It’s hard to imagine the naming of a video game going more badly wrong than it has here. Sticking two vaguely dynamic words together, the makers of Overpass have stumbled – accidentally, I hope – on a synonym for a motorway bridge. Apart from sounding dispiritingly utilitarian, nothing could be less appropriate for a realistic off-road driving game that is all about navigating tricky terrain.
The game itself, though, has something going for it. As Donlan recently pointed out, it has more in common with Spintires or Lonely Mountains: Downhill – or even the hiking gameplay of Death Stranding – than it does with, say, Dirt Rally or MX vs ATV. Yes, it is a motorsport game, based on a real motorsport, and yes it is played against the clock. But it is not about racing. It is about route-finding, problem-solving, reading the ground.
In Overpass you undertake time trials on obstacle courses or hillclimbs at the controls of either a lightweight buggy or a quad bike. You navigate your way over sunken concrete pipes, piles of logs, see-saws, mud-slicked slopes and screes of jagged rock. The controls are simple – these vehicles have just a single forward gear and reverse, plus brake and handbrake – although there are a couple of nuances. On a quad bike, you can lean your rider with the right stick to manage your weight distribution, while most of the vehicles can engage a differential lock that helps cut wheelspin but greatly reduces their turning circle. Judicious use of these tools needs to be folded into a very cautious playstyle that is all about managing momentum – not too fast for the obstacles, not too slow to make the next climb – and picking your route and angle of approach very, very carefully. One wheel at a time, as the tutorial narrator tells you in his reassuring down-home Kentucky accent.