We’ve all dreamed about getting away with murder, right? How would I do it? Which tracks would I need to cover? How guilty would I feel? I’m glad that I no longer need to manifest those thoughts in a practical way but can instead use Inkle’s Overboard! as an exercise to learn I would definitely not get away with murder.
The year is 1935, and you’ve just yeeted your new husband off the SS Hook to a watery grave. The ship is eight hours out of New York, but there are loose ends that need tying up to avoid suspicion.
How you choose to spend these eight hours is down to you. You can explore the entire ship, from the busy communal restaurant to the discreet cover of the top deck. During this time, other characters move around the SS Hook according to their own schedule, performing actions independent to your own and remembering everything they see or do.
Each of these people are tied to the murder as witnesses in some shape or form. One person sees the body fall into the ocean. Another finds evidence linking you to the crime scene. Individually, these people are easily dealt with, but together they’re small pieces of a puzzle that fit together in pointing the blame on you. With your limited window of time, you must ensure the ripple effect of your every action works in your favour so you can get off the Hook unsuspected.
One playthrough of Overboard! takes about half an hour, and so you’re unlikely to find the best outcome on your first run. Inkle applies a roguelite structure to the storytelling of the game, where you’re expected to continually replay it to find new variations in events and experiment with different actions.
It is only this way that you can get to the bottom of unravelling Overboard!’s plot and find the best ending, reminiscent of the looping nature of films like Groundhog Day or even the trial-and-error aspects of the Hitman series. You make a single mistake and your playthrough suffers, but you know to avoid that same error again on the next time.
While this is easily the best part of the game, for me at least, it definitely isn’t for everyone. Impatient players may find searching for new disparities in each event to be a gruelling task. After all, repeating the same actions over and over again only to make a slight change towards the end can be a little disheartening.
There isn’t a proper save system either due to Inkle not wanting people to “save scum” their playthroughs, which is an understandable design choice considering how short each playthrough can be, but is nonetheless a noticeable absence when you’re on your 20th or 30th run. You do have the ability to reset the current stage once, which helps navigate around some immediately regrettable decisions, but it isn’t the best substitute for a save system.
Luckily, Overboard! is really accessible in how it guides you to try new things. The Hook has a chapel onboard, where you can go to pray to God for advice. This omniscient voice often mocks you for your decisions, but also provides helpful clues for new things to try. You could ask how to get a certain character out of the way, and the big man himself would prompt you to find a certain item or be at a specific place.
There’s also a checklist too which acts as a vague guide of new things to try. Both of these systems work to help you find new things to do, so you’re not constantly stuck in the same cycle, and they’re also not too intrusive to feel like they’re holding your hand. It feels like the perfect way to keep the game moving forward.
One of Overboard!’s most important features is that signature Inkle sense of humour. The dialogue is grounded within a 1930s setting, with references to war, pulp detective fiction and outdated attitudes taking the foray in seamlessly rounding out these characters, but there’s also a massive amount of comedy sprinkled throughout it.
There was one time I had broken into a woman’s cabin quarters to search through her belongings, only for her to enter behind me and catch me with my nose in her private poetry collection. Instead of kicking me out and brushing it off, the game gives you a chance to talk your way out of it, leading to some humorous outcomes.
And of course, it would be unfair to review a game by Inkle without shouting out its delicious art. Overboard! uses an art style similar to comic strips, complete with speech bubbles, evolving panels and overexaggerated character expressions. It works well to contrast the seriousness of the situation you’re in with the levity of its writing, with one tone never undermining the other.
Considering it was developed in less than six months during a pandemic, it was astounding to me that Inkle managed to create a game as fun, hilarious and replayable as Overboard!. I’m six hours in, with about 40 runs in total, and I still haven’t been able to pull off the perfect murder. A playthrough may not be as long as the studio’s previous 80 Days, but it feels like a natural evolution of the formula that runs much deeper in the freedom and possibilities the genre can bring. I enjoyed this one very much.
Tested on PC
Also available on Nintendo Switch, iOS
Disclosure a copy of Overboard! was provided by Emily Morganti PR