A look back: Top Gear Overdrive
There was certainly no shortage of racing games on the Nintendo 64. While this one probably seemed just like one of many to everyone else, I had actually been anticipating it for quite some time. As a big fan of its predecessor Top Gear Rally, I was anxious for an update. In reality Top Gear Overdrive turned out to be a completely different name, sharing very little with the one that came before it. It was a mixed bag, but a decent game in its own right.
This was another of many games that I was at the store early to pick up on day one. The pre-release impressions of the game on IGN64.com were favorable. Excellent graphics, unlockables, and a much anticipated “hi-res” mode. Cars were more detailed than any other game on the N64 up to that point. They featured a “glossy” look to them. While the reflections on the paint and glass weren’t true reflections of the surroundings, they worked well enough to really make the cars seem a bit more realistic. The tracks were as well designed, even a bit more detailed than Top Gear Rally’s.
Infact at the time, the game’s only real shortcoming was its length. I remember bringing the game home and a friend of mine, Bef, came over. We sat down and had a blast with the game. But in the course of that very night we had already beaten the entire game and unlocked everything save for the “hidden” cars. It was a bit disappointing that $70 didn’t provide more than a few hours of gameplay. There wasn’t even a time trials mode to sink time into. Just rinse and repeat the entire experience to earn some hidden cars. Not my idea of “replay value”.
I have to be honest though, when I plugged this back in today, I was far from impressed. This game really highlights how far video game technology has come in the past 10 years. The sound is horrible. Music tracks are actual recordings from a band named “Grindstone”. Screaming guitars, that sort of thing. But due to the space constraints of the N64 cartridge, they were so compressed they sounded absolutely awful. You probably wouldn’t notice it through a three inch paper speaker on your TV, but through any kind of sound system, it really grates on the ears. MIDI tracks would have been a better choice, and that’s saying something. Like most of these games, the graphics take a little time to adjust to and all in all, they haven’t aged well. I had high hopes for the “High Res” mode, but to be honest. I couldn’t even tell a difference between the two.
The most annoying part of this game for me now, is the controls. The cars feel like they weigh just a scoop heavier than two bags of dog food. The slightest twitch of the control stick can send your car careening into the wall. Investing some money in “handling” serves to make the controls even more sensitive. Unfortunately as you progress through the game, the speeds become so insane, you need insane cornering ability just to get through the track. If you do happen to twitch at the wrong time, you’re likely to either go literally FLYING off the course and burst into a ball of…orange fuzz. Or just smack a wall and do the same. It’s a very frustrating task unless you’ve memorized the tracks. Which sadly, I have forgotten.
I tried to give the game a chance, but after about 45 minutes I’d had enough. Really expected to have more fun with the game, but it wasn’t in the cards. There are so many better racing games even just on the N64. At the time, all the game really had going for it was some fairly impressive eye candy. Now that I’ve been spoiled by today’s games that doesn’t leave much left to appreciate on this one.