Overpass attempts to bring the technicality of rock crawling to console and PC, and for the most part, succeeds.
- Developer: Zordix Racing
- Publisher: Bigben Interactive
- Release date: 27th February 2020 (PC), 17th March (Consoles)
- Genre: Off-Road Racing
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Overpass was a bit of surprise announcement. Apart from the gameplay trailers, there hasn’t been any great furore made about the off-road, rock crawling sim from Swedish developer Zordix. There really isn’t anything like Overpass available anywhere else, which gives even a modestly budgeted game like this a chance to shine.
The front-end menu of Overpass is relatively basic. You can choose from a small selection of modes; Career, Quick Race, Custom Challenge and Multiplayer, and the obligatory options settings. Quick Race lets you choose a single track to compete on, Custom Challenge lets you customise a series of events, and Multiplayer has a few options for Online, Split Screen and Hot Seat races. The real meat and bones of Overpass is the career mode, though.
You begin with a handy tutorial, that will teach you the basics of how to cross obstacles and use the drive selector, and once you’ve completed this, you set out in your distinctly average performance starting vehicle and make your way to the career itself.
There are only two types of event; obstacle races and hill-climbs, but there is enough variety within these to prevent gameplay from becoming stale. Racing is done time-trial style, and at the end of each round, you score points towards your season championship. You don’t have any visual representation of your performance against your opponents during the race besides the on-screen timer, although you can gauge your performance against the specified medal times. Each season, you must work your way through a selection of events. Qualify in the top eight after twelve events, and you can enter the finals. Each event on the grid comes with unlockables, be it new vehicles, part upgrades or cosmetic items for your rider. It’s a very straightforward and arguably unimaginative setup, but it does the job.
The real enjoyment from Overpass comes from the excellent physics and driving mechanics. In most games, speed is king, and judicial application of the accelerator will see you through most races. Here, a measured touch is crucial. Going too fast will see you topple your vehicle on uneven ground, or smash your suspension against a large rock. Climbing larger obstacles requires a more tactful approach, with due care needed to avoid becoming wedged in between rocks, or to avoid beaching your car on logs. It’s different to almost any other game, with the closest comparison to the approach needed being tackling the harder tracks on Trials. Indeed, like on Trials, while you are learning it can be a frustrating experience, but it never feels unfair. If you persevere and learn how to overcome even the most insurmountable looking obstacles, there’s a real sense of accomplishment when you finally master it.
Careful use of the throttle is required, and it may take you a while to switch from the Jeremy Clarkson mentality of choosing more power, but when you get the hang of blipping the gas and holding slow and steady on steep hills, you can have a lot of fun. Planning your route is everything, with most tracks offering multiple routes of varying difficulties, and it will take a keen eye to find the best path. You will quickly find it second nature to scan ahead of you, though, plotting a course through the environment, as you switch from the responsive turning 4WD to the locked differential to give you the grip you need to get over the toughest obstacles.
Winning at first is difficult, as not only are you still coming to grips with how to drive these rock crawling machines, but the vehicles available at the start are slow and lack the upgrades needed to make it over some of the tougher obstacles. It doesn’t take long to progress, though, and you soon gain access to a more capable vehicle, with the higher level UTVs providing the best gameplay experience. With tonnes of grip, a lower centre of gravity and the ability to survive rolling on to their sides to some degree, they are far more forgiving than ATVs. The quad bikes are a lot slower and far more challenging to get around the tracks. Lacking the torque of the UTV’s, they require an even more measured approach if you want to succeed.
Vehicles in the game are all licensed examples from Polaris, Yamaha, Arctic Cat and Suzuki. I profess to not knowing which of these are good to drive in real life, or to how accurate the modelling on them is, but their in-game representation appears accurate. Essentially, your choice will boil down to how good the stats are anyway, and aside from cosmetic differences, they all share very similar handling characteristics. Most vehicles have torque driven gearing, but one of the best UTVs, the Yamaha YXZ1000R SE, which has excellent speed and acceleration and is great for manhandling over obstacles, is one of the few vehicles to have multiple gears. As such, it can be very hard to get up steep inclines in comparison to other buggies. Aside from this, the biggest distinguishing factor is the drive type, with those that offer both 4WD and Diff Locking being the most desirable for practical reasons.
Tracks are set in a variety of environments, with a myriad of different obstacles and terrains to navigate, and there’s been some real creativity implemented in the game design. You will find yourself driving across sandy beaches and dunes, through dense vegetation in jungles, or up and down the steep muddy slopes of a quarry, all in various types of weather and at varied times of the day.
Obstacle races vary between navigating real-world obstacles like rocks, muddy slopes and fallen trees, or making your way across man-made obstacles like see-saws, tyre piles and pipes. Hill climb events in comparison are generally shorter, more technical and involve natural environments, and as the name suggests, involve going up some pretty steep hills. If you’re the kind of person who used to enjoy trying to drive the Warthog from Halo places it wasn’t meant to go, climbing impossible-looking hills, then this game is definitely for you.
Outside of career, there isn’t much to do though, unfortunately. If you want the achievements for getting gold medals on every track, then quick play is a good way to go about this, providing an at a glimpse view of your personal best for each track, but once you’ve cleaned all of these up there isn’t any benefit or tangible reward for doing these events. Likewise with the career. It takes a surprisingly short amount of time to work your way through all of the events. After two season playthroughs, I had unlocked all the vehicles, upgrades and cosmetic items, but I still wanted to play more.
A more measured balance to the rate you unlock vehicles and upgrades would have helped here, as it doesn’t take long to get one of the higher tier vehicles, and once you do, all the previous vehicles become redundant. Perhaps some events that forced a specific vehicle could have been implemented, or stricter requirements before you can advance to the higher tiers would have helped graduate the difficulty curve somewhat. Either way, as it stands you will have the best vehicle by the end of the first season, and then even on the harder difficulties, you can still win with ease.
Whether it’s due to limitations with budget or otherwise, there are a couple of features missing from Overpass that could have improved the game: There aren’t any replays, which is a shame, as you will lament not being able to watch your flawless runs of the more technical tracks. Online leaderboards are a common staple of the genre too, and they are again conspicuous by their absence. Local leaderboards are provided, but won’t offer the longevity of competing at a global level. While this is possibly nit-picking a little bit, it’s just basic things like this that would have helped elevate Overpass to the next level. Hopefully, it will have the success it needs to earn a sequel and can expand on what they have offered here because the base gameplay is compelling, challenging and rewarding.
When it comes to graphics, Overpass has a weird combination of some beautiful environments and excellent level design, but at the same time, it has some graphical features that are distinctly last-gen. Deep mud, sand and dirt pick up trails that are still visible on subsequent laps, dirt gradually spatters across the frame of your vehicle, and the foliage looks lush and authentic. At times the overall presentation is excellent, but then you’ll come across a puddle on a night race and it will be a black, featureless mass on the ground, with no reflections or detail. Riding up a river also shows up limitations of the graphics, with the water being largely static, with white streaks used to attempt to give the illusion of movement. It’s jarringly bad compared to the rest of the scenery, and in the case of the water, actually pretty nauseating (literally, not figuratively).
Frame rates are erratic, too. Sometimes the frame rate will spike to a super smooth 60fps, only to suddenly drop down to 30fps or less. This frequent switching of frame rates manifests itself in constant screen tearing, and it is possibly the worst example of it that I’ve come across in recent years. It’s testament to how much fun the driving experience is that I’m willing to overlook this and still just enjoy driving around, but if you prioritise smooth and detailed graphics, you will likely be a little disappointed. Again, Zordix isn’t a massive studio and likely doesn’t operate on a huge budget, but a bit more time spent on optimisation would have been beneficial.
Audio is another facet of Overpass that is slightly underwhelming. Menu music, although relatively unimportant, is limited to just a couple of songs, and they become repetitive quickly. Engine noises are the domineering sound in-game and given how important they are in gauging how much throttle you need, the rumbling bass notes are constant but necessary. Environmental sound is very limited, and there’s not much going on. Even driving through water up a river doesn’t bring forth the splashing, sloshing sounds you would expect.
Overpass is one of those games that, deep down, I feel like I shouldn’t rate it as highly as I do, but there’s something about it that makes it so much fun to play. Yes, it has issues, but the driving physics offers an experience that you just can’t get anywhere else. I’d be hesitant to recommend it, though, as your experience may differ vastly from mine. If you ever played TT Isle of Man, you’ll perhaps have an insight into what I mean: I loved TT. I put hundreds of hours into it and enjoyed every minute, but at the same time, I’m acutely aware that it’s a polarising experience, and just as many hate that game as love it. I’m loathed to use the term, but it’s a very marmite gaming experience. If you can see past the shortcomings, though, there’s a lot to enjoy.
Overpass is a bold attempt at bringing the challenge of rock-crawling and hill-climbing to games, and for the most part, it succeeds admirably, The driving itself is technical, challenging and rewarding, and the tracks are well designed and beautifully realised. Unfortunately, the whole package is let down by a career that is too short and a few graphical issues. If you are looking for something different to every other racing game out there, though, that rewards a more delicate touch and a thoughtful, tactical approach to your driving, Overpass is well worth a look.