I’m two laps in, I’m eyeing up the wonky set of pipes on the track in front of my off-road buggy. I’m thinking ahead, what angle I need to take this at, what speed, if I need to change the drivetrain selection and… Oh, wait, I’ve tipped over again.
Right… take the hit on time, reset myself back on track. Try a new approach, set myself on a new line and… nope, gone again. That’s the fifth time, in one lap. Add that to the topples from previous laps and you’ve got an experience akin to pulling teeth.
It’s not that I’m bad at racing games, or at least I don’t think I am. I was very good at Trials once, so I know how balance and momentum works. It’s just that the vehicles in Overpass handle like golf carts in a minefield. During an earthquake.
I want to enjoy this game. I love the idea of a decent off-road trials game, testing mettle, balance and skill against nature’s pitfalls and man-made obstacles. Having played Spintires’ console off-shoot, Mudrunners, I was looking forward to a similar mechanic in a racing game: weight physics and fine tuned buggies and quad bikes over rocks and logs.
Maybe my standards are too high, or perhaps I got my hopes up, as this game is far from it. Is it as bad as I’m making it out to be, or is this a massive exaggeration because I “just don’t get it”? Let’s have a look, shall we…
Up and At Them
Starting up Overpass is very reminiscent of 2019’s Wreckfest, mellow rock music and all. The menu starts up with not-Imagine Dragons playing, or some equally mellow Southern American rock band instead, presenting your limited options.
There’s a tutorial mode, that teaches you the mechanics of off-roading by way of a Foghorn Leghorn voiceover. Honestly, I was waiting for a “Y’all” to slip into that Southern twang at some point. The main principle the game is keen to emphasise is that it’s not all about speed, although it is a racing game, but how you can tackle each course. For the uninitiated, off-roading and trials riding is about technique, how you approach each obstacle and overcome it, lest you face a penalty for ignoring it.
Logs, rocks, cambers and dips are all in your way, whether it be the natural course of the level or an obstacle compiled for a track. This, the game tells you, is half the fun in how you navigate each obstacle and pitfall in your way.
Of course, “fun” is a purely subjective word. You could argue that there is an element of fun in constantly trying with your trialing, and that is true… to an extent. Anyone that’s played a Trials game can attest to the try-and-try-again gameplay makes it fun, as you get better through practice at hitting the best lines and therefore, the best times. The difference being that vehicles in a Trials game don’t handle like a comatose cow with three roller skates attached to its feet.
If At First You Don’t Succeed… Don’t Bother
As is usually the norm with racing games, the bulk of the action is in the career mode(s). Overpass is no different, and to its credit, it does add a little twist to the normal formula. Instead of a linear progression route, the career is broken up into a grid-based system. Starting the centre is the tutorial mode, as discussed earlier, and the freeroam mode. This allows you to pick any course and just lark about in with any vehicle you have available, just to get the lay of the land and the mechanics of off-roading.
The grid system is a neat little take on progression, both in races and new gear. Starting in the centre, there’s a couple of races for you to choose from. Finishing either of those opens up the next branches from that. The prerequisite for the cup is to finish a certain number of events, but it doesn’t matter which order you do them in. In one hand, it allows you the freedom to tackle them however you want. On the other, the difficulty curve ramps up as steep as some of the hills you have to climb.
Or in my case, get stuck on. Having done a couple of events, I’d unlocked the next few branches of events. One of these was a quad bike-only group of events. In my garage, I only had the first two quads available. but that shouldn’t be an issue, surely? There’s no way the game would offer me something I couldn’t do so early on. Or so I thought…
Within thirty seconds of the first track, I was presented with an absolute bastard of a hill climb. It took me, and this is no exaggeration, the best part of three minutes to climb it. No matter what I did, be it trying to veer side to side to get some purchase, or changed the differential of my bike to spread power as to not get stuck, it was just sheer attrition and inching my way up that got me up there. Maybe the next lap would be different, with more of a run up this time? Nope, same thing. This does not a fun game make.
The other inherent pain with the quad biking in this game is your rider’s inability to grasp it. Not the concept of riding it, that’s pretty straightforward, but literally keep their damn hands on the handlebars.
I’ve made references to Trials games earlier, yet I don’t want to draw too many parallels as they’re essentially different games. But what I will say, for all its fantastical elements, especially in later games, at least riders didn’t pop off their bikes at the slightest inclination. Bear in mind, this is a game that you can do backflips and allsorts in. By comparison, the riders in Overpass must have inner ear infections because their balance is awful.
Like the Crash Test Dummies toys from the ’90s, every bump or knock over ten miles per hour causes you to disengage Team Rocket style. As will taking a corner too sharply, or pitching too far forward on a drop, or hitting that one bloody jutting out rock you didn’t see in the grass. In a vain attempt to give you some control over what you’re doing, the right stick has been mapped to let you tilt your rider. In theory, this should help you lean into corners, or help your balance as you climb obstacles. Of course, that’s in theory. In reality, it does bugger all, especially if you’re going at speed or you’ve already overcooked it on a pile of rocks.
What would have been helpful, be it in buggy or quad bike, is having a better camera control system. Normally in racing games, the right stick is ancillary, often utilised as a rotational camera to check out your surroundings, other racer proximity and/or the snazzy paint job you’ve given your whip. So why, besides the aforementioned terrible tilt system, would they not use that here? Instead, in what I imagine someone thought was a clever idea, clicking the right stick in and quickly picking a direction does a slight pan of your vehicle, before resetting. Want to see the other side? Well, you have to click the stick in again and pick that direction. You can’t just click it once to say, switch between rider tilt and camera control. That would be far too logical.
Pop the Hood
So besides the clunky and unforgiving racing, what else does Overpass offer? Well, there is vehicle customisation, to an extent. Upgrades, new liveries and rider gear can both be bought with in-game winnings, as well as items to unlock on the career grid. It’s just that “upgrade” is a very loose term to apply to a vehicle.
As I said before, especially with the quad bikes, riding feels stiff, rigid and clunky. There’s no fine tuning to give you softer suspension, or favour acceleration over speed for climbing. Instead, each new bit of kit just arbitrarily increase a stat. But what does having a higher suspension stat do, in this instance…? There’s no way of telling what it actually increases, again being trial and error when you get out there.
To Overpass’ credit, there is a bevvy of real world, licensed vehicles to use. Popular brands like Yamaha and Suzuki are showcasing their rides, each with different shapes, sizes, drivetrains and power outputs. I’m sure to an enthusiast, this would mean a lot. Sadly to me, it doesn’t, but I appreciate the length that Zordix has gone to in keeping faithful to the sport. It’s just a shame they didn’t have the resources available to also capture the individual engine noises. Why is this a sticking point, you might wonder?
I don’t know how to put it nicely, so I’ll put it bluntly: listening to the same exhaust noise in every race, with every vehicle, at the same pitch regardless of what you’re doing, is akin to torture. Hearing the high pitched whine of an engine constantly is enough to put me off playing, as it has done a few times. Playing videogames shouldn’t be an exercise in ear pain tolerance, but here we are.
Picking Through the Wreckage
When all is said and done, Overpass is a great concept in a lacking market, that sadly isn’t translated to being a good game. Off-roading may be niche, but don’t count on Overpass being the game that bridges that gap.
Outside of the racing, the game offers little in the way of other features. There is local or online play, but they’re nothing to shout about. Splitscreen is like asking someone else to share a thumbscrew with you, and online play is non-existent.
On the whole then, I can’t recommend Overpass. Not even fans of the genre should put themselves through this, let alone casual racer fans. Whilst it may be too niche a concept for a mainstream company, there’s a lot more that could be done with it than this terrible offering. For the mean time, if you want some decent offroad-ish racing, give Wreckfest a try instead.
A vain attempt that couldn’t stick the landing. Or the entrance. Or any of it, really.
Overpass is available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Zordix Racing
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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