After its creators teased out the launch of Anki Overdrive it’s finally here and now all we have to decipher is whether or not it was worth the wait.
If you haven’t heard, Anki Overdrive is the latest product from San Francisco-based company Anki and it fuses the miniaturised fun of slot car racing with the arcade gameplay of Need for Speed or Asphalt; in essence it’s Scalextric for the smartphone generation (with lasers).
What’s in the box?
At launch Overdrive can be had in a myriad of configurations, but all of them centre around the Starter Kit, which has everything you need to get on the track.
With Overdrive, Anki has completely redesigned the track system, swapping out a single play mat used in Drive for modular components that snap together magnetically. The beauty is that you can pull apart and rearrange the track layout in seconds so even when you face the same opponents you can vary the experience without too much hassle.
The starter kit has enough straights, corners and risers (that add elevation) to build eight distinct courses, but you can expand and switch up the layout however you like using a range of additional kits that add jumps, rails, banks and even an intersection – aptly named the collision kit.
As well as smarter track, you also get some pretty awesome looking and surprisingly intelligent ‘supercars’. The starter kit features personal favourite, GroundShock (right) alongside a black and silver ride called Skull (left).
We managed around 20 to 30 minutes of continuous play on a single charge, which seemed respectable based on the game experience and how often you’d likely want to take a break between races, with a charge time of less than 15 minutes.
Anki was smart by to include a dedicated charger that accommodates up to four cars, subtly pushing racers to expand their roster of vehicles. The benefits aren’t just cosmetic, though, each car comes with its own weapon set and depending on which adversary is racing can affect how those abilities are utilised on the track, making for a more varied gameplay experience.
How does it play?
Speaking of gameplay, the arcade-style fun of Anki Overdrive is primarily down to the partner app (for Android and iOS), which eases you into a full-blown campaign, placing you as a hot new contender in the dangerous world of supercar racing in 2046.
You can create and customise an avatar that, as in most games, serves as a silent protagonist in the world of Overdrive. The app requires name entry during initial setup, but suggests that you don’t use any personal details for this section and there’s no need to tie your Anki character to any social media or emails account either, even when it comes to local multiplayer matches.
Before you can get on the track, the app also checks that your cars (which connect to your device via Bluetooth) are up to date as Anki is improving its software and adding new functionality to the experience all the time.
The game is divided up into five distinct modes: race, battle, time trial, king of the hill and tournament. The main campaign is contained within the fifth mode – tournament, which places you against the game’s own AI characters, all of which feature distinct designs, traits and excellent voice acting to help up the immersion factor.
Tournament is where you’ll face a host of different opponents as you progress through the story (this game has a full blown narrative element, which is pretty brilliant) and depending on the opponent you’re facing, you’ll have to take them on in one of the four game modes.
As the name suggests, Race sees you power around your chosen track alongside your opponent but by throwing weapons into the mix, Mario Kart-style, you can expect dirty tactics all round including the use of tractor beams, lasers, bombs and more.
Battle offers a similar experience to Race, but the aim is to land hits on your opponent, rather than be the first to cross the finish line. Time Trial is the most passive mode, focussing solely on speed. Your opponent will run the track solo and set a time that you then have to beat. Finally, there’s King of the Hill, which has one opponent land a hit on another to start gaining points.
Each time one opponent successfully shoots the other, the crown is passed and the points counter ticks up for the new king. The first to a predefined points limit is the winner – these felt like the most heated game types, primarily as they don’t appear until later in the main campaign against tougher opponents.
Controlling your supercar
Actually controlling your car is an interesting experience in its own right. To kick things off when you’ve built your track, you send the cars around and they’ll cautiously follow the path until they’ve learnt the layout (which you can see being built on-screen during this period). Then it’s go time.
You have a level of control over your vehicle’s movements on the track, but you don’t have to worry about turning corners. Tilting your device left and right allows your car to change lanes, important if you’re trying to line up the perfect shot or avoid coming under fire yourself. Next you have a slide on-screen to vary the speed of your car, important for time trials, but also when trying to catch up or out run an adversary, in order to avoid getting taken out.
Then there are the weapons. The game features a levelling system that increases how many upgrades you can attach to your vehicle as you play and the effectiveness of those upgrades. The more you use one specific car, the higher its level. So it pays to switch up vehicles from time to time, particularly later in the game where a specific supercar’s skill set might come in handy.
Whilst each car has access to themed weapons and abilities, ultimately they boil down to distinct categories, such as tractor beams, boosters, AOE (area of effect) weapons and projectile weapons of varying range.
Naturally as these cars don’t actually fire anything in reality, it’s partially up to your imagination to see some of the chaos unfolding on the track, but great sound effects, taunts and reactions from your opponents, as well as lights on the cars themselves, all again help up the level of immersion. The game’s trailer also does a pretty good job of showing what the experience of Anki Overdrive would be like if you were actually in one of these crazy cars.
Anki has managed to cram a lot of what makes a great arcade-style racing video game an actuality through its mastery of robotics and artificial intelligence. Heading down the route of a kid’s toy is a smart way to introduce those concepts to a younger generation and we have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see a broader range of products that employ similar technologies from the company going forward.
The presentation of Overdrive feels polished, the gameplay is unquestionably fun and the difficulty curve takes a noticeable, but reasonable rise if you’re playing against the game’s own adversaries. Otherwise the multiplayer element makes it a great alternative to sitting at a games console and there’s something more satisfying about playing with physical cars on real tracks.
The biggest barrier that Anki Overdrive faces in its current incarnation is price. The initial kit starts out at £149.99, making this an unquestionably premium toy (in the same vein as the insanely popular new Star Wars BB-8 droid everybody seems to have), but the expansion kits can add hundreds to the price tag pretty quickly.
Provided you can face the price however, Anki Overdrive is an impressive gaming experience no matter what age you are. It takes skill to master the cars and their abilities, and thanks to the track design and the levelling system, there’s a great level of replayability hard to find in your average physical toy.