My character--a philosopher--pointed, and the mob swarmed. It flowed, river-like, around enemies and buildings alike. As I watched, the 30 members of my rampaging band slashed, punched, and pulled down the structures which exploded in piles of rubble. Giant mythical beasts proved no match for the mob, falling under the brunt of the mass attack.
During these moments, Okhlos is at its best. The retro-style, isometric beat-em-up leans into the chaos of controlling a horde of angry Greek citizens ostensibly hell-bent on rising up against the Olympians that they feel have oppressed them. I recently went hands-on with the game and learned, however, that Okhlos isn't really about a Greek uprising. It's about wielding this mob as a weapon to cause as much destruction as possible.
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To hear the developer Coffee Powered Machine talk about the inspiration for the game, it makes sense why Okhlos is so absurd and humorous. Apparently the idea for the mob comes from an episode of The Simpsons, in which Marge destroys a house with the help of a crowd of angry people. As you might expect from a game that pulls ideas from The Simpsons, Okhlos is over-the-top and full of comedy.
You take control of one of a number of philosophers, some who are based on actual, historical academics. You are able to use Aristotle or Plato, for instance, to lead your characters into battle. Each philosopher has different perks which give you perks or buffs to use on your mob. But you also have some control over your horde of Greeks--the left stick controls the philosopher, the right stick controls the crowd. You direct them when to attack or defend, where to attack, and what items to pick up on the ground. The crowd does the rest.
The most fun I had with Okhlos came when the crowd reached its highest morale, turning into a "Mega Chaotic Mob" which let it tear down any buildings in its path. The more environmental destruction you cause and enemies you kill, the higher your morale builds. And at this point, the game becomes somewhat analogous to Burnout's Crash Mode, in which you try to wreck as many things as quickly as possible to keep the moral meter up. It's immensely satisfying to see your mob tear down building after building, the Greek architecture tumbling down into pixel-art debris. As I got more comfortable with the twin-stick controls, I felt correspondingly more powerful, guiding my horde around and burying centaurs, colossi, and gods under the weight of dozens of people.
But this smooth, fun experience didn't seem to extend outside of these moments. Menus are intimidatingly full of customization options and characters. Dozens of different special heroes, each with certain unique traits, can join your mob, but you have to make the choice periodically to swap them out. There's a limit to the number of citizens you can have at one time, but there are a handful of ways to actually exceed that number by trading items for slaves or animals for people. I couldn't get a handle on it during my short demo, because there were far too many options and characters.
At the same time, I never really noticed a significant difference when I swapped out heroes or modified my mob in a certain way. Enemies still fell, buildings still tumbled down, and I still progressed through the levels. I never ran into too much difficulty getting through the level or even beating a boss, either, which makes me concerned about Okhlos's replayability. Its environments are procedurally generated and it's designed to be played numerous times before completion, so to overcome its excessive customization and potentially repetitive gameplay, it needs a hook to keep players engaged.
Okhlos's sense of humor might provide part of that hook. Although I never fully understood the character select or customization options, I found myself amused at the number of references that artist Roque Rey and Coffee Powered Machine had managed to fit into the game. At one point, after selecting a hero without looking at who it was, I saw a figure with tears streaming down its face throwing balls of its tears at enemies. The main character of The Binding of Isaac had joined my mob.
During my demo, Rey mentioned to me that there were many other references to games in Okhlos, including some that few other people would get. At one point, he showed me a character and said that it acknowledges a very obscure mini-game. These nods to other properties, combined with the characters based on actual historical figures and a veneer of Greek mythology, makes Okhlos's design a strange amalgamation of different eras and properties. But it works. I loved trying out different characters because they all were interesting, whether they were a Greek historian or a character from a well-known roguelike.
And then there are the secrets scattered throughout the game. Each requires an involved set of actions to trigger, but if you pull them off, you'll unlock a secret boss to fight. These bosses also present an additional way to earn unlocks for heroes. You won't get rewards for completing the normal bosses at the end of levels, but these secret enemies will drop heroes that you can add to your team. I saw two of these secret bosses, and the battles with them intrigued me the most of all the enemy encounters in the demo. My favorite moment in my time with Okhlos was when I had to face down the Hydra. True to form, every time I hit one of its heads, it split into two others. This eventually caused the entire arena to fill with Hydra heads spitting poison at my horde as it chased the monster.
Okhlos is a strange, humorous, and chaotic game, and my demo with it had some extremely entertaining moments. There are still a lot of unknowns about the game right now, and I'm unsure of how it'll manage to keep you interested as you play it again and again. I wish, too, that the menus and customization options were a bit more streamlined and easier to understand, because Okhlos does have some funny and interesting references buried among its dozens of characters and heroes. In any case, Okhlos's mob mechanic and the secrets its levels hide have a lot of potential, so hopefully the full game can pull it off when it releases on August 18 for PC.