Overrun - en

by Janos Biro profile


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Hack into servers. Make friends. Find answers., January 17, 2023

Overrun is a cyberpunk hacking game set in 2050. Nearly two decades prior, a virus known as the Crash Virus wiped out the internet and every database, toppling governments and nations which would be replaced by corporations. To investigate the virus, computer experts turned to an experimental brain-computer interface called a cyberdeck that allows the human mind to enter the digital world. Eventually, the Crash Virus was destroyed, though not without killing some cyberdeck users in the process.

You were one of the experts who helped in destroying the Crash Virus and are now employed at the corporation Renraku Arcology as a programmer and corporate decker. One day, your System Identification Number (SIN)- akin to a Social Security number- is erased. You have no memory as to why, only that without a SIM, you no longer exist in society. To find answers, you turn to your cyberdeck.

Janos Biro originally wrote and released this game in Portuguese but later posted an English version, both of which are available on IFDB. If it isn’t obvious, I played the latter. Overrun is based off a tabletop RPG game called Shadowrun, which details the discovery of magic in conjunction with pre-existing cybernetic technology. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals similar themes and features in both pieces, particularly dystopian corporate undertones. The game also explains that Biro created a 1996 version of Overrun in QBASIC. It is cool when authors decide to revisit their previous works.

I was not expecting such a complex and immersive game when I sat down to play this. I figured it would be a familiar cyberpunk Twine game about defying corporations with gameplay where you are presented with three to four choices at a time to influence a storyline. While those games are also fun, Overrun brings something new to the table. It's a hacking game, or at least a "hacking" game, but one that makes you feel like a pro at computer hacking wizardry even though you fully know that you are just messing around on a Twine game.

Everything is centered around completing missions where you hack into systems to either find files, disable system functions, or shutdown the entire server. Completing missions rewards you with experience points, and payments from jobs allow you to upgrade utilities that give you extra skills in the field. You can also sell files for extra income.

Hacking is an interesting experience in Overrun. The server is represented with an in-game map depicting corridors and system nodes, within which are your avatar and icons representing IC programs that patrol for intruders. You move in up/down/left/right directions, either by clicking the screen or using your keyboard. Next to the map is a list of your utilities and your stat resources. Spending memory on your utilities gives you an edge of overcoming challenges. Just be careful not to set off any alarms.

It really feels like you are hacking into the "mainframe." That sounds cringy, but it is true. There is a somewhat steep learning curve. I was clicking things at random for a while but eventually I got the hang of all the RPG functions and features. Everything was rather easy after that. Maybe even too easy, but I have no complaints. Strategy is still required and provides a meaningful gameplay experience. This is what the menu of your cyberdeck looks like:

>>>Hacker Shop
>>>Hacker Board
>>>Hacker Bar

[Decker] [Files] [Mission]
[Saves] [Options] [Help] [Quit]

And that's not including the extensive stats at the bottom of the page. In retrospect, all this feels straightforward, but nonetheless left me overwhelmed when I first found the game. There is a learning curve that may compel players to quit before reaching that moment when you finally feel like you are making progress. For me, it was using the utilities in combat.

Mirror failed!
Pyro is containing you!
Mirror failed!
Pyro caused 8 damage to you.
Mirror failed!

The more you upgrade your utilities the more effective they are in the field. However, they start out as being in effective and flimsy until they are upgraded. Spending 6 memory on a mirror function that did not even work (see above) was frustrating, but it was all part of the learning curve. Stick with it, especially if you like RPG games.

To advance the story, you must build a rapport with the hackers in the Hacker Bar. They give you tasks and odd jobs in exchange for information or leads on your situation. The more they trust you the more exciting the quests. Later, there is a (Spoiler - click to show) big boss fight where you recruit almost all the hacker NPCs to hunt down a character who refers to herself as Alice in Wonderland. That one is a lot of fun.

My main complaint is a need for organizing ongoing objectives. There is the “Mission” section that lists active missions from the Hacker Board, but it does not include special tasks taken on from the other hackers. The annotation section in your files similarly lists the tasks you’ve completed, but not the ones currently in progress. While the hosts are automatically listed in your cyberdeck, you must remember who requested what which can be confusing if you have taken on multiple tasks. An objectives page would have been helpful.

For those interested in worldbuilding, Overrun is a great example. There is an info section called Shadowland that provides more than enough story context. More than most people would care to read, although I far prefer having too much over too little. I appreciate the author’s thoughtfulness in providing in-depth exposition for the player.

Time to dive into some (major) spoilers. (Spoiler - click to show) Turns out your SIN was erased because your physical body died. How is this possible? Well, it appears that the human brain can make a digital copy of itself as a last measure of defense when the physical body is on the brink of being killed. The person lives on as a program in their own cyberdeck, sometimes not realizing what had happened, as is the case for the protagonist. This raises all sorts of interesting implications of what it means to be a former human and a sentient being in the non-physical world.

This game does leave you with murky, answered questions. (Spoiler - click to show) There is some ambiguity about Project Morgan and why Renraku decided to terminate you as their employee. As part of your job, you were testing Morgan's program, but somehow was deemed a threat to the corporation. An “accident” was faked to cover for your death when in truth Renraku hired some shadowrunners to do the dirty work by ensuring that you were killed while hooked up to your cyberdeck. Ironically, two of those shadowrunners turn out to be at the Hacker Bar. If you ask the right questions, Morgan will tell you about this. I recommend saving before you talk to Morgan in the Hacker Bar because some dialog options only appear once.

While technically the erasure of your SIN means you are free from the influence of governments or corporations, you are still confined with the limitations of your cyberdeck program. Morgan and Jerusalem ramble about the Resonance and its path towards freedom but the game never provides any answers. The player is not free their program whereas Morgan apparently is, and she makes it sound so easy. Morgan is extremely confident that the player can be free, but ultimately the player pays dearly for thinking that.
I will discuss this in the next section about endings.

Thoughts on genre
I have never been a huge fan of the sci-fi fantasy genre. I like sci-fi 110%. I apologize if that makes me one-dimensional. I still like trying the genre's games because you never know if you will find something that does resonate with you. For example, I am a huge fan of Skybreak! It is made with ADRIFT and balances the two genres perfectly. Overrun does a decent job in combining the two genres, and I liked the emphasis on science fiction over magic while still staying true to its fantasy elements. Still, it took some time to get used to it. The last thing I think of when I see the year 5050 are dragons or magic, especially when cyberpunk themes are involved.

It occurred to me that the hacking sequences feel reminiscent of a dungeon crawl puzzle where you have a map with opponents. Play is move by move. Instead of ogres and looters you have anti-malware sentries roaming for you. Instead of a chest of gold you get classified files. From the other side of the room if you saw the game's map you would probably assume that you were looking at a dungeon map.

The major downside to Overrun is a lack of commitment to the endings. The endgame involves hacking into a server to talk to a digital program named Mirage who was tasked with helping computer experts overcome the Crash Virus. After some dialog, Mirage offers some intriguing solutions on how to end the game. Unfortunately, the execution of these endings is flimsy, leaving the player with few substantial options to conclude the lengthy gameplay.

I like to avoid dissecting every ending in my reviews to keep from spoiling everything but sometimes I simply want to discuss these outcomes, especially if I feel strongly about them. So here you go: A guide about the endings. I will stick it all under one big spoiler tag. Please avoid this section if you have not played the game yet. (Spoiler - click to show)

>>>I want to have a body.
>>>I want to cease to exist.
>>>I want to be free.
>>>I think I have enough, I don't need the Resonance.

The first three are the only ones that have endings that actually end the game. The fourth option just sends you back to your cyberdeck menu.

>>>I want to have a body.
The outcome I was looking for. It feels like the PC was not finished living when Renraku had them terminated. Why not seek a second chance? Mirage tells use to look for a person named Thomas Roxborough. But when you ask Jerusalem about finding Roxborough he says, "His research will only increase the power of megacorporations over people and the Matrix," and refuses to help you. That’s ominous. When finally find Roxborough he offers you to join the Brainscan project which seeks to build synthetic bodies for individuals who have lost their body. Then the game ends. I was hoping to see the implications of this decision.

>>>I want to cease to exist.
This results in a generic “You died” ending. Well, we did ask for it, didn’t we?

>>>I want to be free.
So, this one is a zinger. Turns out you cannot be free. I still do not quite understand what Mirage means by this; it seems like we can never get more than a cryptic explanation from anyone about your situation. But by making this request we are told that are story will end once we leave the server. Whether this means death is unclear, only that the game ends immediately after. This was a potent ending that bites the player out of nowhere, but it is also a bit disappointing since Morgan, Dodger, and the other characters are flouncing around explaining that you can be free! Free from your program! All you need is the Resonance!!! I still don’t understand what the Resonance is.

Oh well. The most answers you find, the more questions remain unanswered.

The Hacker Bar is full of interesting hacker NPCs with names like Misfill, Skinpact, and Dodger. They come from different backgrounds and have their own specialties. Not all of them can be found in the Hacker Bar when you first visit. Some show up later in the game as you build a reputation for yourself which was a nice change in pace.

Both Skinpact and Crapper will (Spoiler - click to show) challenge you to a cyberduel, but I was surprised at how easy it was to defeat them. I spent a lot of time practicing with the simulation feature and building up my utilities, only to crush my opponents after a few moves. It seems like battle is mostly reserved for system ICs.

The game uses visual effects to emulate a familiar “computer” atmosphere, particularly with thick green glowing text against a black screen. Its careful selection of font also adds to this look. It does use some scrolling text, mostly with character conversation, which was tedious but otherwise used infrequently enough to avoid dragging the player down. I liked how the game used flashing, urgent text for when you trigger an active alert while sneaking through a server.

Fun graphics are also included. Beside the server maps, the characters in the Hacker Bar each have their own character portrait, and the start of the game features imagery as it provides an overview on the history behind the story. The game even includes corporate logos for the files on corporations in the Shadowland module. That was a nice bit of atmosphere.

Final thoughts
I highly recommend this game to anyone interested in hacking themes in interactive fiction and/or if you are a fan of the Shadowrun universe. Fans of cyberpunk may also enjoy this, but it seems to cater to a specific audience. Not everyone will be interested in this game but those who are will probably be immersed by what it has to offer. It is especially fun if you are looking for a long RPG Twine game with stats and strategized combat. Overrun is ultimately a cyberpunk adventure with a strong foundation.

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