I’ve always wanted to play a solid off-road driving game. Slow the pace down a little, not be bothered about clipped apices but instead fiddle with diff-locks and work out a route over rocky terrain. But then mix it with a competitive edge, like the British Sporting Car Trials Championship.
Yes, MudRunner managed superlative terrain physics, but misses that sense of rivalry, while BeamNG’s rock crawling missions are just that, a set of missions amongst a larger sandbox. DIRT 5 touched upon it with the Path Finder challenges, but they felt like an afterthought.
2020’s Overpass nailed the concept, but sadly not the execution. The Zordix Racing-developed game featured diminutive side-by-side vehicles and tricky paths and hillclimbs to navigate, but if you toppled over there wasn’t a reset option, damage was inconsistent and carried across events and the career progression dumbfounding.
It was more disappointing than a new album by Weezer – just, give it up already.
The sequel’s existence is perhaps surprising then. Turns out publisher Nacon has some big plans for this series, namely starting from scratch using Unreal Engine 5 and assigning a new developer, Neopica, previously known for 2019’s FIA European Truck Racing Championship.
Such a wholesale change under the skin is dramatic, but it’s also resulted in a remarkable transformation – if our brief hands-on with an early build at Gamescom is anything to go by.
You’re still in off-road focused vehicles – licenced by Arctic Cat, Kawasaki, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha – driving up hillclimbs and rolling around in the dirt like a dog on a rainy countryside walk. Only this time it looks so much more appealing.
There’s significantly more detail to the UTV and ATV recreations (17 in each class), meanwhile, the environments are more vibrant and varied. Both in terms of selection – there are over 30 tracks or routes, a combination of five distinct real-world inspired areas – but once running, there are further route options for the upward crawling events and longer tracks for those which are closer to more traditional racing.
There’s also a new, third, class of vehicle, the Rock Bouncer – of which there are four to choose from. Reminding us of the aforementioned Codemasters-created title, open roll-cages and brawny engine means you can pulverise rock faces.
Yet, the bread and butter of Overpass were always the obstacle course events, where you clamber over deliberately placed rough terrain that may include large rocks, narrow tracks and even seesaws without clipping flags that result in time penalties.
They return, but once again, with more obstacle variety. Thank goodness, too, should you go off-piste, you will be reset.
Based on these early impressions on a work-in-progress version, however, going slow is the game’s forte. There are closed course events, where you race with a maximum of seven AI-controlled rivals on circuits and it’s at these higher speeds you can see the tell-tale unnerving wheel blur effect that so many Unreal Engine developers struggle to smooth over.
The rivals were also more scattergun than a feline after catnip, rolling themselves over, missing corners, and generally badly behaved. We hope this was simply preview-build jitters. If this remains in the final version, then we recommend staying to the slow-speed asynchronous events.
On the flip side, the single-player career seems surprisingly in-depth. The publisher representative Jules Roger explained how there is feedback between teams under the same umbrella. So even though this is not using the KT Engine nor created by Kylotonn, this mode has clearly been inspired by that team’s format used in the prior World Rally Championship titles.
That means a hub for you to manage vehicle upgrade skill trees and personnel development in-between races which are mapped onto a calendar. Skill points, credits and scouting are all in play, alongside sponsor objectives and the all-important role of geomorphologist. Easy for us to say…
Guided by the American Bobby, the aim here is to create an experience between 20 and 30 hours. It’s all rounded out with eight-player online multiplayer, four-player local split-screen and the ability to create and share customised livery designs.
Provided the team can smooth out some of the visual eccentricities and refine the AI performance, this game has the potential to deliver what the original always promised. It also feels unique in the driving game sub-genre, adding vibrancy to the space.
Our definitive verdict will wait until our review at the end of this month as Overpass 2 releases 28th September in Europe and 17th October in America for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.