Waking up from cryosleep is never fun, but it’s even less enjoyable when you’re dealing with amnesia and hypothermia. This is the situation our protagonist finds himself facing at the beginning of OverBlood, a 3-D Sci-Fi Adventure (just like it says on the package). You know you’re in for a rough stretch when the first puzzle the game presents you with is getting dressed. Yet despite a fairly universal lambasting in the gaming press of the day, there’s something quirky and charming about OverBlood. It’s trying so very hard to be unique and interesting, and there’s something strangely endearing about the characters. It’s hardly the best PS1 game ever made, and it has more than its share of faults, but to dismiss developer Riverhillsoft’s sophomore outing on the PlayStation as just another Resident Evil wannabe is a mistake.
While OverBlood was only the second PlayStation title for the now-defunct developer, it wasn’t Riverhillsoft’s first dip in the adventure gaming pool. The Japanese studio first rose to prominence a decade earlier in 1986 with Murder Club, a graphical adventure for the Sharp X1 and NEC PC98 computers. Murder Club featured J.B. Harold, a private investigator seeking to solve the murder of Bill Robbins. Robbins had so many enemies that he’d clearly set his life difficulty meter to “Come At Me, Bro!!”, and it was your job as Harold to find the person or persons responsible for inserting a knife into his spine.
Murder Club was massively popular, ported to everything from the FM Towns and NES all the way up to the Turbo CD and Nintendo DS. Riverhillsoft produced several more sequels featuring Harold, all of them highly regarded for their noir-ish, hard-boiled themes and complex stories. But while their first PlayStation title was a J.B. Harold game, Blue Chicago Blues was only a port of an FMV-heavy detective story that saw life on previous systems like the 3DO and LaserActive. OverBlood was the company’s first foray into the world of 3D (the US version was published today in 1997) and, to be blunt, it shows like a pregnant baboon.
Character models in OverBlood are as basic as they come. The animation is stiff, with characters moving like they’ve had joints installed in unlikely areas, and you’re certain to get snagged on the scenery as you make your way through the facility. To say OverBlood looks like a sub-par, first-gen title is to merely state the obvious–that’s exactly what it is. So why bother playing it?
Well, in case you hadn’t put it together from the previous few paragraphs, while Riverhillsoft didn’t have the resources of a studio like Capcom to put together a great-looking 3D engine, they had a storytelling department with some serious chops, and this alone makes the game worth playing for adventure addicts.
While OverBlood looks like it’s trying to be Resident Evil in space, this is decidedly not the case. While there are a few survival aspects to the game, and you do have some monsters to shoot, you’ll find yourself confronting very few enemies over the course of the game. While other survival horror titles overwhelm you with more enemies than you have bullets, Riverhillsoft took the other tactic. Monster encounters in OverBlood are few and far between, but players never quite shake the feeling that there could be something waiting for you right around the next corner. This makes encounters with the mutated husks that much more serious when they do occur, and keeps the player in a constant state of vigilance.
The characters in OverBlood are well-realized and mostly-competently voice acted, and over the course of the game you’ll have to switch between three different ones to access various parts of the station or overcome a particular puzzle. Your main character is Raz Karcy, the man awakened from cryosleep at the start of the game and in serious need of an upgrade in wardrobe. Raz soon finds and fixes up the second playable character, a little robotic buddy named Pipo, who is good at squeezing into tight spaces where Raz couldn’t possibly fit, and performing repairs beyond Raz’s abilities. The third is a mysterious woman who may or may not have something to do with the reason Raz found himself in this bizarre situation to begin with. Controlling three different characters may sound like it would add layers of confusion to the story, but you spend about 85% of your time running around as Raz so it’s not a Martian Gothic type of situation.
So is OverBlood worth playing? If you’re a fan of adventure games and have patience enough to see your way through a company’s fledgling first attempts at a 3D game, then absolutely. The story alone is worth it, and unlike many other adventure games for the system at the time, the puzzles at least make sense. While Capcom has you running around putting jewels in small holes and pushing statues around to open up secret doors, Riverhillsoft has you repairing computer consoles, finding creative ways to lift heavy objects, and putting out fires–you know, doing logical things to progress. Shocking, I know, but there you have it. Also: no spoilers, but if you don’t have to make an excuse about onion-cutting ninjas at one particular dramatic point in the story, I’m not sure you’re human.
OverBlood is dirt cheap and worth the money if you enjoy adventure games and have the patience to overcome some of the awkward controls and frequent loading screens. There’s a Japan and UK-only sequel, but much of the rest of Riverhillsoft’s catalog is only available in Japanese. It’s a shame because the company could craft some killer stories, but if nothing else, OverBlood proves that a good story alone isn’t enough to save a title from mediocrity.