The active ingredient of pretty much every racing game that you care to mention, from Out Run to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, is speed. Overpass might require you to get to the finishing line in the shortest time possible, but it’s almost wholly lacking in that S-factor.
It sounds perverse, but in order to make suitably rapid progress here you need to slow things to a crawl. If you’ve ever played a Trials game, you’ll know that putting the pedal to the metal can be a sure fire way to winding up head-down in a ditch. If anything, Overpass is even more exacting. In this fully-3D racer, going above walking speed into a tricky section is asking for major suspension damage. That’s because you’re not racing your buggy or ATV around a series of smooth racing tracks, but rather a bunch of obstacle courses loosely sectioned off by flimsy yellow tape.
There are rocks, logs, boulders, and stacked-up tractor tires to negotiate – all whilst keeping within those track boundaries. You’ll drive up giant see-saws, and down into the kind of ravines that would signify a major wrong turn in your average rally game.
You’re armed against this unique onslaught of physical obstructions with a handful of specialised tools. Your ride is set to four-wheel-drive as standard, but a press of the up arrow will switch to DIF mode, which grants you an insane amount of grip and drive at the expense of steering range. You can also flick to two-wheel drive should the conditions require it.
As we’ve already alluded to, it’s possible to damage the components of your vehicle, hindering performance and handling. It’s a concern that goes well beyond the current race, too. In the game’s single player campaign mode, any damage sustained carries on through subsequent trials, requiring you to spend valuable money that would otherwise be spent upgrading or replacing your ride on repairing it instead.
Overpass demands as much from you as it does its machinery. You can’t enter any of its races casually, whether in the single player campaign or multiplayer (online or split-screen). First, you need to carefully scan the horizon to establish the correct approach angle and speed for the next micro-challenge. The wrong sort of momentum heading into a steep climb can mean a humiliating backtrack, or even complete stasis. Then you need to execute your plan to perfection. Too many revs and you’ll spin your wheels. Place your wheel a foot to the right of where it needs to be, and you might just ground your vehicle.
Extra nuance is introduced with the ATV races. Here you’re also responsible for the orientation of the rider, using the right stick to lean into turns and climbs. In the right hands it will give you added weight over the key wheels, and more stability when driving at acute angles. In less capable hands, it’s a serious liability.
Given these nuances, the Switch’s lack of analogue triggers stands out as a negative. When maintaining the right level of throttle is so much more important than in other racing games, feathering a crude binary input method doesn’t feel ideal. Indeed, we never quite felt like we had the full connection to our vehicle that we needed to succeed.
The physics are generally solid but occasionally wonky, sometimes flicking you into unnatural positions. It would be fine for a regular racer, but at the more deliberate pace of this one, with this much focus on precision and second-to-second modifications, the flaws stand out rather more.
The graphics are generally a little muddy, and that’s not a pun on the off-road setting of the game. It’s worth noting that this Switch version appears to be a downscaled port from more capable platforms, and the resulting simplified lighting and textures don’t always combine to give you the best visual feedback as to the kind of surface you’re driving on. It’s all sharp enough in both docked and handheld modes, although there’s a general lack of personality and verve to the art style.
On a technical front, we experienced some extremely long load times, even when restarting a race. This wasn’t true across the board, but it was annoying when it happened on the more sprawling races. It’s worth issuing a quick note on the audio, too: the persistent whine of a revving ATV as you wheel spin up a steep incline really drills into your head and cuts through walls. We found ourselves muting the audio at various moments, lest we receive an angry knock from our neighbours.
There’s a stubborn, hard-headed, extremely technical edge to Overpass that will make it tough to love for many. If GRID Autosport is about as ‘serious’ a racing game as you can manage, then you’ll more than likely find this game’s lack of pandering and polish to be downright exasperating. Add in a handful of technical limitations, and only a certain type of bloody-minded racing game aficionado will likely be willing to persist with it. If you fall within that small minority of gamers, however, then the rewards that Overpass can bring will be uncommonly rich.
Overpass is an awkward, ornery racing game that stubbornly refuses to indulge your need for speed and instant gratification. It makes you work for every shaved second and clean section, with a unique brand of technical off-road obstacle negotiation that will have casual racing game players tearing their hair out – and a fair few hardened fanatics to boot. Given the lack of analogue triggers on the Joy-Con and even with this hardcore focus in mind, Overpass is simply too rough around the edges to win anything more than a heavily qualified recommendation. But a very specific sort of glutton for automotive punishment will lap it up.