It's hard to write about Overgrowth [official site] without feeling a little old - this is early access before that was even a thing. According to my email archives, I was first informed of Wolfire Games' ninja rabbit simulator entering development in 2008, and I put down a preorder on it back in 2009. It feels very strange to say this, but as of October 4th, 2017, Overgrowth is now feature-complete and the latest version - Beta 6 - will be the last step before launching in a few weeks, with only minor tweaks, tuning and bug-fixing planned before version 1.0.
For those who haven't been keeping an eagle eye on this for nearly a decade, Overgrowth is the sequel to 2005's Lugaru: The Rabbit's Foot. An experimental little stealth-action game with a unique focus on ultra-mobile animal characters and context-sensitive melee combat based on real martial arts. The current version of Overgrowth includes a complete remake of the original Lugaru campaign, for those who want to catch up on Turner the Rabbit's story of bloody revenge before hopping into his next adventure.
In Overgrowth, Turner returns after avenging the loss of his village in the first game to face down a new threat to Lugaru island, a clan of foreign slavers. I've played through the first seven missions so far, and have enjoyed it a good deal. Missions are longer than in Lugaru, with higher enemy counts and occasional checkpoints to help alleviate frustration, although stealth is now easier than ever. The overall design seems to have settled on something roughly equivalent to a minimalist samurai-era Metal Gear, albeit with actual animal-people instead of gruff military sorts with animal nicknames.
The two things that set Overgrowth aside from other modern stealthy-stabby games are largely the same as they were in Lugaru. Playing as an anthropomorphic rabbit means that you run fast and jump absurdly good. With a run-up, you can easily clear fifty feet horizontally, and twelve vertically, making traversal of the surprisingly large maps a breeze, especially combined with easy climbing and wall-running. The game has full Steam Workshop support, and there are no shortage of platforming-focused levels already available.
The other defining feature is the melee combat, which is now entirely physics and AI-driven and shockingly brutal. It has a steep learning curve, but landing a roundhouse kick to a rabbit bandit's neck and hearing the crunch of snapping bone is... Well, it doesn't feel good, but you definitely feel like you hit him. Bladed weapons are almost horrifying to use, with even shallow cuts visibly bleeding out and eventually darkening as the blood begins to dry. It's a level of realism not often seen in games, and possibly for good reason.
It's been a long, strange journey watching Overgrowth's development. Educational, too, as up until entering Beta, Wolfire posted near-weekly development updates - hundreds in total - to their YouTube channel, detailing everything from small tweaks to the engine to the finer points of graphics optimisation. It's hard to believe it's almost over, but I'd like to congratulate everyone involved for their nine years of hard work.
Overgrowth is available on Steam and the Humble Store for £23/€28/$30, with minimal changes planned between now and launch. While no firm release date is set, the final launch shouldn't be more than a few weeks off. It boasts full Steam Workshop support, an active mod community, and an excellent level editor.