I’d imagine that deciding on a name for a video game would be an arduous task; the single most important image element of a product that has taken years of devotion; the first impression; the ultimate reduction of the entire experience into a single phrase. I don’t know how developer Coffee Powered Machine were inspired, but their upcoming title Okhlos has nailed the game-naming game. Okhlos is a Greek word. It’s English translation is “mob”. That one word is introduction enough for the self-described “angry Greek mob simulator” Okhlos, in all of its ridiculousness, chaos and charm.
Okhlos begins by introducing narrator Homer, who will less-than-helpfully guide players through the plot, or at least through the details he can recall. Players take control of an unnamed philosopher and lead a mob of disgruntled civilians, slaves, soldiers and livestock against the oppressive and self-obsessed pantheon. Those sinful gods have pushed it too far this time, and you’re on a path of destruction through enemy soldiers, mythical creatures, automatons, and infrastructure to bring them all down a notch, one at a time.
I found it very difficult to capture the frantic action of Okhlos with stills, so here are some press screens that are actually comprehensible.
The player controlled philosopher is moved using WASD, while the mob flitter around a flag that is moved with the mouse, à la Pikmin. Left-clicking sets the mob to attack mode, but reduces speed; right-clicking sets them to defence, rendering them immobile but invulnerable; holding shift spreads out and speeds up the mob; and finally holding space brings them in close, helping to navigate environmental hazards and focus attacks. It takes no time at all for these elements to become second nature, although some other details fall through the cracks along the way.
I lost track of what specific perks were offered by certain mob units pretty quickly. Slaves can hold usable items and philosophers operate as additional lives for your leader character, while warriors and guardians increase your combat stats. I want to say attack damage and defence respectively, but stat buffs have never been particularly remarkable to me. Each unit takes one slot in your mob capacity, and all I know is the fuller the mob, the stronger the mob. The best units by far, livestock can be recruited too; they offer no combat benefits and do not count towards mob capacity, but are adorable. That’s what we’re here for, right?
Beginning with a basic, understaffed, “cool mob” in 1-1, the task of Okhlos is to kill all clearly map-marked enemies before progressing through 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, and finally defeating a Greek god boss in 1-6. Then on to 2-1. As you destroy structures and defeat enemies, the mob becomes “reckless”, “frenetic”, and ultimately “chaotic”, increasing its power. In my initial playthrough of the preview model there were four lands, and three more were updated before my next runs. This total of thirty five levels and seven bosses can be finished in around one hour once the player is comfortable with controls and objectives; Okhlos is absolutely a game designed to be replayed and reconquered.
The replayability of Okhlos is founded on the randomised levels and access to heroes with their more unique perks. Between most levels is a market stall that will offer three unit trade options, typically something like 5 guardians for 5 warriors. Some of these markets are hero trade spots; trade 15 slaves for Icarus, who provides a 40% speed boost. There is a vague hint of strategy in trading units at each stall to gather enough of one unit type to cash in for a hero. Sometimes it seems you’d be better off just sticking with a high number of units, especially when heading into a boss arena, but I suspect heroes make your mob significantly stronger in the long run.
I say “I suspect” because the details of what’s happening aren’t clear. New hero recruits are thrown amongst the mob and become yet another sprite vying for attention while I focus on other things, predominantly on keeping my uncooperative mob together. The fun of zooming through the lands of Delphi, Sparta, Atlantis, pillaging villages and swarming beasts unawares is brought to a halt when upon inspecting the mini-map, I find half a dozen of my mob-men stuck on a fence post or caught on a piece of rubble. I run back past the obstacle to collect them, then again through town hoping the mob stays together. It often does not.
The individual health of each mob-member is important, since they’re taking all your hits for you, but it can easily be confused with the mob’s morale. They’re both green bars that appear to benefit from consumption of health items and destruction of property, but are they linked? Which green bar is more important? The tutorial does away with clear directions in favour of an interesting and charming introduction, which is a fantastic design, but the mechanics that are glossed over here are never clarified in following levels. I still can’t confirm what two of the four usable items actually do; there’s a heal item, an explosive bomb, and two different types of flashy-noise maker items. Okhlos is great at being silly and irreverent, but it would be nice if it could meet me halfway in regards to communication.
The gameplay of Okhlos is not deep or diverse, but it is addictive, satisfying and hilarious. Despite the crowded screens making it hard to decipher what’s going on, there’s never more than a couple factors to worry about. It’s interesting having the player control a defenceless character that they have to remember to keep an eye on and protect. Some enemies will go straight for your philosopher-leader, and if they get a couple hits on you you’re done! The unit-trade system can add a hint of flavour to your mob, but relies too heavily on you making the right, albeit random, choices early on. If you happen to gain 15 livestock but never get a chance to trade them in, they’ll serve only to further crowed you next boss battle.
I am in love with the music of Okhlos, both in its quality and its incongruousness. A blend of era-appropriate music, electronic rock, and chiptune accompanies the non-stop carnage perfectly. Entering the unit trade menu triggers “silky smooth shop jazz”, as suitably noted in the credits, a saxophone-laden easy listening track taken straight from a 5 star hotel lobby. That’s based solely on my imagination of the inside of a 5 star hotel. It inexplicably works perfectly.
Okhlos is a short game. Considering that its replayability is founded on the units and heroes you stumble across, which offer combat benefits that are difficult to distinguish, it isn’t an endlessly replayable title. The variation in enemy types, unit types and locales isn’t enough to give any depth to the gameplay. Without evolving, developing gameplay, Okhlos isn’t something that I’ll be excitedly replaying all summer. However it is something that made me smile unironically, and hooked me for a few hours with its simple and carefree carnage. If you’re in the mood to listen to some tunes and take on some Gods, you can’t go wrong with Okhlos.
“It has plenty more going for it than against it, well recommended.”
Select Start Media was provided with a copy of Okhlos by Devolver Digital.