In a world overtaken by zombies, a lone electrician fights her way towards a better tomorrow. Let's take a look at the horror action game Overgrown: Genesis, and see how scary it really is.
It began with just a fungus. Researchers found it within the Amazon, where it lay dormant and harmless. Unnoticed, it would spread from human to human, nesting within their brains, but once a person became debilitated or sick, it would awaken, growing and overtaking their body. The infection spread like wildfire, taking over humanity. Infected men became enraged and hypersexual, attacking other men and raping women to spread the fungus by way of fluid exchange. The world is now dominated by seemingly mindless, plant-like zombies, and human society was reduced to a number of local safe zones.
One woman, Juno Townsends, is just a lone electrician trying to survive in this world. She was running out of food and took a job from her local governing body. They asked her to restore a generator quite far from the safe zone, but still connected to its grid. With the protection of a police squad, she succeeded, but it turned out that the policemen were corrupt. They abused her and left her there, at the mercy of the zombies. Abandoned by her escort, can Juno somehow make it home on her own?
Developed by Dystopian Project and published by Tiny Hat Studios on the 22nd of May, 2020, Overgrown: Genesis is a pornographic survival horror game made in RPG Maker. While solid and well-thought-out, the game comes with a handful of issues, often stemming from unambitious game design and engine limitations it doesn’t try to work past.
Throughout the game, you will be controlling Juno as she tries to find a semblance of peace in this mad world. Her goal is a common one shared by many others, a direction I’m glad to see the game take. There’re no petty plots of revenge or direct attempts at defeating the big bad behind it all. Even though your actions will eventually lead towards fighting for a cure, it will be done incrementally, as in each of the game's three acts, you and those around you try to do whatever is necessary to stay alive for just a while longer, battling against the issues of the present day.
This overarching mentality in the game's narrative can also work against it, though. Everyone you meet will have one of three motivations: surviving, finding the cure, or going out with a bang. The last personality type is reserved for a handful of self-centered assholes you will meet along the way. They only act as short-lived villains and certainly won’t leave an impression, though, neither will anybody else. As they lack true personal goals and have very realistic, but also tame personalities, characters in Overgrown: Genesis feel rather indistinct. By the end of the story, I felt neither attachment nor contempt for anyone, as, barring one dedicated dad, they were all random, common people, who hadn't grown through their experiences.
This is also true of Juno herself. The game does claim that the events of the story have changed her, but it does little to properly show it. Juno is a nice person, doing what she can to help, ready to take on considerable risks if they may help her and her fellow survivors get ahead in their tiring times; however, she has no motivation other than to survive. There’s not much difference between her being specifically Juno, and being some blank-slate electrician. Even her backstory is only relevant for maybe one mission at the very beginning of the game.
Alas, if you want her to make the right decision and reach the game’s good ending, you will have to complete every side objective and find all eight of the survivor notes scattered throughout the game. It is those experiences that are ultimately meant to help Juno make the right call, but it's hard to justify why Juno, from the very start of the game, couldn’t reach those very same conclusions on her own. The only thing she indisputably gets better at during her battles against the legions of zombies is making use of the game’s godawful shooting mechanics.
At its core, Overgrown: Genesis is a survival horror game, with the best proof of that being the gameplay parallels it shares with the likes of titles such as Resident Evil. In the game, you'll be navigating zombie-infested locations, seeking various objectives to interact with. Said zombies come in a variety of flavors, most of which is neither spooky nor dangerous, but if too many of them clump up in one place or if even one gets you in a corridor, it’s time to pull out your gun. To shoot, you simply have to press a button while facing the enemy. The main problem here is the aiming itself: you can only shoot in four directions, and changing where you aim requires taking a step in that direction. Suppose a zombie is ahead of you and one square above: you have to go up one square and then take a step towards it, which you won’t have space until you start by first running away to make the extra distance.
To me, this immediately felt reminiscent of the tank controls present in old survival horror games; however, in those games, aiming was usually a stationary action, where you would rotate your character in a place like a turret. It made aiming clunky but was tense and satisfying. In Overgrown: Genesis, repositioning for an attack in a cluttered room feels more like trying to solve a frustrating puzzle. These terrible combat mechanics can’t be saved by weapon variety either, as having three types of upgradable guns doesn’t make them any more fun to use. To make up for its horrendous combat, the game lets you save yourself from a zombie’s attack with an easy QTE. This ability has a thirty second-long cooldown but will alleviate a lot of frustration from the gunplay. Given the fact that the game itself is easy in general, the combat system won’t ruin your experience, but will neither add to it.
Adding little to the overall experience is a general issue that Overgrown: Genesis has. The game features nineteen lengthy quests, during which you will accomplish a variety of objectives, but they all boil down to going someplace to press a glowing button. The challenge and difficulty are supposed to come from the game's level design and enemy variety, unfortunately you will exercise neither mind nor dexterity. Usually, you will be easily running past enemies, unless one of them turns out to be a runner themselves, forcing you to shoot them. There are also sewer levels, where you can't run, to begin with, in which case you have to rely on your guns. Finally, a few levels take place in the dark, where you have to navigate a sea of enemies with the help of the world’s most useless flashlight, which you might as well not bother turning on. While the first two types of levels are completely fine, even if uninteresting, the dark levels, on the other hand, are some of the most frustrating moments in the game.
Notice, though, that I didn’t call them difficult. While certain aspects of the game can feel a little frustrating, they’re unlikely to make you lose, at least no more than once or twice. During my playtime, I always had a bag full of supplies and the game makes it easy to return to your current safe house to recover. The game will also respawn key items if you run out of them, making sure that you have everything you need to succeed. You should still save often, as there are some instant death rooms, but you needn’t worry about any one section of the game in particular. Despite being a survival horror dealing with terrifying concepts of rapist monsters and gore, Overgrown: Genesis both plays and feels like a casual adventure game.
This feeling might be somewhat tied to its presentation. The pixel art style looks pleasant, colorful, and readable. Even when I was walking down a street filled with zombies, corpses, and patches of toxic fungi growing out of pulps of meat and blood left by the decaying undead, I felt like I was playing something closer to a retro RPG than a proper horror game. The character and environmental designs don't create any kind of lasting atmosphere, are neither genuinely unsettling nor arousing, and miss both of the game's target genres by not leaning into either one strongly enough. This is perhaps best exemplified by how the game handles presentation of its gameplay moments, compared to its use of image cutscenes.
There is something akin to a Resident Evil 3: Nemesis segment in the game, where you have to solve challenges in a level populated by a single, extremely dangerous enemy. Personally, I loved that bit. The enemy wasn’t very dangerous, moving slower than a runner, but had a great personality. They toyed with you, chased you for fun, would rape you, drag you to the beginning of the level and dare you to try again. During the game's CG cutscenes, that character was glorious, sexy, and intimidating; however, during gameplay, they look like a green bean on a walk, neither rushing forward violent intent nor stalking with a dreadful presence.
The game's sound design didn’t do much to help this particular issue. There was clearly work put into that aspect of the game, with steps of soldiers at the base and frantic combat music when you provoke zombies, but none of it quite meets the atmospheric needs of the game. The sound alone made me terrified of Minecraft’s zombies, and god knows there’s plenty of 2D horror games that could make even tough men squeal, but this is not one of them.
Overgrown: Genesis fares better in its efforts to incite arousal, though, it separates its erotic content from gameplay. Aside from a few pixel art animations, adult content in the game takes the form of cutscenes made up of a set of images with descriptive narration. There’s a couple of these you can trigger by interacting with other survivors, but most of them appear as game over rape sequences. These scenes feature some good artwork with a satisfying number of variants, a notable selection of fetishes, generally lively expressions, and a satisfying sense of movement, especially later in the game. While the first few cutscenes feature stiff artwork and some cringeworthy dialogue, riddled with needlessly crass descriptions, it doesn’t take long for the game to find its own balance, at which point the sequences become more and more enticing.
The only downside to these scenes is their detached and disjointed nature compared to the rest of the game. Having sex scenes occur as a result of dialogue with another NPC is all fine and dandy, but if you have no personal attachment to them as the player, it doesn’t feel much different from looking up a tag on a porn website. On the other hand, the game over cutscenes tend to break the pacing of the game, though the game alleviates this by making most rape cutscenes skippable. Erotic content unlocks in the gallery when the player reaches subsequent checkpoints, so intentionally dying isn’t necessary.
Overgrown: Genesis released relatively recently and still features a number of bugs. During my playthrough, melee weapons would sometimes disappear the moment I equipped them. This was always true for the knife and sometimes true for the axe and the crowbar. There’s also a shop in the third act that will gladly take your trade items in exchange for ammunition, but provide you with nothing. Given that I didn’t struggle with the game at any point despite not having access to these items, I don’t think those problems are huge, but I feel obligated to mention them nonetheless.
Despite listing many of its problems, I don’t think that Overgrown: Genesis is a bad game. It’s the definition of a mediocre experience, providing a solid, five-hour-long adventure that fails to do anything particularly spectacular. The fungi zombie plague has detailed and intricate lore but never comes off as unsettling due to the game's mundane presentation. The story is a solid adventure romp with a satisfying ending, featuring realistic and believable characters, the likes of which fail to be interesting or memorable. Each level looks like a proper lived space, featuring distinct locales and introducing new enemies and obstacles, but the challenges within these spaces are overly simplistic and similar. The combat system is novel for the engine the game uses, but it’s frustrating to use. The adult scenes are plentiful and have a satisfying level of quality to them, but as with many eroge, just their presence in a game doesn't add much to them or the game itself.
I think Overgrown: Genesis is best recommended to fans of RPG Maker titles. If you already enjoy playing games made in this engine and don’t go in expecting fireworks, this one is really solid; just make sure that the fetishes are something up your alley. If you want something more than that, $15 can still get you quite a lot of great games, especially if you wait for sales.
Overgrown: Genesis is available on Steam for $14.99.
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