In the past I have taken a look at several games made by inkle Ltd. While their games aren’t for everyone, the developer has a track record for creating some truly unique experiences. Their specialty is creating interactive narrative based games where the story twists and turns based on the decisions that you make. This seemed perfect for the premise behind their latest game Overboard!. As a fan of a good old-timey murder mystery I was intrigued especially since instead of trying to find the murderer, you are the murderer and you need to figure out a way to get away with it. Overboard! is an original twist on your typical 1930s murder mystery that shows it is surprisingly addicting trying to get away with murder.
In Overboard! you play as Mrs. Villensey. The story takes place in July of 1935. You and a number of other passengers are aboard the SS Hook which is traveling from England to New York. The ship is eight hours away from shore and your husband has gone missing. The catch is you know exactly what happened, as you were the one who shoved him overboard. Before you arrive in New York where the authorities are ready to arrest someone for your husband’s murder, can you create an alibi for yourself or even frame someone else for his murder?
For those who have played previous inkle games before, you likely will already have a good idea of what to expect from the gameplay of Overboard!. The game is mostly a narrative driven game as the gameplay revolves around choosing from a couple different options which then progresses the story forward. The choices you make will have an impact on how the story concludes when the ship reaches New York harbor.
The whole game is built around the idea that your ship is eight hours away from New York. As you are guilty and the evidence points to you being the murderer, you need to use this time wisely in order to prevent yourself from being arrested. The game presents you with a bunch of different options with each taking a certain amount time to complete. You can talk with other passengers to get useful information or plant misinformation. You can also travel to different rooms around the ship in order to investigate or plant evidence. Your current run will either end when you reach New York or you get caught red handed committing a crime.
As a fan of inkle’s previous games I would have been interested in Overboard! no matter what the premise was. As a fan of murder mysteries though, I was even more intrigued especially with the twist that you are the murderer trying to get away with the crime. When you think about it this seems like a perfect use of inkle’s adaptive storyline engine. In practice Overboard! is everything that I hoped it would be. The game is not going to be for everyone as it more of an interactive story than your traditional video game. If you have tried an inkle game before and never really cared for it, I don’t see that changing with Overboard!. Those who are a fan of these games though should be excited as Overboard! is arguably one of their most interesting games yet.
I think the game succeeds for a couple of reasons. First the game gives you a limited amount of time. You can’t accomplish everything in one playthrough especially since a lot of the events are time sensitive. The odds of you being successful on your first attempt are unlikely. I actually got away with murder on my first attempt (it was ruled a suicide), but I think luck played a pretty big role. I won’t go into specifics to avoid spoilers, but just getting away with the murder is not enough as the game tempts you back with trying to create an even more favorable outcome for your character. The game is built around you replaying it over and over again to try and improve the outcome or find other secrets. Each playthrough is around 30-45 minutes so even if things go awry, the time lost is not too bad. Through failure you will learn new information that will help you on your next attempt. The game even has a clever fast forward mechanic that allows you you quickly skip through dialog if you want to choose the same actions from your previous playthrough for certain sections of the day.
This works really well with the next strength of Overboard!. While your choices have to be limited to a degree as there is no way the game would have worked otherwise, I was genuinely impressed with the flexibility that the game gives players. There are easier paths than others, but you have several different ways of saving yourself. You can set it up as suicide, you could frame another passenger as the murderer, you can make it look like an accident, or you can decide to just become a mass murderer and kill everyone that stands in your way. I am not exaggerating the last one either as a legit way of approaching the situation is just to kill everyone else on board. All of the characters have their own secrets and motivations as well which allows you to manipulate them to help you.
I think the game’s success simply comes down to the fact that it is fun trying to get away with murder (in a video game setting of course). In a way the game feels like a puzzle. As you are guilty you need to plant evidence and seed information into the other characters’ minds so they take your side when the ship arrives at the harbor. You will eventually come up with tried and true ways of deflecting blame from yourself, but at first it takes some careful thought and planning in order to get away with murder. The game actively tries to trip you up as well. For example it will regularly try to get you to contradict your version of events and if you deviate from your story it will likely lead you to getting caught. There were times in the game where I thought I got away with everything, and then a twist came up during the end reveal which destroyed my entire case. The end reveal can be really tense at times as you might think you did enough to get away, but you never quite know.
The gameplay itself would have been great on its own, but what makes things even better is the fact that the game does a fantastic job with the overall atmosphere. The game takes place in the 1930s and it does a good job playing off the classic murder mysteries where all of the potential suspects are trapped in one location. It takes this typical approach to the genre and twists it on its head. The game mostly just utilizes still images, but I still thought the visuals were great. The game has a lot of style that fits the game perfectly. This is all topped off by the adapting storyline. There are a lot of games that claim to have a story that adapts to your actions, but you can actively see how your decisions shape the overall story of Overboard!. One small decision could make a drastic change on the rest of the story. Even if you aren’t a big fan of replaying the same scenario over and over again, it pays to in Overboard! as you can’t uncover everything that the game has to offer in just one or two playthroughs.
The fact that the game relies on you replaying the same scenario over and over again does lead to the game’s biggest issue in my opinion. The game gives you a lot of options which means you should be able to get several playthroughs that all feel quite different as long as you make different choices. The thing is though, you will eventually develop a path through the story that works well for you. This ultimately leads to the story getting a little repetitive after a while. The game doesn’t appear to add any twists to each playthrough so once you get a good pathway through the story you tend to use the same one over and over again. The fast forward button helps with this somewhat as you can move through the same parts of the story quicker. It still feels a little repetitive after a while though as a lot of your runs involve mostly the same choices with a few little twists thrown in here and there to improve your run or to explore different parts of the ship.
This leads me to Overboard!’s length. Honestly there is no way to give a definitive length for Overboard! as it will depend entirely on the player. Most playthroughs will take around 30-45 minutes, but they can be considerably shorter if you are especially sloppy. Thus the amount of time you get out of the game will depend on how much you care about going back and choosing different options. Honestly I see most players getting at least a couple playthroughs out of the game before they get sick of it. The real length comes from those that want to explore everything that the game has to offer. The game has quite a few hidden secrets which take time to find. The game also features achievements which will require a lot of playthroughs and fine tuning of your plan in order to complete. If you are the type of player that likes to explore everything that a game has to offer, you should get a lot out of Overboard!. Those that get tired after a couple of playthroughs may be a little disappointed by the length though.
As a fan of inkle’s previous games and the idea of a whodunit where you are the murderer trying to get away with it, I was really intrigued by Overboard!. For the most part the game lived up to my expectations. The game is more of an interactive story than a traditional video game which likely will turn off some people. The game is really innovative though as it does a great job utilizing inkle’s adaptive storytelling system in a new way. Your choices in the game will have a drastic impact on what eventually happens in the game. The game gives you a lot of different ways to address your current predicament where there is no true best solution. The game also actively tries to trip you up so you have to always be aware of what is going on around you. This creates a truly compelling gameplay experience as you never truly know if you will get away with murder until you reach the harbor. The game’s great atmosphere adds even more to the experience as it feels like you are playing a twist on your classic murder mystery story. With the gameplay relying on a lot of short playthroughs though, the game does get a little repetitive after a while as you likely will make the same choices over and over again as you will find a best path for sections of the journey. Thus the length you will get out of the game will depend on how much you care about searching out everything that the game has to offer.
If you have never really cared for inkle games or interactive stories in general, Overboard! probably won’t be for you. Those that have enjoyed inkle games though or think the idea of a game about getting away with murder sounds interesting, should really enjoy Overboard! and consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank inkle Ltd for the review copy of Overboard! used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.