After the surprisingly engaging Spintires: Mudrunner, it’s with a fair amount of interest I’ve been eyeing up Overpass as it’s had information slowly pushed over the horizon of over the last few months. Putting the emphasis on a real life sport that’s about negotiating natural and man-made inhospitable terrain in overpowered vehicles, it struck me as being fast paced and action oriented, whilst still managing to incorporate what makes the driving challenging. Zordix Racing have now released it with the help of NACON on all the current generation platforms so we can experience what it’s like to hurl ourselves at massive mud caked inclines. It turns out that it can be rewarding… as long as you’re willing to put up with rather large amounts of frustration.
Jump in the cab of a UTV (utility task vehicle) or leap on the back of an ATV (all terrain vehicle) and tear yourself a new route up a mountain, or blast across an obstacle course whilst challenging the limits of physics… that’s what you might be expecting with Overpass. Indeed, from the boot up and menu screen with it’s homegrown rock tracks blaring along, it’s looking a safe bet for some gas guzzling action. Drop it into first gear to take a trip to the tutorial and you’d be forgiven for thinking it had rolled itself into another game. What actually happens is a chap with a strong Southern American drawl talks you through the basics of going very slowly across big objects. There’s no points for style, it’s all about precision… precision revs, precision wheel placement, precision steering. Assess the environment, plan your route, take it steady and you’ll make it in one piece with minimal fuss. The whole intro is actually pretty relaxed and feels good getting to grips with how the vehicles handle and the principle behind low level obstacle navigation. Perfect, let’s head off to the career mode and put it to the test.
The career is built around a season of events that can be tackled in whatever order you like as long as they’re unlocked. It’s presented in a grid style with each event linked to opening up another challenge, parts or a new vehicle, providing you place in the top 3. With the neat presentation and clear path to what opens up next it feels natural to just dive in, and with only 12 challenges per season, there’s more to see than you’ll actually do in the first attempt. Finish the season in the top 8 on the leaderboard and it’s the big time with the World Series challenge opening up. Lots to play for then, and a decent amount of choice in whether you go UTV or ATV, so pick one and get started. Complete the first race and you’ll then realise that the tutorial wasn’t entirely honest. With everything being against the clock it’s not possible to just take your time, and throwing caution to the wind isn’t really going to make things faster. Speed and accuracy are essential and will be lacking during the beginning events. Compounding the feeling of being dropped in at the deep end is that you’ve no idea what the difficulty of the challenge is until it’s loading. Good luck finding those beginner specific ones!
Overpass is pretty bare bones to say the least, and it’s clear from the tutorial onwards that it’s been made on a budget. That isn’t a bad thing if the development resources have been put into the right places. In an off-road game you want that to be the handling and ground interaction mechanics. That’s here at times, but it’s not consistent or dependable, which makes this possibly the most frustrating off-road game I’ve ever played. UTV’s are typically the go to motor because they are slightly more stable, and the rider’s not falling off every 50 feet, but that doesn’t mean they make sense in the way they interact with the surfaces. With deep sand, mud and dirt there’s quite a variety that the wheels will cut through, and combined with undulating terrain it makes for interesting going. Over-revving will cause the wheels to simply spin on the spot, and when traction goes it’s sometimes better to reset than keep digging them in deeper. Keeping the throttle under control is what delivers success, but the low rev range on the right trigger is in a 50 micron travel range, so it’s almost impossible to find it straight away. Engaging the locking diff helps a lot to stop you rolling back down a hill, but if momentum is lost then the only option is to start again anyway. At least it’s possible to swap between 2WD, 4WD and Diff on the fly if you let go of the steering, it’s just missing something to help with accelerator control.
If Overpass’s loud pedal finally gives you control of whatever you’re driving then there are some really nice tracks to explore. The setup is usually a 3 lap course, a point-to-point race, or a hillclimb (or a combination of all three). The first two are guided circuits with various obstructions to manage along the way – veer out of bounds and there’s time added on, and the same with not entering an obstacle or completing it properly. The latter is the most exciting on paper because it allows the freedom to figure out a route to the top over whichever natural protrusions and surfaces there are. In practice they tend to just be a pain in the ass. There’s not quite enough freedom to find a good route, and the time limits are very short. Sure, seeing that a gold medal can be achieved in under 2 minutes is motivating, but when you’re 10 minutes behind the competition at the end and have cursed the lack of grip across FLAT ROCKS for the umpteenth time, you genuinely couldn’t care less. With no way of spinning the camera around easily to see what’s in the way (holding one of the sticks down does it, just not in any useful way), and a jerking rigid chase cam, it sometimes even feels like the viewpoint is out to drive you mad.
Making it to the end of a season in Overpass feels like an ordeal with far more negative points that positive. There are some redeeming moments though – a lot of the 3 lap races are good fun when you get into the flow of them, and will usually be where the real progress is being made. Finally finishing on a podium and opening up new parts to improve performance or getting a sponsor offer feels deserved, and these remain unlocked for the next season, so there’s always a chance of improvement the next time around. Hit up the single race challenge mode and with everything unlocked there you can try out what the higher end vehicles feel like, and that at least puts some perspective on things. You’re starting at the very bottom end and struggling all the way, learning the ropes with the gear that demands technique over technology. Get in the best spec kit and it eats up the terrain and spits it out without breaking a sweat. Obviously Overpass thinks that success needs to be earned, but maybe it should have chucked in an invitational or two to showcase what can really be done and give you something to strive for.
There’s a massive miss in Overpass in terms of opportunity with the way it looks and presents the actual terrain, the career structure, and the niche it would occupy in the gaming space. It has all these things going for it, but is sorely missing an extended tutorial for the harder challenges, a reliable physics model that doesn’t have vehicles taking off and floating over crests at low speed, and at least a few controller options to help tame some of the more fiddly buttons (if you’ve a PS4 back button, it makes hot-swapping between Diff and 4WD a breeze whilst still steering). This is a game for masochist off-road enthusiasts, no doubt there, and you need to look before you leap. However, and this is probably the most surprising thing, persevere with the crud caking the chassis and there’s a occasionally a good time to be found underneath.
A PS4 review copy of Overpass was provided by Zordix Racing’s PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch for around £50 depending on the platform.