On the night before arriving at port, Veronica decides to do the unthinkable. She lures her husband Malcolm up to the top deck where she tosses him... Overboard! This is the setup for Inkle's surprise new adventure game that then puts you in the shoes of a murderer as she spends her last few hours aboard the ship trying to cover her tracks, manipulate other passengers, and get away with her crime. Overboard! is a densely packed game of narrative branches that shows just how complicated it can be to give players meaningfully different progressions through a story, for better and for worse.
Overboard! hands you control of Veronica the morning after murdering Malcolm. It's unclear who has seen what or even what relationships passengers and crew have with each other. You have the opportunity to change that though through deft conversational maneuvering and choosing how to spend your time wisely.
First things first, though: you have to deal with the bellhop rapping at your cabin door. Do you let him in and see you alone? Stall for time? Impersonate your husband? Even from this initial interaction, you can set up a wide variety of different scenarios, which is really what Overboard! is all about. It's a short game that encourages replays where you explore different possibilities and uncover other mysteries lurking underneath the game's exterior.
The majority of Overboard! consists of picking dialog or action choices for Veronica as she's interacting with others aboard the ship. The folks at Inkle clearly had a great time fleshing out its turn-of-the-century character archetypes, and it makes for a lot of fun and sometimes unexpected conversations. The other piece of Overboard! is choosing where Veronica goes on the ship in her effort to gather lost evidence or merely track down a passenger to engage with.
All told, a single playthrough of Overboard! should only take 10-15 minutes, as the game has its own internal clock that progresses as you act. As you get near to shore, everyone aboard the ship comes together to discuss Malcolm's disappearance, and any actions you had taken on the trip influence your ability to control and steer possible theories about his death. From there, you're led to a small epilogue hinting at Veronica's life after her trip before being invited to play again. To encourage some exploration, Overboard! starts providing missions and hints at other possible outcomes after you've completed the game once to give you some direction on how you can and should influence things.
Provided you go out of your way to do things differently, your first few replays of Overboard! demonstrate just how malleable the game's story is. Part of the fun is discovering some of the wild things you can do and how they change the story, but I wish there was some way to get a better sense of how to do some of the more complicated maneuvers the game sets you up to do. That is to say I spent a lot of my 4th, 5th, and 6th playthroughs trying to do the same task over and over again, but because Overboard!'s dialog doesn't really give you a full sense of what's coming next, you basically just have to guess how to do certain things.
Conveniently, Overboard! does allow you to rewind your playthroughs back to the beginning of the morning and highlights the choices of your previous playthrough, but these features simply allow you to get to your guessing game faster rather than let you bypass it. On top of that, it's a bit annoying to finally learn how to set up certain scenarios, only to run out of time to connect them with something else in order to actually change your conclusion. So, while I really appreciate the freedom and degree to which you can alter the course of the story, the obtuse and time-constrained aspects of the game make its possibilities less fun to explore once you've made most of the big initial discoveries.
The bottom line
The fast pace and locked-room setup of Overboard! are perfect for a mobile murder mystery where you can truly pull the strings behind the scenes. I just wish doing so was a little easier or felt less like a guessing game, especially once you've uncovered a new path. That said, the game is an incredible feat of writing, and perfectly enjoyable for a few playthroughs. Perhaps if I wait to revisit it again Overboard! will feel fresh enough to give it some more tries.