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Overlord

Steve Hogarty is suffering a severe case of déjà vu

You won't get through any articles about Overlord without reading the words Fable and Pikmin at least eight times, but Triumph Studios' action-RPG really is, very simply, Fable mixed with Pikmin. Not since The Matrix: Path Of Neo has a game been so describable. Sometimes, writing about games is easy.

From Fable it takes its art style, the wonderful colourful world, the exaggerated characters and ear-stabbingly enthusiastic voice-acting. You play an evil lord, resurrected to reclaim the world after being vanquished by seven valiant heroes. These heroes have become grotesque representations of the equally numerous deadly sins, such as a fat-bastard gluttonous halfling and a gold-obsessed dwarf. As an evil lord, you must destroy the seven heroes, rebuild your tower and establish yourself as the almighty leader of all you observe.

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The world itself is semi-freeform, composed of several linear areas and sub-domains threaded together. Depending on your actions, people will either scream in terror as you come bounding evilly over the hills, or praise you as their saviour. Either way, you're evil, and any good actions you carry out are always with a view to future gains, like ripe, tender virgins full of gold.

From the Pikmin component of the already tired 'this is Fable mixed with Pikmin' summary come your minions, a group of gremlin allies who do your bidding, all the while gurgling and chirping with their little gremlin voices. Nintendo's puzzler had you using your tiny followers to collect items and solve puzzles, and likewise with Overlord you use your minions to turn wheels and flick switches (god forbid you do some work yourself). Plus, with a clever use of gamepad analogue sticks they begin to feel like an extension of your main character. Keyboard and mouse implementation is actually quite good at the moment, but a gamepad will no doubt be ideal.

Of course, the minions are Overlord's biggest draw. You slowly gain the ability to control more and more of the things, moving on from simple brown minions to specialised ones. Red minions are impervious to fire and can launch fireballs, green minions are stealthy assassins and blue minions can heal and revive their dead friends.

Run them through some furniture and crates with a sweep of the mouse and they smash and destroy everything in their path. They'll pick up useful debris like pots to use as helmets, or wood to use as weapons, or if they find gold or healing potions, they'll run back to offer it to you with a raspy-voiced (and startlingly enough, not annoyingly repetitive): "For yoooouu!"

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Order them to attack an enemy and they'll swarm all over them, jumping on their victim's back and overpowering them with numbers. The effectiveness of your minions increases when they pick up weapons, so the longer you can keep them alive the better they become. You can get stuck in with your own axe too, although in many situations you've got to use your little 'uns to get to places you can't reach.

On the face of it, it's a slightly unoriginal morality 'em up, but the melding of these two different gaming ideas works well enough to make Overlord a meaty prospect in its own right, swimming in a delicious sauce of neat touches.

For instance, command four of your underlings to carry a sack of treasure back to your tower and they'll get to it; call three of them back halfway through the task, and the final minion will drop the loot on his foot before hopping around in comical slapstick agony.

We've some reservations about the morality system. Being an evil character, making a 'good' choice just seems wrong, and the control system is still a little fiddly when it comes to choosing various minion types and positioning them in specific places. Then again, Triumph's decision to make you play as this morally biased character means the writing and the game should be better focused.

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