Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Overlander (Elite Systems, 1988)

Designed by Simon Cook

ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC versions: Programming by Mark Haigh-Hutchinson, graphics by Gary Tonge and Peter Tattersall, music and sound effects by Mark Cooksey. Published in 1988 by Elite.

Commodore 64 version: Programming by Richard Underhill, graphics by Peter Tattersall, loading screen by Paul Walker, music and sound effects by Mark Cooksey. Published in 1988 by Elite.

Atari ST and Commodore Amiga versions: Programming by Darren Pegg, graphics by Simon Cook, Gary Tonge and Peter Tattersall, ST music and sound effects by Jason C. Brooke, Amiga music and sound effects by Mark Cooksey. Published in 1989 by Elite.



When I started planning on taking the blog back into regular form, I decided I wanted to do something light and easy, so I decided to take a look at one of my old driving game favourites: Overlander. I remember buying this from some electronics shop in a sale of two tapes for a reduced price, and from the very few choices available, the other choice was Supertrux, because I didn't know anything about it - as opposed to knowing all the other games were useless. Anyway, judging by the information on the regular websites - Lemon64, CPC-Power and World of Spectrum, it looked to be just a regular threesome. But of course, things have a tendency to get more difficult when you least expect them to. This one just had to have two 16-bit versions as well, and naturally, in addition to the traditional three-way 8-bit battle, we would also have the other traditional 16-bit battle on our hands. Since the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga versions aren't too well known, this is a good opportunity to get to know them better, in case the game's 8-bit versions offer no surprises.

At the time of starting to write this article, the ratings at our favourite haunts were: 7.52 from 23 votes at World of Spectrum; 6.0 from 39 votes at Lemon64; 7.7 from 13 votes for the Atari ST version at Atarimania; 5.45 from 20 votes at LemonAmiga; and the two Amstrad scores are 10/20 from CPC-Power and 6/10 from CPC Game Reviews. Nothing completely unexpected, I have to admit.



What we're dealing with here, is basically a RoadBlasters clone. If you don't know what RoadBlasters is, it was the game that at least popularized, if not invented, the 3rd-person (behind-view) vehicular combat/racing genre. Of course, I wouldn't have chosen Overlander as a game to talk about over RoadBlasters, had it not been somehow more advanced, which doesn't necessarily mean it's actually better than RoadBlasters. What I always most liked about Overlander was that you could purchase weapons, defenses and fuel with your hard-earned cash at the end of each level. This makes Overlander a much more tactical game than most of its kind. Too bad the game was practically ruined by ridiculous difficulty level.

Overlander was one of my earliest experiences on the C64, and it remains to this day one of the games that always somehow manages to grip me, but I never seem to quite catch on to it properly. Perhaps the problem is, that not only Overlander requires proper skill and memorizing, but there's also a lot of trial and error involved in it. In other words, you really have to know your stuff. So, while it does have something about it that might easily appeal simply by its slightly unique sort of presence, I wouldn't recommend it to just anybody, since it requires plenty of perseverance, and the time put into it doesn't necessarily pay off in the end. But if you know your Elite games, you'll be aware of that already.



Merely for the sake of keeping up an increasingly badly upheld tradition, let's take a look at the loading times for the cassette versions, and simultaneously take a closer look at all the loading screens, which will automatically disqualify them from making any sort of an impact in the Graphics section.

Amstrad CPC - Elite : 15 min 18 sec
Commodore 64 - Elite/Encore : 6 min 35 sec
Commodore 64 - Commodore Force : 2 min 49 sec
ZX Spectrum - Elite 48k : 5 min 18 sec
ZX Spectrum - Elite 128k : 6 min 30 sec
ZX Spectrum - MCM 48k : 5 min 32 sec
ZX Spectrum - MCM 128k : 7 min 12 sec
ZX Spectrum - Encore 48k : 5 min 24 sec
ZX Spectrum - Encore 128k : 6 min 39 sec

Without a doubt, the CPC version is the slowest by far, but at least the Amstrad users can grab a disk version instead, if they feel like skipping the boring bit. Besides, the loading screen is, barring the C64 Commodore Force release, the least colourful of the lot, only featuring black and three shades of blue. It's not too bad, just lacking in colour. The SPECTRUM versions' loading times range around 5 and 7 minutes, depending on whether you're playing the 48k or the 128k version, and the original release is the quickest of the lot - the superior 128k version even beats the original C64 version by a few seconds. The loading screen isn't very pretty, though - while the pixelation is practically exactly the same as in the CPC loading screen, the colours are an awkward mix of bright red and cyan, with only a little splash of darker blue. Actually, the Amstrad loading screen looks better due to its effective use of single colour shading. The same artist, Gary Tonge, also did the Atari ST loading screen, which shows the car and the Elite logo finally in full colour and details. However, I'm not entirely sure the car shown in the SPE/CPC/ST loading screens is actually a Mustang, but it's not too far from it. At least it's blue.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga.
Bottom row - Commodore 64 loaders: Elite/Encore (left and middle), Commodore Force (right)

Rather strangely, the Amiga loader features a bit of poetry before the actual loading screen is shown, but because it's just text, I didn't include it here. The loading screen itself is frankly odd, since it turns the whole screen into a pseudo-3D styling, and shows a huge title logo behind a... is that a Ferrari 308 instead of a Ford Mustang? (Blasphemy!) ...and all of this is set on a glass surface that mirrors everything on it. It doesn't look bad, really, just wrong. The original Elite loader from the C64 versions features two screens: a "please wait" screen with an animated star background, and the only rendition of the game's actual cover art, which has a cool view of the Mustang with an oversized turbo charger decorating the bonnet/hood, and a very old Western prairie-type background behind it. Paul Walker really got the mood right here, even if the game logo isn't exactly the prettiest one of the lot. The Commodore Force loader only features a basic Novaload screen and the PETSCII loading screen you see above, but at least it's the quickest one around.



As is only to be expected, the game starts from a title screen, which will eventually lead you to a menu of sorts. Depending on whether you're playing the SPECTRUM or AMSTRAD versions, you could be taken to a control menu, in which you can choose some pre-defined controls, or redefine your own preferred set of keys. If you're playing the C64, ATARI ST or AMIGA versions, you are taken straight to the first part of the game, which is a set of options to begin your game with, featuring the mission you're about to embark on, the amount of petrol/gas you want to put in your tank, and a lot of accessories and weapons you can install into your car with the given amount of advance money for your chosen mission. Naturally, if you pick the higher-paid mission, the more things you can buy for your car, but you still need to use the money wisely.

Unfortunately, you cannot purchase more than one type of special weapon ammunition for each level, because you have no way to change the special weapon during play. Then again, perhaps it's all for the better, because that way you can spend your money more wisely on bulletproofing, battering rams, turbocharger, superbrakes and such - you can even purchase an extra life, if you have the money for it. Each version has their own prices for the featured items, which already makes most versions' achievements and scores incomparable, since different prices give an unfair advantage to certain versions. But perhaps that's not the least of our problems.

Let's rewind back to the controls now. The basic stuff is pretty self-explanatory: up and down will accelerate and decelerate, and left and right will steer your car. In addition to those, you have buttons on the keyboard for Pause, Quit and firing a Special weapon. According to the manuals, Space bar is used to launch whatever you have chosen as your special weapon. Alternatively, you can also push the fire button and pull the joystick back simultaneously to reach the same goal.

Although Overlander comes across as a driving game, that it is only in a small portion. Strip off the driving layer, and you will find that the game has more in common with certain types of shoot'em-up games, which require you to memorize patterns and/or enemy appearance orders, or somehow learn to anticipate different kinds of enemy behaviour. For example, you will come across four types of motorcycle baddies, two of which will approach from the front in different movements, and two of which will attack from behind in slightly more randomized ways. So, not only is Overlander a game of strategy and skill, but luck plays a huge part in it as well - something which I've never been a particularly great fan of.

Due to this, I have never managed to get through Overlander's five levels without cheats, nor do I really have the inclination to do so, but I will say this: with perseverance, you can memorize almost everything and get through the game without using any cheat modes. Just requires a whole lot of time and patience. As a quick strategy guide, I would recommend you to first try the level out with as much fuel as you can get for your money, and try to get through the level, then see how much fuel is left; on your next attempt, buy only the required amount of fuel and then use the rest of your money to buy some goodies. It is possible to get through at least the first level without upgrades, but you might experience more difficulties in the later levels.

Regardless of my relatively persistent incompetence in playing Overlander, we do need to at least get some basic characteristics and differences of each version brought to light here. As with the most advanced racing games of this kind, Overlander was designed to feature plenty of hills - both up and down, a fair amount of curves - sometimes during hills, obstacles and other vehicles, all of which can be counted as your enemies. Of course, in the arcade tradition, you also have some sort of a limiter/hastener for your mission, but this time, instead of a countdown timer increased by checkpoints, you are presented with a fuel tank, which you can fill up to a preferred level before the level starts. I already mentioned it, but the reason why I mention it now again is, that the price and amount of fuel you can tank differs by the version, and the rate of fuel usage also differs, so each version requires a different strategy for each level. Not a good prospect for doing a detailed comparison, so I decided not to get too detailed. I guess it could be said, though, that the C64 version is the easiest one to follow due to the unique fuel unit display in the gas station screens.

Now, the amount and design of hills and curves is as it should be on the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions - there's plenty enough of everything, but everything is still well-balanced. The C64 version doesn't have as much of either, and neither hills nor curves feel as sharp as in the original design. The AMIGA and ATARI ST versions have plenty enough of curves, but somehow, the coder forgot to include downhills in addition to uphills, and their design is a bit samey, at least from what I managed to find out.

There's a good reason, though, for the amount and design of hills and curves in all versions, since they're all balanced with the car's handling. In the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, the car feels surprisingly analogue, at least compared to the C64 version, and still, the car's controlling on the other two is sharper or more immediate, if that's a good way to describe it. Then again, shooting at things is more forgiving and more accurate on C64, than in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions. This is an important factor, since there are parts on the road, which are practically impassable without either being able to shoot your way through or having equipped your car with plenty of bulletproofings. The AMIGA and ST versions are perhaps too fast for their own good, because in higher speeds, it can be superbly difficult to get past the roadside shooters, but the ST version manages to save these occasions by showing the bulletstreams from further distance, so you can dodge the bullets more easily. None of the 8-bit versions give you much of a chance for dodging the bullets, so your best bet is just to shoot the roadside shooters down.

The enemy traffic can sometimes be brutal, mostly the bikes coming from behind, since you can't really anticipate the side of the road they're arriving from, but at least you are given an indicator for whether an enemy is coming from the front or from your behind... although it only says so when the said enemy is already on the screen, so those coming from behind aren't really warned about early enough. Considering that, the indicator is really of little use, since you mostly need to memorize the enemy patterns anyway. The exception to this rule is the C64 version, which doesn't have a front/back indicator in the HUD, but instead, you are shown from which side of the road the enemies are coming from with arrows on both sides of the screen just above the HUD. Happily, the only type of enemy vehicle that will shoot at you is the respawning Ford monster truck, which will always come from the front, and begins to zig-zag the road's width and either shooting at your general direction so that you can't see the bullet until it hits you on the 8-bits, or dropping immediately exploding mines far ahead, so that they have no chance of even hitting you before you've killed them on the 16-bits. In all the versions apart from the C64, the Ford trucks always appear in sequences of three trucks - the C64 only throws one Ford at a time at you. Really, your worst enemies are the roadside shooters, bikes coming from behind, and roadblock fences (which can be rammed down with battering rams). The roadblock fences don't appear in level 1 of the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions.

Considering all of the above, the C64 version sounds like the most player-friendly one of the lot - which it admittedly is to a certain extent. However, the car's handling on the C64 is precisely what makes it such a huge disappointment. The car steers too slow for comfort even in faster speeds, but on lower speeds, the car becomes practically undriveable. Still, you need to do lower speeds to get through the roadside shooter sequences and roadblock fence sequences, so you just have to get used to the bad controls. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions feature everything the game is supposed to have in terms of road variety, enemies and even a better balance in difficulty for the first vs. the later levels; however, similarly to the AMIGA and ST versions, they are often too unpredictable in enemy behaviour, that getting even past the first level can be a supreme challenge. Naturally, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions' mutual differences are limited to the speed of gameplay, which is hardly brain-wrecking to make guesses upon.

The 16-bit versions do have some things better than in the originals, though. In addition to the more observable roadside shooters, that is. For one, the superbrakes and the turbocharger work more efficiently and with more sense: you can stop the acceleration and deceleration manually on the 16-bits. Also, similarly to the C64 version, the 16-bits feature a high score table, which in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions is simply the highest score of the session instead. Due to the relative easiness of dealing with your enemies, all the levels are triple in length compared to the originals, but it's still rather playable. Pros have to be met with cons, though: you get no recovery time after respawn, so if you're dropped in front of a roadside shooter, you get immediately killed on respawn; the enemy cars act weirdly, and can stay on your screen during your respawn; and there's only one type of a motorcycle enemy. Well, maybe that's a good thing, I'm not sure.

There's not too much more I can tell. Apart from the above, there's a lethal bug that I noticed in the original tape release of the C64 version. It's possible to get the original C64 release to crash sometime in the second half of level 2, if all the conditions are met, but I'm quite certain you will need certain items in your car installed, as well as plenty of on-screen action to pull this nasty trick off. I only managed to make it happen once, though, so it could be a freak occurrence. There's also a cracked AMIGA version around, which tends to freeze for a few seconds on a rather annoyingly high frequency, so if you're willing to play the game for a longer time, make sure you get a proper crack, or even better, the original. For the C64 version: as much as I'm all for using the original game media, I'm sorry to say, but you're better off with a good fixed crack.

In conclusion, the C64 version is the easiest, but also probably the most boring of the lot, when it comes to just gameplay. Also, the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions are the most difficult, but feature all the original designed elements, and so are probably the most interesting on the long run - and they still lack a high score table. The AMIGA and ST versions fall somewhere between the two 8-bit camps in the fullness of gameplay, are overall the most comfortable to drive, have high score tables instead of just the highest score of the day, but have a few strange elements quite badly wrong. All five versions share the same solution to all their problems: it's up to the player to keep getting better to beat the game, with all its faults in all its versions. The question remains, is it really worth the trouble? If you manage to get your skills up to the level, where you can get past level 1 with no problems, then it might, because once you get to level 2, the game becomes considerably easier, as you gain access to armour plating, which makes a huge difference. However, it's a different thing altogether, whether the game offers an ending of any kind for any version, which would be worth the trouble, and the question still remains.




To me at least, the idea of driving a turbocharged, slightly beaten Ford Mustang to the setting sun until your petrol runs out gives more goosebumps (in a good way) than driving a convertible Ferrari with a blonde girl on the passenger's seat through a stretch of random sceneries until your imaginary time limit runs out. So, obviously, the cover art already can give plenty to expect to a guy like me.

Title screens. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
Bottom left: Atari ST. Bottom right: Commodore Amiga.

Once you get past the variety of loading screens, you get to a fairly traditional title screen, which unerringly features the game's title logo (with slight alterations for the C64 and 16-bit versions), the credits in some form, and the ever-present HUD taking the bottom third of the screen. The AMIGA and ST versions have a moving starfield as a background, which you can rotate with your joystick; a fun effect, but hardly necessary, as it's already much more visually impressive than any of the 8-bits. Perhaps they were compensating...

We might as well take a closer look at the HUD now, since the level graphics might also need closer examination. The HUD design is basically the same in all versions, which is nice. On the 16-bits, all the items to purchase are hidden at first, and become only displayed once you actually purchase them. The said items are rather logically placed on the HUD: the left end of the panel features the special weapons (top to bottom: flamethrower, missiles and smart bombs), the right end of the panel features defences (top to bottom: number of lives, bulletproofings and battering rams - see what they did there), and the items below and to the immediate right of the middle display are for the items you only need to buy once (left to right: armour plating, superbrakes, wheelblades, lean burner and turbocharger). The most important thing you really need to keep an eye on, however, is the amount of fuel you have and consume, so you can make adjustments to the amount you buy on your next attempt. Then, of course, you get the RPM and MPH meters both sides of the fuel gauge. The only display item not featured in the C64 version is the radar of sorts, which displays arrows to either your front or back, depending on which way enemies are approaching from, and this is understandable, because it's practically useless. Therefore, this issue has been dealt with by putting arrows pointing left and right for both sides of the screen just above the HUD.

Mission options menu screens, left to right:
Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST.

Skipping the control menus from the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions due to no additional graphical content, we arrive to the mission menus. The game starts by offering you two missions, which is just a cargo to deliver to the end of the current level. As far as I know, your chosen cargo doesn't affect the length or the difficulty of the level, so you might as well always pick the higher-paying one. I guess one of the game's motives was to give you the choice to be a courier to the good guys or the bad guys, so there's some sort of a moral choice you could make. Luckily, moral is not a very important factor in Overlander. Anyway, regarding the graphics, it's easy to see that the C64 version doesn't have any illustrations for your missions, and the AMSTRAD version features less colours than the SPECTRUM version. Also, now that the score display is at the top of the screen in the 16-bit versions, it's easier to see the actual screensizes of both versions - clearly, the AMIGA version utilises a much larger area of the screen than the ST version, and on closer look, the AMIGA version also uses more colour shades to make everything look just a bit smoother than on the ST version.

As for the other two screens, the gas station picture is different in all versions, although between the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, only the colouring differs. The AMIGA gas dispenser looks rather futuristic, the ATARI ST equivalent looks more traditional, and the C64 screen doesn't feature a gas dispenser at all, but instead, your Mustang rolls in and stops to the middle of the screen, and leaves when you are ready. Finally, the weaponry is depicted by a scrolling list with a blinking highlight in the C64 version, a single-screen list with a wide coloured highlight in the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions, and a slightly confusing grid screen on the 16-bits. On a purely graphical basis, the 16-bit version looks the best, but the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions are easily the clearest.

Screenshots from level 1, left to right:
ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64.

When Overlander was advertised in magazines, Elite used a feature chart to point out, what sort of great things their new game had in comparison to some randomly chosen other racing games, just to point out what it arguably does have. The games included in the chart are Pole Position (1982), Pit Stop (1983), Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix (1988), Out Run (1986), Road Blasters (1987), Chequered Flag (1983) and WEC Le Mans (1986), most of which don't even belong in the same exact category, which is vehicular combat. The selling points for Overlander were basically, that it had "stomach churning hilly roads", "player controlled vehicle construction" and "armed destruction", all of which had been featured in earlier driving games, but simultaneously? Admittedly, not in any game that I could think of so far.

After you finish with tampering with your car's weapons and things, you start the game, and the armed destruction bit comes forth almost immediately, and then come the hilly roads, which are not so very stomach churning, after all, but for the time, I'll admit they were unusual. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions in particular are to be recommended for their performance and featuring up- and downhills, which the 16-bit versions don't have. As you might have guessed, though, the C64 version is inherently more colourful, and scrolls better, but the sprite scaling isn't quite as good as on the other two 8-bits, and the monster truck Ford is... in a word, laughable. Still, bullets from any vehicle or the roadside shooters are more visible on the C64 - perhaps because the whole shooting-while-driving concept was made simpler (somewhat disregarding proper shooting angles and such), so it's easier to shoot at things because you can see better. On the 16-bits, everything looks much clearer and smoother, so you can't use the lack of visibility as an excuse for your failures - just the excessive speed you're driving at, and lack of experience.

Screenshots from level 2, left to right:
ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64.

Entering level 2 feels kind of familiar, but different enough to make it feel different from level 1. That's because at least on all the 8-bits, the backgrounds are basically the same, with only the colour schemes making the level graphics different in any significant manner. At least the 16-bit conversionists went a bit further, and changed not only the colour schemes to something more interesting, but also background horizon graphics to fit the colour scheme. However, the AMIGA version has more depth in background graphics, and also, only the AMIGA version has modifications to roadside objects (trees and such) already at this point. Also notable is the way the road itself looks: the ST version still sticks closer to the originals with wide, non-separated lanes kind of a style, although the red-and-white road edges are accentuated by two similarly spaced shades of grey; while the AMIGA version features a regular dark grey road with two lanes separated by a traditional white lane marking. Quite clearly, the AMIGA version has some advantage in the later release date.

One rather obvious thing is yet to be properly compared: the Mustang. To my utter bafflement, in no version does the player car look like the Mustang shown in the game cover, so why bother using such an iconic car? The SPECTRUM/AMSTRAD car could be practically anything, since it has no truly distinguishable features, other than it being a two-door coupé. More to the point, the colours being what they are, there are no real details in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions that colours would be able to tell. BUT, and this is a big "but": the car has at least been animated to use quite a few different angles - both in turns and in hills, so you can see the monochrome car from a surprisingly wide variety of angles. The C64 car sprite is blue and a bit squished, and looks even less like any car I know of. It doesn't have nearly as many angles to examine the car from (you can see the best angles in the picture below), so it's easily the least distinguishable and least animated car from all five versions. The ATARI ST version has a cool looking blue two-door coupé sort of a car, with a nice red lining on the sides; however, it looks more like an 80's Lotus than a 1970 Mustang. Still, the closest so far. The red AMIGA car might be some sort of a Mustang, but I haven't found pictures of any model that would look exactly like that, so it could be a mix between early and late 70's Mustangs. However, it's red, which the car in the cover picture isn't, so it's wrong. But that's not an excuse to disregard everything else in the said version - it's just a minor complaint.

Screenshots from level 3, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga.

Due to my recently developed extreme increase in a lack of time to work on the blog, I decided to use cheats to get further in the game, and therefore, I'm going to end the level graphics comparisons to the third level. Besides, there's not much new to see from level 2 onwards in any case - it's all the same from that point on, apart from slightly differing backgrounds and basic level colourings. Only the 16-bit versions feature street lights dividing the roads from level 3 onwards, which also make a huge increase in difficulty. Some versions have different order of segments, but I don't think the logical progression of segments really matters in this game, since there's so very little of plotline, anyway. Now, I shall leave the remaining segments for each of you readers to find out about, if you can bother.

Game Over screens. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.
Bottom left: Atari ST. Bottom right: Commodore Amiga.

When you lose your last life, which you eventually will, unless you're a super-human and can complete this game with your eyes closed, you get the obligatory Game Over screen, which is mostly just a regular small text message over the screen your journey ended on. Only the C64 version has a separate Game Over screen, which is still just a boring Game Over message, this time with the other familiar, larger blue font used elsewhere in the game. I cannot with all honesty give any special points for any version for this.

"Enter your name" screens, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga.

But for the "Enter your name" screen, I can. Since the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions only feature one high score, it doesn't come as a shock, that they forbid you from writing your three initials for decorating the high score. The C64 name-typing screen is as traditional as you would expect, and doesn't bring anything new to the table, graphically speaking. Also, the joystick-controlled "typing" makes the whole thing a bit bothersome, making you usually settle for "AAAAAAAA" as your name, since eight letters is the most it will accept. The ATARI ST version will accept as many as 12 letters and/or other characters, and the AMIGA version can handle even more. However, the ST version is the only one to feature any new graphics, which is three differently coloured raster bars flying over and behind the text bits on the screen. Nothing particularly special, but it's new.

Although the 16-bit versions don't really stand a chance to better 16-bit vehicular combat games or other racing games, they're still easily the best of the lot. The AMIGA version would beat the ATARI ST version just by having more depth and colour, but it also features some other graphical modifications, which makes it all the more interesting to see in action, even though the red player car is a tad confusing. The C64 version has more colour and better scrolling than the other two 8-bit versions, but it lacks dramatically in detail and animations, and the whole presentation has an overall cheapness to it, not counting the loading screens. Finally, the SPECTRUM version wins over the AMSTRAD version by having more reasonable choices of colours and better scrolling - nothing else needed.




The reason why Overlander has somehow managed to gain an honourable status of any kind is most likely its soundtrack by Mark Cooksey. The ATARI ST soundtrack by Jason C. Brooke isn't bad either, but it's different, and this calls for another sort of a comparison.

Let's start with the easiest one, though: the SPECTRUM 48k version doesn't feature any music, and the sound effects are surprisingly scarce. You only get a couple of bleeps for the menus, your car's incessantly boring drone and your own massively long and dramatic crash. That's quite a bit less than what one might have expected, even from the 48k version. Once you've gotten used to the blandness of the 48k beeper version, the 128k upgrade feels light years ahead. Cooksey's rocking title tune features all the elements: a bass line, two primary melody lines and even a drum track. I've rarely heard the Spectrum's AY-chip sound as good as this. There are also two shorter pieces of music, that will play at the start of each level and at Game Over, the latter of which cannot be skipped, which is annoying, because it's a bit oversized for the occasion. Everything else is sound effects, which are much more varied and higher quality than the few sorry excuses for sound effects featured in the 48k version. So, if you only have a 48k SPECTRUM at your disposal, do yourselves a favour and buy a 128k Spectrum, and a whole new world of nicer sounds will open up for you. Luckily for the AMSTRAD owners, they get the same set of sounds as the 128k SPECTRUM owners do, even for the basic 64k CPC model.

All this praise sets quite a challenge for the C64 version. The unique tape loader already features a brilliant new tune, which sets it apart from all the other versions alone, but that's only the beginning. As the game has loaded, a slightly modified version of the title tune kicks in with an ominous fading synth pad sound, before we get to the familiar bassline starting the song proper. I have to admit, for once the AY version of the song has better drums than the SID version, but the SID makes it equally good with arpeggios and nice filters. The title tune is also played during play, which is nice, but unfortunately, you have no option to go with sound effects instead, which would have been a nice alternative. Next, there's a new tune played in the mission options screens, which reminds me heavily of tunes in the C64 version of Batman the Movie, which is not a bad thing at all. The same tune is played during the "Enter your name" screen. Of course, there's also the obligatory Game Over ditty, which is more appropriate in both mood and length here than in the AY versions. While I think the music is all nice on the C64, I miss having sound effects, and there the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions have the upper hand. A rare thing to happen, indeed.

Last from the Cooksey set, the AMIGA version offers no surprises in using sampled sounds for everything. What might be surprising, though, is the lack of sampled distorted guitars, which I think is a good choice for this game. The title tune lasts for as long as you exit the mission options screens and enter the actual game, and the options screens only feature a single kind of a "pinnngggg" for exiting the current menu. Similarly to the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, the AMIGA version features a level-entry tune, which, unlike on the aforementioned 8-bits, will play until the end of the short tune before the game starts playing sound effects, which are as awesome as you would expect from the Amiga. Lots of explosions, lots of motoring noises, different kinds of shooting noises... nothing is amiss, really. Only the Game Over tune is the same long one as in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions. Happily, the "Enter your name" tune was kept from the C64 version, and upgraded to have drums... however, it doesn't loop like on the C64, but if you're a quick typer, you won't notice that.

Jas Brooke's soundtrack for the ATARI ST is an almost entirely different beast. The title tune is just about as rocking as the original, but is less memorable on the melodic side of things. The start-of-level and Game Over tunes are perhaps more fitting than in the original, if only for their compactness' sake, but they're both just as good as the equivalent tunes in the C64 version. Another new tune can be found in the "Enter your name" screen, which reminds me of some of 1960's girl groups like the Supremes or other doo-wop/R'n'B-based bands. Completely out of context, but fun nonetheless. The menus don't feature music, and the only sound effect there is a blirpy noise for entering the next screen. The in-game sound effects don't have as much oomph as the AMIGA sound effects, nor as much character as the original SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD sound effects, so I guess I could put it on the same line as the C64 version.




Overlander is one of those games, where the cover art is better than what it represents - it's a car enthusiast pin-up, as they're sometimes called. I'm not a Mustang fanatic, but that cover art is one of the rare things that make me feel like I want to drive one, and all that binge-watching of pre-2016 Top Gear and the Grand Tour doesn't lessen the effect. The game itself is a brave attempt at creating something unique and exciting in the realm of vehicular combat games, but unfortunately, the results of that exercise have only varied from rough sketches through mild disappointments to "too little, too late". However, for the first time in a surprisingly long while, we have a game that is actually the most at home on a 128k SPECTRUM than any other machine, and apart from the unique tape loader, a real turkey on the C64.

1. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 10
1. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 1, Graphics 5, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 10
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
2. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 8
3. ATARI ST: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
4. COMMODORE 64: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5

Perhaps that's a bit too roughly put, but as you know by now, the mathematical method of scoring on this blog is not entirely accurate, but it's not that far from the truth either. Again, if you're lazy to read all the way through, check on the Playability score to see, which versions really matter, since graphics and sounds rarely matter in the bigger scale. For better examples of vehicular combat games on the 8-bits, RoadBlasters is a good place to start, but games like Chase HQ (Spectrum) and Turbo Charge (C64) took things to a new level.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading, see you next time!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thx for an extraordinary analize. Probably I missed this game and it's time to check it.

  3. I have to say, this is one of the most in-depth reviews I have ever read, so well done for that! I can't believe I missed this game...