fun game.