For the small cluster of game creators that regard the form as art, there is a vastly larger group that sees it as a line item on a spreadsheet–pure commodity. And, for the rare, thoughtfully executed video game movie tie-in that actually enhances the overall property (think The Chronicles of Riddick), there are a dozen games like Over the Hedge. You’ll go numb from repetition before you finish Over the Hedge, but you won’t be able to shake the feeling that this game exists as a contractual obligation between Activision and DreamWorks. It’s a competent game to a degree, but it’s also rather cold and mechanical.
As a major motion picture, Over the Hedge tells the story of a group of woodland creatures coping with the arrival of Suburbia, presumably with hilarious and perhaps occasionally thought-provoking results. The game hints at some of the conflict from the film, specifically with an overzealous exterminator and a dark-hearted bear named Vincent. We have to assume that the film also paints the suburbs as more aggressively antagonistic, because mostly what we got from the game is that woodland animals are a bunch of jerks that sneak into your house, maliciously bust everything up, and then steal your TV.
Movie-tie-in games like Over the Hedge usually lean heavily on the source material for substance, which makes the use of homegrown CG story sequences, rather than short clips from the actual film, a bit of a head-scratcher. The pinch-hitting crew of voice actors that gamely try on their best Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, and Bill Shatner impressions can be a touch inconsistent, but with a game of this quality, it would be foolish to expect the A-listers (or even the B-listers) to make an appearance in the sound booth.
Playing as the crew of jerk woodland animals–which includes a charismatic and usually self-serving raccoon; a timid turtle who’s brave when it counts; a twitchy, hyperactive squirrel; and a sassy skunk–you’ll make your way through a series of suburban-inspired levels, trashing up the place, throwing down with brainwashed rodents, collecting various sets of seemingly arbitrary items (what possible use could a raccoon have for a DVD?), and performing some shallow “puzzle” solving. We say suburban-inspired levels because you never get a sense that these are actual places, partially because of how small and linear each level is, but also because every backyard and basement is action-packed with ridiculous gameplay contrivances such as fire-spewing laser-grid security systems, beer kegs that generate rats, and hostile flying Weber barbeques.