Overpass is a semi-soothing trek across gorgeous environments, moonlighting as the 3D gearhead version of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. A head-scratching dichotomy it is, but one that lends itself to capturing the rough but rewarding world of off-road racing. It’s really quite simple: race to ascend the rock-laden, mud-covered hills in your four-wheeled death box before you descend into madness. Much easier said than done.
Reinventing the wheel
First-timers are welcomed with a lengthy tutorial, covering the basics of off-roading across a variety of obstacles and maps. Picking up the controls is simple enough, despite some truly odd default keybinds that can be remapped in the options easily enough. A controller option is offered, and it’s certainly one worth considering. Grasping the controls is meant to be easy — all the better to lull you into a false sense of security with. Overpass’s bread and butter is its evil physics system, quickly turning a serene trip through the great outdoors into Man vs. Wild with a side of stress.
Balance, weight distribution, speed control, wheel placement, suspension — all worth considering if you plan on clearing more than a few yards of track. The game’s unique ground physics give different properties to surfaces; accelerating and turning in mud is substantially harder than on solid rock, for example. This combined with a variety of inclines, obstacles, and rocky terrain amplify the challenge to dangerous levels. Overpass offers third-person, cockpit, and driver camera perspectives, but I can’t fathom why anyone would switch off third-person, especially because wheel placement is so crucial to success.
Each time I saw my UTV, with its grease-slathered wheels, slowly slide down a muddy incline, I hurt internally. When I witnessed benign bumps knock my weightless ATV driver off their seat, I wept bitterly. Mastery doesn’t come easily in Overpass. Knowing when to switch between four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive and when to activate the differential lock on your buggy could be the difference between a two-minute run and an eight-minute crawl. The same is true of leaning with your driver on an ATV. After some hours of trying, failing, and trying again, I was able to intuit information with relative ease.
Disobeying Mother Nature
Fail too many times in a single course, however, and you run the risk of damaging your vehicle. Damage your body or your wheels and you’ll be put at a severe disadvantage — not great for players still trying to overcome that learning curve. It’s a brutal negative feedback loop that makes it ungodly frustrating to clear certain obstacles. It’s understandable to assume that your growing bank of knowledge and experiences can act as a counterweight, but every course has one or two unbelievably precise challenges that are much too annoying. Try squeezing into an opening or making a harsh turn when your UTV or ATV handles with all the grace of an unruly Chocobo.
It’s an acquired taste; wrestling with the terrain and mastering this complex vehicle controller require a lot more patience than I personally have. Grabbing decent times on each course proved to be quite the Sisyphean task for this neophyte off-roader. And really, there’s not much else to Overpass aside from its pile of time trials. It features six distinct regions with 43 total courses, available right off the bat with no unlockables to satisfy my thirst for progress.
Each course is littered with restrictions, demanding that you stay inside tight boundaries and squeeze your way through curated obstacles. Deviating from these golden paths results in time penalties that hurt your chances at receiving medals — bronze, silver, and gold. This restrictive level design closes the door to a lot of creative solutions that could keep a lot of players racing longer.
Alone with friends
You’ll need every drop of stimulation you can get — it’s a lonely world, especially because you drive by your lonesome across many of Overpass’s modes. In Quick Play, pick your poison and gun for a medal on a course of your choosing. In Custom Challenge, choose a series of courses to complete in succession — but watch out, as vehicle damage carries over. Multiplayer introduces three additional modes: race side by side in separate instances with Splitscreen, take turns on a course in Hot Seat, or take your skills online in the matchmaking lobby. Multiplayer it may be, but as courses are only built for one vehicle at a time, you’ll be racing alongside the ghostly forms of your competitors. As hilarious as it would’ve been to see some collisions, separating players is a sad necessity.
Where Overpass sees the most depth is in its Career Mode, where players can compete against AI racers in 12-race seasons, vying for sponsorships and unlocking new cosmetics and upgrades. Completing races unlocks new races inside the Career Mode’s web of events, which you can then take part in to earn money and prestige. Vehicles damaged during races have to be repaired at the cost of currency and time, meaning it’s important to keep a few backup vehicles at your disposal.
While all vehicles and outfits are unlocked outside of Career Mode, the mode offers that splash of progression sorely missing from the rest of the experience. Overpass is without a traditional story mode, but Career Mode represents a valiant attempt to elevate and diversify otherwise mundane time trial events.
An exercise in futility
From the construction yard to seaside obstacle courses, the sheer breadth of locales strikes a solid balance between scenic cruising and slow, methodical obstacle climbing. But while a multitude of modes and vistas attempt to alleviate monotony, it’s hard not to grow fatigued of Overpass’s yin and yang. I could seldom handle more than a handful events before I began eyeing the clock. No matter the color palette or the mode, each and every obstacle became an all-too-familiar chore that grew more and more frustrating with every failed attempt.
Courses are uncomfortably lengthy and lack the character or excitement needed to justify that length. When placed back to back to back, like in Career Mode or Custom Challenge, Overpass’s courses sap me of all energy and enthusiasm. Battling the vicious effects of vehicle degradation and constant maneuvering took its toll on my sanity. And with no tangible rewards or progression system to incentivize continued playing, there’s not much to keep players playing beyond their love for off-roading. The in-depth progression systems of contemporary racing titles are sorely missed.
As solid as Overpass’s driving is, and as refreshing of a racing experience it offers, that initial intrigue is replaced with fatigue shortly after. Its unique physics system and emphasis on balance might be enough to win over the most dedicated of off-road racing fans, but its limited replayability and monotonous gameplay loop greatly limit its appeal.
Overpass hits the Epic Games Store on February 27.