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Overwhelm (out today) is an unsettling little 2D shooter

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Overwhelm is a low-fi platform shooter by solo dev Ruari O’Sullivan, released just last night. Despite fast, twitchy movement and the player’s satisfyingly booming weaponry, it’s an unnerving experience to play thanks to it flipping the script on the very concept of power-ups. That, plus a bundle of visual, audio and mechanical tricks that make it vastly more unsettling to play than any screenshot could convey.

Overwhelm is an uncompromising little game. On each level you’ve only got 99 shots, a gun that needs to cool down after three, and a single hit from anything will kill you. You do get two extra lives per stage as well, but that third death will reset everything to zero. I gather it’s not a huge game, but I’ve still not managed to win after many attempts, so take that as you will. Still, I’ve had a lot of (stressful) fun with it.

It’s structured a little like Mega Man, but reversed into a disempowerment horror-fantasy. A gun-toting knight descends underground to explore branches of an alien hive, each area capped off with a boss fight. Each boss killed gives everything but you that upgrade, so suddenly the little jumpy aliens that didn’t pose much threat can climb freely on walls and ceilings, or the levels might be populated by aggressive, darting wasp-like things. With each boss, it all gets more intense, and you get nothing.

What really sells Overwhelm’s atmosphere is the audio. Sometimes nothing but silence, often pulsing, brooding synths, and the boss battle theme is particularly intense. Your gun – aimed with the mouse, Abuse style – rings out loud and sharp, and the bosses themselves make some disturbing noises. Boss fights play some horror-movie tricks on you as well, with the lights often cutting out for a split second, the giant monster just disappearing from sight, forcing you to hunt each other through the arena.

Overwhelm is also the first game signed by new indie publishing outfit Untitled Publisher. They’d rather folks focus more on the games, which is pretty easy when one is already out. More than anything, Overwhelm reminds me of All Of Our Friends Are Dead, a short, nightmarish little platform shooter game from (at the time) budding indie Amon26. John took a peek at it nearly a decade ago. I also see one of my own comments wishing for something similar, but slightly more fleshed out and polished. I guess my wish came true, even if it took a while.

Overwhelm is out now for PC & Mac via Itch.io and Steam for £7.19/$10, minus 20% for the first week.

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Dominic Tarason

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