First posted on 02 May 2008. Last updated on 17 July 2010.
House of Tales has created a sure winner with the release of its adventure game Overclocked (also known as Overclocked: A History of Violence). This interactive psychological thriller combines a masterful plot, superb graphics, challenging puzzles, and a score of creepy, suspenseful, and haunting music. The game explores the abstract concept of justifiable violence through the minds of 5 mentally disturbed patients in an asylum and the eyes of their treating psychologist who analyzes their memories and illusions through flashbacks, dreams, and hypnosis. Overclocked is a retelling of these 2 stories that run parallel to each other but ultimately converge to meet at their final conclusion.
Overclocked is also a story about grand conspiracies, brainwashing, secret projects, and government cover-ups. All the characters in the game are believable, and together they weave a complex tale of mistrust, secrecy, and behind the scenes shady deals. Until you get deeply into the game, you (or your character) will not know who to trust—whether it be your attorney and best friend, your wife, the NYPD specialist detective, or the doctor and nurse with whom you work at the asylum.
The main protagonist of the game is David McNamara, a 41 year old ex-army specialist and forensic psychiatrist, who has just arrived in New York from Washington DC. David has once been responsible for treating troops from Operation Desert Storm for post-traumatic stress disorder, before being discharged by the army in 1999 after suffering a mental breakdown himself. On arriving at New York City, David finds the city in the grip of a long-lasting catastrophic storm that has sunken it into weeks of continual rain, hail, snow, and lightning. The Brooklyn Bridge has been closed down, bringing the city to an essential standstill.
The game starts off with the cut scene of a disorientated young woman suffering from amnesia, running down a main street scantily dressed in New York City. She draws a gun and points the weapon to the darkly clouded heavens before firing it. Soon, you learn that there have been 4 other similar cases of youths found in different parts of the city who have turned violent and are also disoriented and suffering from amnesia. Somehow, they all appear to be victims of some sinister acts, but no clues have been turned up by the NYPD as to what may have happened to them. All of the youths are taken away to Staten Island, offshore from the city that is only accessible by ferry or helicopter. On the island is an old mental asylum or hospital that is supposedly to have been closed down back in the 1970s.
Overclocked unfolds over a period of 5 chapters, each representing 1 full day that is further broken down into morning, afternoon, and evening. While at the asylum assessing the 5 victims or patients, David has the chance to go from cell to cell, interviewing each of them through hypnosis, aggression therapy sessions, recollection reconstructions, and other methods of delving into their recent past. These interviews lead to 27 flashback scenes, which ultimately reveal the real story behind Overclocked, namely, Project Goliath. What is Project Goliath? What is its link to the 5 asylum patients? As David, it is up to you ultimately expose this sinister trail of intrigue, secrecy, and deception.
The story begins with David awakening in his room at the Skyline Hotel, looking disheveled in his clothes and only vaguely remembering a long taxi drive the night before. He has been relieved of most of his money when taken for a ride by the unscrupulous taxi driver, before being dumped at the hotel. It is now the morning of 11 November 2007. Looking through the windows in his hotel room, David witnesses the ferocity of the storm that is ravishing through the city, where only the brave will dare to venture outdoors.
David's assignment is to reconnoiter with the NYPD specialist detective, Joe Moretti, to try to delve into the minds of the 5 young victims and glean any information that the police have been unable to do. These victims include 3 males and 2 females who are found in tattered and bloodied clothing, some with guns, aggressive, and unable to communicate with anyone. They appear to be random events. The names of the victims are revealed to be Jonathan Bayt, Laura Fawcett, Cliff Mandrake, Ray Thornton, and Victoria Montgomery. All of them are in their early adulthood.
Navigation throughout the game is very simple and uses a basic point-and-click interface. Context sensitive icons appear on the screen to dictate the available actions. A paper plane indicates where you want to go; a broad oblique arrow tells the direction in which you are going; an ear indicates that you are listening to something or someone; a question mark denotes that you are talking to someone for information; a hand is the means of picking up an object and using it; a magnifying glass zooms into a close-up view of an object you need to observe more closely. Other icons indicate whether you want to use, gain information, or observe an object or a situation.
When talking to another character, several prompts will appear automatically on the screen. You exhaust all of the prompts in order to gain full knowledge of the many clues that are necessary to solve the case. The game will also prompt you to help you if you are walking around at night, in dark stormy conditions, or in an underground tunnel. A magnifying glass will appear or a location will reveal itself on the screen whenever you hit the right place.
Whilst in the hotel room at the start of the game, you need to look around and pick up whatever objects you can use. The most important object that David will use is his PDA. With this, he can telephone his wife, his attorney and best friend Terry Ingram, Detective Moretti, and other characters who will appear throughout the game. The PDA also enables David to receive messages from others and enables him to record recollection construction conversations with his patients. At the end of each day, David summarizes the daily events to be used later when needed.
The game uses a split screen to simulate a telephone conversation. During the phone call, David appears on the right side of the screen while the other party appears on the left side at the same time.
As David leaves his room for the first time, he speaks to the hotel's concierge in a long conversation before venturing outside. David's first port-of-call is the mental asylum on Staten Island where the patients are being held. After finding the ferry, he meets Dr. Young who is in charge of the hospital, along with Tamara, the resident nurse. They prove to be very uncooperative, always eavesdropping in on David's sessions with the patients, wanting to know the status of his work.
Over the next few days, David's daily routine includes traveling to and fro from the Skyline Hotel, ferrying to Staten Island and back, and interviewing and recording all treatment sessions with his patients. David will interview a single patient, go to the next room, and play back the earlier recording to another patient in order to stimulate the patient's memory and find out the cause for the current psychological state. Once you hypnotize a patient (by clicking on the patient), a split screen appears, showing the patient in the bed on the left side of the screen and a flashback of what has happened previously to that patient on the right side. The split screens then merges together as the flashback is played out in full.
It is at this point where you, as David, take on the role of each of the patients. As each patient tries to escape from imprisonment (both figuratively and literally), it is up to you to solve puzzles and obstacles which crop up and hinder your escape. Some of the puzzles are really quite difficult, where you have to decode coded door locks, gather materials for a Molotov cocktail, rewire a control panel on the watchtower searchlight, or repair a broken radio. However, I must stress that all the puzzles are quite logical and none of them are purposely put there to frustrate you.
David is in constant contact with Detective Moretti, who both receives and provides helpful information about the case. Moretti completely distrusts David, and vice versa. Information is thus exchanged on a strained relationship, and David is even implicated early on as part of a conspiracy. As the story progresses, David is more convinced than ever that the cases he has been referred for treatment are not random. He now believes that the flashbacks shared by all his patients are parts of some lost memories of trying to escape from the same place, perhaps a military establishment.
Undoubtedly, the main story of Overclocked is about solving the case of these youths. There is also a secondary story about David himself that runs parallel with his investigation. David's marriage is well and truly on the rocks. He is aggressive, has a violent temper, drinks too much, and finds enemies like a powerful magnet. At night, after work, he seeks refuge at the Nighthawk Bar, a few doors down from the Skyline Hotel. As his personal life slowly unravels over a series of unfortunate events, David discovers a dark secret connecting him to his patients.
I am truly impressed by the 3D graphics rendered by the proprietary EmotionTM FX 2 technology in Overclocked. Facial movements are realistic and fluid and expressions are quite lifelike. Lips move in near perfect synchronization with speech. All the characters are rendered in high details, with eyelashes that move when they blink and wrinkles in their skin that appear and disappear when talking or frowning. Enhanced shadows and shader effects are noted everywhere. These visuals are further enhanced with exceptional real-time atmospheric particle effects to simulate rain, snow, and lightning. The characters are all animated on top of beautiful pre-rendered scenes.
If I have to nitpick for a fault with the graphics, it is at the Nighthawk Bar where David frequently visits. When the bartender pours David a drink, you can hear the whisky going into the glass, but you cannot see the whisky actually being poured into the glass. Then, when David drinks the whisky, you can see David raising his arm to his mouth, but there is no glass in his hand as he consumes his drink. This is only being pedantic, though, for a game with otherwise glitch free graphics.
The game screen is divided into 3 main areas. The main viewing area is in the middle and is cropped to a widescreen format. The top area displays the subtitles for any spoken dialog from the characters and alerts you to incoming messages from David's PDA. The bottom area displays the inventory of items which you have gathered to use later on. Identification of each item in the inventory is easy by simply clicking on the objects.
With Overclocked, House of Tales has developed not only a great game but a work of cinematic art. High acclaim must be given to the artists involved in the making of this game, particular Sebastian Wessel who serves as the Art Director. The game handles with great maturity a highly controversial subject that is very relevant to today's world completely obsessed with violence. With some 20 hours or more of playing time, you are sure to get full bang for your buck with Overclocked. Congratulations to House of Tales on this sure winner!