Overpass is a curious little video game. Blending some elements of TrackMania Turbo with others from MudRunner and then garnishing it with a hint of the Souls-like genre, it sits apart from the main racing game crowd. More variety in the marketplace is a great thing, and playing this quasi off-road racer is at times a refreshing experience.
Utilising either an ATV or a UTV – which is like a quad-bike but with a roof and two seats – the aim is to traverse tricky and even dangerous terrains across six different locations. Events are a mixture of Obstacle Course, which is driving one to three laps of a circuit in the fastest time, and Hillclimb, which I’m hoping is fairly self-explanatory.
Even though you are ultimately being judged on time, driving as fast as possible or delivering a perfect racing line is simply not the aim. Along the tracks, you will encounter several obstacles. These might simply be a pile of tyres, but they could also be a series of discarded pipes, a giant gravel mound or a rock-strewn crevice. The trick is to angle your vehicle’s wheels correctly and apply just the right amount of power, delicately balancing steering and throttle application.
The satisfaction comes from not getting stuck in a rut, or not rolling your UTV down a cliff face – this happens a lot. Constantly resetting costs you time, swiping a cone or driving through a taped-barrier adds penalties. Precision is the aim of the game.
During an Obstacle Course, the path forward is obvious, but the way you tackle each obstacle can take some figuring out. With Hillclimbs, finding the right path to give you enough grip is the main part of the challenge. There may be multiple pathways up a hill or ways around larger rocks and working out the most effective route becomes the main way of delivering a quicker overall time. While Obstacle Courses feel like an automotive equivalent of Takeshi’s Castle, Hillclimbs have more of a Cub Scout orienteering feel to them.
You will fail a lot, and I like that to an extent. There’s a reason why Nioh, Bloodbourne etc. are so popular. In Overpass, failure is simply part of the learning curve. You can quickly reset your vehicle just in-front of whatever obstacle you are currently struggling with and often you can still finish in the top three even if you have to try sections on multiple occasions. Having to retry steep inclines is woven into the very fabric of this game.
Overpass has a few more tricks up its sleeve to make sure there is an element of strategy. You have manual control over differential locks on your vehicle. Off by default, locking front and rear-diffs with a simple press of ‘up’ on the d-pad reduces your steering inputs, but provides enhanced traction. It leads to the need for planning ahead, sometimes starting a climb with the diffs locked, switching them off halfway through to steer around an obstacle and then back on again to make the final ascent.
Then there’s vehicle damage. Hit a few too many rocks head-on or simply come over a crest too quickly and suffer from a heavy landing and the result is damaged wheels that lack traction or steering accuracy. After each event, you earn cold hard virtual cash, which can be spent upgrading your vehicles, buying a new colour of helmet for your driver and simply fixing your steeds.
With a unique gameplay concept, driving that requires and element of strategy and pre-planning, and an upgrade and repair system to reward or lightly punish you, there’s a lot to like about Overpass. There’s even split-screen multiplayer alongside the online components; a rarity for a driving game in 2010. You can smell the ‘but’ coming though, can’t you?
I’ll start with the career structure. After you complete the first few allocated sections, you are left with a choice of events to tackle next. The problem is, I found it very difficult to work out if the vehicle I had was capable of completing these events. Yes, you can buy new, supposedly better UTVs, but you are still going in blind as to whether or not it will be suitable.
I think this is largely down to the lack of vehicle tiers or ratings, but also the way that many are locked away even after completing a whole 12 round season. You can end up at an impasse, struggling with something that can’t quite make it up the steepest of inclines despite having enough cash to buy something better, as they are locked until you win more events.
In the end, I did complete the ‘World Finals’ – sadly not finishing first due to retiring from one of the rounds, losing valuable points. After an hour of trying, I gave up bouncing up and down with the diffs locked near the top of one particular stage. Now, I fully accept that perhaps I’m a buffoon without the requisite skills and I was probably in a vehicle not suitably upgraded, but I found it frustrating that such a scenario was possible.
While your vehicles suffer mechanical damage, they don’t suffer visual damage. It’s not a deal-breaker, but would have been nice. What would be more important is improving the handling at higher speeds. Some tracks do have an element of flat-out driving, but it’s at odds with the overall theme and highlights frailties in a handling system, which is designed primarily for rock-crawling. It’s easy to find yourself over-correcting and see-sawing from left to right. I can’t say I’m a fan of the quad bikes either, your rider is seemingly more fragile than a hammer made of glass.
Another regular annoyance comes when you get stuck (which obviously happens a lot) and want to reverse. Looking behind you isn’t a simple button press, but has you clicking in the right analogue stick and then awkwardly moving it around. I often ended up reversing off ledges or getting stuck on rocks behind me as a result.
And then there’s the way you’re thrown in the deep end with a tutorial that’s thorough, but almost too difficult in its own right. The earlier challenges are a lot more straightforward and I can see a lot of people bouncing off the game before they even get to them. Splitting the tutorial in two, with a basic intro and then more advanced instruction after a few career steps would definitely have helped.