Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
I once took a classical literature class in college. Reading Homer’s Odyssey was naturally one of the first things we did and, to this day, it was one of my favorite parts of earning my degrees. The professor was equal parts passionate and knowledgeable, leading to several spirited conversations about the epic poem. His beard was sprinkled with bits of grey and his glasses hung low on his nose, fulfilling all of the grizzled philosopher stereotypes I had built up in my head over the years.
Okhlos feels like a game that was made by someone who exclusively attended that class while high on various substances. Many of the plot points, characters, and general themes are there, sure, but the details are too murky and fantastical to really fit the setting. But, hey, it sure as hell is laugh out loud hilarious and fun.
In Okhlos, you’ll follow a story told by none other than Homer himself. Each level, or section of the tale, features a bit of a preamble by Homer, though he admits to forgetting a lot of the details. This functions as a serviceable, lore-friendly explanation for Okhlos’ adaptive procedural level generation. Since Homer can barely remember what happened, of course the levels are different each time.
The premise is simple in Okhlos – you build an army of citizens, slaves, and various other types of troops that follow and listen to your philosopher’s bidding. You control the philosopher primarily using the left stick or WASD keys, while the mob of your followers is controlled by the right stick or mouse. The system works well from a gameplay perspective, and results in some truly ridiculous scenarios.
You will at once be gliding across the Earth as a high and mighty philosopher – arms raised as if to beckon the wind to pull you across the field – while your literal mob of troops are wreaking havoc on all manner of buildings and trees in your path. That innate dichotomy is extended to the game’s visual aesthetic as well, as developer Coffee Powered Machine opted for a hybrid of both 2D sprites and 3D voxel designs. It works, most of the time, but leaves a bit to be desired.
Earning a Following
When you first start out, you’ll be a lonely philosopher capable of doing very little on your own. Round up some of the nearby people and animals to your cause and you can start directing them. You can press the left mouse button to make them attack a specified area, and hold the right mouse button to make them go into defense mode.
As you hit different points in each level, you’ll have the opportunity to trade in some of your units for hero troops that offer large bonuses, such as increased mob size, increased attack, and so on. I’d recommend investing in a bigger mob early and often, as the size of your group is more important than anything else in most cases. Aiming for both quantity and diversity is crucial to overcoming some of the later bosses in the game.
Okhlos really shines the most when you’re just plowing through a level. Most enemies don’t stand a chance against your mob, and the more destruction you dole out on a continuous basis, the higher the meter at the top of the screen goes, which affords bonuses on its own as well. Simply steamrolling towns and enemies is surprisingly satisfying, especially as the plumes of pixelated smoke and gurgling sounds of death follow your stampede.
Everything Flows and Nothing Stays
This is also part of what makes the boss fights in Okhlos a tad bit frustrating. The whole game is predicated off of the premise that building a giant, rampaging, chaotic mob is the best strategy. Then, suddenly, during its boss fights you feel punished for amassing a giant force of followers. You’re scattered and disorganized. The giant boss stomps around and rains down projectiles, laying waste to you with sudden difficulty spikes.
Clearly Okhlos is a game of trial and error, but the boss fights feel almost like they were ripped from a different, albeit similar, game. There are exceptions of course, but for a game that encourages disorganized chaos, it feels strange to suddenly have to rewire the way I’ve been playing.
Everything runs smoothly and loosely with lots of flashy fun to be had, all until you’re forced to adapt. The simplistic controls are more than serviceable, except for when you actually need to use your brain to solve the tactical puzzles of boss fights. That’s when the game fails to give you the best tools to get the job done.
Luckily, the rocking 8-bit soundtrack is fast and true throughout. The developers somehow managed to fuse ancient Greek tunes with the classic sound of the 80s and 90s. While the visuals may clash in some unappealing ways at times - 2D and 3D aren’t often combined in compelling ways - you won’t notice those annoying issues much.