NEED TO KNOW
What is it? The long-awaited rabbit puncher.
Expect to pay: $30/£23
Reviewed on: Intel i5, 16gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 970
Link: Official site
It's obligatory for every article on Overgrowth to start with a bit on how long it has been in development, so here's mine: When Wolfire Games first started work on the rabbit beat 'em up, George W. Bush and Gordon Brown were still in office, the first Android phone had not yet launched, and there was only one Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. The Humble Bundle was a spin-off project from Overgrowth—that is how much the industry has changed while this game's development trundled on.
So, after nine years of continuous, open development, you probably want to know what Overgrowth is, and the answer is this: Overgrowth is fast. Overgrowth is very, very fast. The protagonist, Turner, is a giant rabbit man, which means he has the proportional strength and speed of a rabbit (probably, don't check the science on this). He runs with astonishing speed, he can leap a hundred feet through the air and his kicks are devastatingly brutal.
And he kicks a lot. The majority of your time in Overgrowth will be taken up with kicking other rabbits to death (plus cats, dogs, rats, and a handful of wolves). The combat system is incredibly simple, requiring only two buttons: attack and defend. Reading that, you might be imagining an Arkham-style system with with carefully timed rhythmic button presses, but it's not like that at all.
Instead, holding down the left mouse button (you can use a pad, but unusually I felt more comfortable with a mouse) leads you to constantly auto-attack, while holding down the right automatically blocks and dodges. Direction keys influence both, with a direction hit just before a dodge leading to a throw, and jumping and crouching while attacking resulting in sweeps and sweet dive kicks.
What this all means is that that fights in Overgrowth are fast, incredibly fast, far faster than it could be if you had to click for every attack (so fast, in fact that there's a setting in the options menu to slow everything down a bit). Fights rarely last longer than a few seconds, and even the toughest enemies can go down in a couple of sword swipes, but when your careful plan goes wrong you’ll instead be locked into a desperate struggle of dodging and kicking.
It's an impressive system that's as fun when it all goes perfectly as it is when everything descends into farce. The battles are so frantic that it wasn’t until the second playthrough on a higher difficulty that I felt I 'got' the system properly, and wasn't just desperately reacting.
There's impressive variety too, with enough enemy and weapon types that they can be easily remixed into new challenges. Rats, for example, are even faster and more fragile than Turner, and are best dealt with head on, sending them flying back with brutal kicks. But the moment one of those rats has a knife they instantly become more dangerous, hiding within the swarm then suddenly stabbing with blinding speed.
This is also different from a boss fight with a single wolf, a hard target with unblockable attacks, requiring hit-and-run tactics. Each fight is different enough that even the second playthrough didn't feel repetitive, and that’s before I began to delve into the flourishing Steam Workshop which is full of new and interesting scenarios.
Unfortunately, combat is only half the Overgrowth experience. The rest of the game is taken up with far weaker platforming sections, where Turner’s prodigious jump and wall running abilities are used to scale linear obstacle courses. When the game started I was convinced I was going to love this aspect. There's a joy to sailing through the air as Turner, and the wall running brought back pleasant memories of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Performance and settings
Overgrowth runs well: on a GTX 980 we clocked over 60 fps at 2560x1080 with the highest settings (it supports ultrawide resolutons), and while it's not a graphical powerhouse, it's perfectly pleasant to look at. Overgrowth also includes tons of debugging features, as well as a built-in level editor. It's an exceptionally complete PC package.
In reality, I spent a good proportion of my time watching Turner grab the wrong thing, ignoring the ledge I was aiming for and instead mounting a jutting out piece of rock and doing chin-ups on the edge of forever. There's an instant restart and generous checkpointing, so you're rarely inconvenienced by a missed leap, but it has a feeling of punishment and repetition that the exhilarating combat largely avoids.
I'm torn on Overgrowth. I love the speed and brutality of the fights, but at the same time they are so fast, and so brief, that it almost feels insubstantial, a problem not helped by a paper-thin antihero plot. It's tempting to say it's a game aimed at hardcore fighting game fans, but I wouldn't usually consider myself one of those and I still enjoyed my time with it. It's such a strange-feeling game, it seems impossible to tell who will like it.
In the end Overgrowth remains what it appeared to be through all those years of development: a curio. It's a weird, unique creation, a window into a world with an alternate approach to beat 'em ups. A strange and beautiful place to visit, it just doesn't feel substantial enough to make a home in. It's a game to blast through in a weekend, enjoy, and then never really think about again.