Most games cast players in the role of the goody-two-shoes, or at least someone vaguely heroic. Not here. In Overboard!, players get to play the role of Veronica Villensey, a calculated femme-fatale who joyously murders her husband by pushing him overboard during a transatlantic crossing.
Having started with the dastardly deed, the challenge here is how to get away with it. Part interactive novel, part ‘choose-your-own-adventure game’, players get to steer Veronica around the ship, talking to passengers, wheedling out secrets, and generally trying to find some way of deflecting suspicion in the few hours left before the ship docks.
Get it wrong, and Sing Sing awaits. Get it right and champagne and insurance money abounds. But getting to that point isn’t easy, as everything Veronica does takes time. And this is where the brilliance of Overboard!’s design shines. While it may not take you that long to complete a run (which might be startlingly short, if you choose one of the more foolish options), you’ll find yourself back at the beginning, but armed with new information, objectives (such as murdering everyone on the ship without getting caught) and better knowledge of what’s going on. This is a game which is meant to be done again and again, constantly tinkering and trying something new. In fact, that’s often how you’ll find new challenges and objectives (which the game remembers between runs). And once you think you’ve got it, it will throw some new twist at you, prompting you to dive back into the game with gleeful abandon.
For those who think that retreading old ground could be boring, worry not. Firstly, the game will remember what choices of actions and dialogue you made in your last run through, allowing you to hit a fast-forward button and steam your way through any interaction that you wish to keep the same. For those really familiar with the game, you can also increase the speed at which the text and animations of characters run – though it will be quite a few play-throughs before you’ve reached that stage. Tinkering is further encouraged by the fact that each ‘scene’ (an interaction in a given location) can be reset once per run, allowing you to try a different idea out. Or you can simply opt to reset the entire day, starting at 8am again.
It’s different, clever, and above all, fun. Each interaction gives you a new bit of information, a new perspective on the problems facing Veronica, and new ideas to try out. And runs are never so lengthy that you have to wait particularly long to have another go. It’s highly entertaining and engaging.
Also, as you might appreciate, it’s not really for a young audience. While there’s nothing in the art-work which couldn’t be shown to young players, but along with murder (or murders, if you’re feeling that way inclined) there’s affairs, blackmail, intrigue, seduction – basically it has the whole Death on The Nile / Murder on the Orient Express style of things going on.
This game is an utter delight to play, and simply so stylish. The darkly comic opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the game: equal parts macabre and mischievous, all handled with a light, Noël Coward-like touch (anyone who’s seen the recent adaptation of Blithe Spirit will have a pretty good idea of the feel). The artwork fits perfectly with the pre WWII era and the game has frankly one of the best soundtracks of any game I’ve played. Also, the limited use of voice acting – Veronica recounting the opening events – sets the tone and character brilliantly: like all entertaining villains, there’s the unmistakable feeling that she’s enjoying the whole thing.
I have no hesitation at all in recommending this game. It’s fun, stylish, brilliant at what it does, and frankly something that I want to play again and again, and call my friends over to show – especially some of the more comic interactions (visit the chapel a few times, that’s all I’m going to say). If you like interactive novels, then this is an excellent buy. If you’ve never played them, then this is the perfect introduction. It’s polished, slick, and entertaining: in short, everything a game should be, and an absolute masterpiece. ■