Overdrive


Title           Overdrive
Game Type       Driving
Company         Team17
Players         1 or 2 (link-up only)
Compatibility   All (with WHDLoad patch)
HD Installable  Yes (with WHDLoad patch)
Submission      Hidehiko Ogata Profiled Reviewer (hog@aqu.bekkoame.ne.jp)

"You have to learn track layouts to fully appreciate this racing game."

That's pretty much given for the genre, but it's usually applied to more
simulation-oriented, first-person-view titles such as Formula One Grand Prix
(Microprose, '92) or Indianapolis 500 (Electronic Arts, '90).  So what is it
doing in this review of Team 17's earlier foray into the heavily-crowded
top-down racing arena?

Often referred to as a pseudo-prequel to T17's own All Terrain Racing ('95),
this semi-full-priced '93 release was actually by a wholly different
development team Psionic Systems whose Assassin ('92) had helped T17 establish
their brand name as a quality budget publisher.

Overdrive does pale in comparison to contemporary heavy-weight favorites like
Supercars II (Gremlin, '91), Skidmarks (Acid Software, '93), Micro Machines
(Codemasters, '93), or even to the slightly obscure Nitro (Psygnosis, '90). Only 
3 cars can compete at a time (frown), no weapons nor explosions (yawn), no
2-player mode except the 2-computer link-up option (I can see half of the
audience leaving).  Just another solid effort by T17, move on...

...if you do persist, however, a whole different picture starts to emerge.

One thing you immediately notice about Overdrive, past the rather confusing
menu system and over-busy match selection screen, is that it's FAST.  Several
screenful of tracks just whiz by in a blur - casual, "reflex driving" just
won't cut it.  Then you start to see that pick-ups and turbo-pads, littered
around the tracks as usual, are actually placed in a set of fixed locations.
"Naturally", your mind is encouraged to draw "racing lines" (of all things!),
taking account of their placement.  Awarded by some impressive lap times (how
many top-down racer care for those?), it finally starts to dawn on you...

"...this is one SERIOUS racing game!!!"

The magic with Overdrive is that it's a serious racing game without becoming
*too* serious.  Kind of like stock car racing, it's all about the driving
skill - the other incidental stuff that usually accompanies race sims are
either simplified, or just plain nonexistent.

Compete in as many races at your own leisure.  The car type is automatically
switched according to the track of your choice.  There's no car tweaks to
worry about, nor any tune-up shop for that matter.  The optional qualifying
session helps to jog your memory (you don't qualify for position when the worst
you can do is the 3rd grid, do you?)  The only practical obstacle to your
long-term goal, which is to advance through the ranks and become the champion,
is running out of budget - which means, drive well and keep earning prize money,
and you'll do just fine.

It all boils down to one wonderfully simple goal: DRIVING.

Overdrive *IS* deadly serious when it comes to that.  Thankfully the car
physics is absolutely perfect - not bad at all for digital sticks! - the car
responds nimbly to stick movements without becoming too sensitive, and you
have remarkable control over the turn radius with the slightest flick of the
acceleration button.

With that much level of control at hand, it's a lot of fun to tackle the
20 provided tracks over 5 types of terrains.  Unlike other "demolition-derby"
kind of games, they are not designed to confuse you, but to guide you in the
heat of the moment.  All bends are combinations of 90-degrees (sort of like
slot-car tracks), meaning you can pull off some nasty moves, jumping from apex
to apex, literally cutting every corner imaginable.

Turbo-pads and pick-ups are clearly color-coded therefore easily identifiable,
beckoning your attention.  But there are also hazards to consider, such as the
pesky oil slicks.  How can you touch that pad without getting into an
uncontrollable spin?  Have you built enough lead to risk stepping out of the
optimum line, to pick up those elusive power-ups? (no tune-up shops, remember!)
All these split-second improvisations add to the sheer adrenalin rush which you
thought only genuine race sims like F1GP could provoke.

Probably the only thing "semi-full" about Overdrive is the number of
contestants in one race which is, as noted earlier, a whopping three (*1),
although eight AI's do offer some variety.  After a while, however, you tend to
care less - real races usually come down to battles among a few top dogs anyhow.
Also, you can't save/restore ongoing sessions, but that's no big deal; a single
race lasts for just a few minutes; a full season for one hour or so... nothing
race sim veterans can't shrug off.

Funny thing is, you *can* save/restore all-important laptimes for each and
every type of tracks, complete with drivers' names!  There's even a separate
time-trial mode just for that purpose.  When you score a ground-breaking lap
record, you don't even have to glance at the stopwatch - the crowd goes WILD
over your new achievement - those Psionic guys sure knew what they were doing.

In short: often neglected in the shadow of its younger cousin ATR, Overdrive 
still manages to offer unique gameplay to the top-down racing genre. A Worthy 
pastime for serious racing buffs.

Notes:

*1 I've yet to test the 2-player linkup option which would be, I can only
   imagine, deadly fun between two seasoned drivers.  Fellow Amigoids are
   so hard to come by on this small island, you see ;)



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