Over the Hedge Review (PC)

When I first saw this game the thought that flashed through my head was along the lines of: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Now that I’ve seen a little more I’m still of the same opinion. Movie tie in games are popular and, admittedly, some are actually very good companions to the movies, or stand by themselves as a great game despite their movie tie in. Unfortunately there are also those that seem to have been made only because someone in marketing said, “Wouldn’t this be cool” and opened the purse strings. Over the Hedge seems to be one of those games, formulaic and guaranteed an audience by the virtue of being DreamWorks backed, though that doesn’t actually make it a good game.

You’ll never take us alive!
I like the flamingo

Like most games that are a spin off of a family film Over the Hedge follows formula to a tee. You play one of the characters from the film, dropped into environments that resemble those from the film. Splice in movie clips and cut scenes to tell the story, a few games with in the game here and there, and general goal to break everything on the screen and swipe whatever comes out. The style has been beat to death, but it still makes for a mostly workable game.

In the case of Over the Hedge the game play stays along the very basic lines with very little swerving or venturing into the unexpected. Jump, smash, run around kind of controls through environments that include many bizarre items that you either have to collect or combat, I found the flying hibachi grill somewhere between disturbing and terrifying. I may never picnic the same again. The play through each level is, by and large, very linear and packed with a large number of each low level threat. Once you get the hang of how one threat or another is most easily dispatched it’s just a matter of grinding through until you’ve cleared the area.

The vast majority of your time will be spent beating things to death and in this endeavor at least you’re provided with a large range of potential implements of beating: plunger, stick, golf club – the golf club is my personal favorite. You can pretty much assumes that anything that moves, and isn’t a car you can, and should, pummel with extreme prejudice. Particularly the other animals since they’re brain controlled anyway and will than you for it.

Mind controlled rodents
What kinds of people really have a laser grid in the dining room?

When you’re not beating on things you have the challenge of dodging traffic or other items, or moving through the few puzzles that are part of the gaming experience. Even these ‘different’ elements are still never really challenging, confirming, at least in my mind, that the intended audience for this game is mostly pre teen. There is a potentially fun hook in being able to change back and forth between an AI-controlled companion animal that’s always with you, one of the other main cast characters, but since there really isn’t much of a difference between them the swapping out is only necessary if you’re out to clear the secondary objectives. These aren’t necessary for clearing the game the first play through, so provide for some, limited, replayability if you’re willing to go through the game a second time. One of the biggest drawbacks of this feature is that the AI sometimes loses its way and the supposed ally gets stuck, or trips an alarm or wanders off, which is problematic both from a game play stance and visually as it slows the frame rate and can trap your character in a danger area.

Graphically this game is an odd contrast of extremes. There are several moments, particularly in the character animations and interactions that really shine. Then there are areas that are graphically dull, blocky and uninteresting. In the mini games the vehicles are obviously low poly count models and made me feel like I was in a much earlier generation game, or that someone had cut out before finishing their work and it got shuffled off to production.

Speaking of things that were shuffled off without extra effort the sound pieces of this game needed a complete start over. The voices are provided by actors that gave some kind of go at sounding like the movie originals but fell terribly short, and the balance between music, sound effects and vocals is completely out of whack and annoying. Often the sound just cuts out for no real reason, which made me smack my speakers around a few times wondering if they were broke or the game was. I finally settled on it being the game’s problem and ignored it as best as possible.

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In the end I can’t say this was the best game I’ve played this year… to be honest it likely won’t even make my top fifty list. It is what it is…a fairly mediocre game aimed at being a marketing plug on a movie franchise. With those expectations it succeeds, and for a random afternoon of whack a mole with a turtle and a golf club it’s enjoyable.

Top Gaming Moment: Well…I did find amusement in whacking things with a toilet plunger. You just know that’s not something you can get away with in real life, but as a skunk… you get the picture.