Whilst market leaders Scalextric have slowly improved the world of slot car racing, Anki believe they have taken it to the next level with overdrive, their multiplayer circuit racing game featuring weapons and Ai controlled cars. We find out if they live up to their promises, taking a look at the latest ‘Fast and Furious’ edition of Overdrive.
What is Anki Overdrive?
Overdrive appears to be a familiar slot car set, allowing four players to race four cars around customisable circuits built from sections of pre-made track. But that is where the similarities with the classic hobby end.
The circuit pieces do not have conductive metal ‘track’ elements and there is no power running to or around it. Instead the cars themselves are powered and use onboard cameras and processors to keep them on the circuit. No trigger controllers are included, you need to use your smart device (phone or tablet) as wireless controllers to pilot the vehicles.
Power ups can be unlocked in terms of weapons that will allow you to slow or disable an opponent to improve your chances of winning the race. The cars can also be AI controlled, meaning you can race against virtual opponents to hone your skills and the better you play the better they will become.
Anki overdrive unboxing
Lets take a look at what you get in the box
- 2 cars (Dom’s ice charger and Hobb’s MXT truck)
- 6 x 90degree pieces corner pieces
- 4 x straight track pieces
- 2 x track-lifting riser brackets
- Car dock charger with mains USB adapter
- A tyre cleaner
You’ll note that they do not include any trigger controllers! As mentioned Overdrive requires a separate Android, iOS or FireOS smart device to wireless-ly control each car.
This being the ‘Fast and Furious’ edition, the cars included are replicas of those found in the most recent film ‘The Fate of the Furious’. Also the AI players take on the personalities of the movie characters, are voiced by the film actors and have their own driving styles.
Getting started with Anki Overdrive
Building a track
Gone are the days of awkwardly clipping stiff pieces of plastic track together. Anki’s overdrive circuits are constructed with modular plastic sheets with magnets on the end, allowing them to simply snap together in seconds.
The sheet construction of the track system allows for incredible flexibility (literally) allowing you to run circuits over the sofa or even down stairs.
Lost for track layout inspiration? Anki have provided eight track layouts possible with the standard starter kit pieces on the side of the box. They even provide an excellent online track-builder tool that allows you to plan out complex circuits!
The track is unpowered (making it in our opinion, more robust to use than say Scalextric). Instead, just like in real life you need to fuel the cars up.
You simply insert them into the supplied base station and wait till the LED changes colour. From flat the cars take around 8 minutes to charge and are good for nearly 20 minutes of racing. Up to four cars can be charged at once and they click into the positions firmly.
Controlling the cars
As said you will need to run the free Anki Overdrive app on your smart device to control the cars. We suggest you check your device compatibility by installing the app from the relevant store before purchase, otherwise get installing whilst the cars are charging..
When you start the app for the first time you will be required to sign up for an account by providing a username and email address. Once setup the app will ensure your cars are running the latest software as seen below.
Once you are ready to race, the app with prompt you to place the cars on the circuit. The vehicles then automatically drive and scan the track to ‘learn’ it before racing, which is equal parts creepy and exciting. Every new account goes through an initial race against the computer as a sort of tutorial on how to drive the cars in the game.
The onscreen UI is simple enough with a slider on the left controlling the vehicle speed, a button top right for firing your primary weapon and a button bottom right to activate your special power. In the centre of your screen a position indicator and lap counter are framed by your energy bar. Its a basic intuitive interface that is easy to get to grips with.
The vehicles will tear around the track in their lane and tilting/steering the smart device left or right will instruct the vehicle to switch lanes in that direction. Note that if the cars spin they will drive the track in reverse until encountering another vehicle where they will spin back to correct themselves.
Playing with Anki Overdrive
Anki have employed robotics and artificial intelligence to create skilled opponents to race against. Its a fantastic element that allows you to play on your own against the computer, extending the longevity of the game.
The cars know where they are on the track using their down-facing infrared camera (seen below), processing that information to adjust their speed and steering angle 500 times a second.The onboard processor can calculate a huge array of possible actions, reasoning the best options and weapons to beat you or the other opponents, even when you power up your car with upgrades.
All of this is brought to life with virtual driver personalities communicated via audio messages through your smartphone. As mentioned before, in this Fast and Furious edition that means you have sound clips of Vin Diesel (presumably taken from the film) smack-talking you as you race against him.
The kit is pretty robust but the manufacturers recommend wiping the track down with swiffer type dry-cleaning sheets to keep things running smoothly. They also supply a boxed tyre cleaning gummy pad (seen below) that you can manually run your cars wheels across to clean them. We found the charger needed regular cleaning or it would be incredibly loose to drive.
In the inital phases (such as the first tutorial race) it does feel that Overdrive has a ‘nintendo catchup’ type feature that slows the leading car allowing for the loser to catch up, this does make for some close and interesting racing but can also feel frustrating.
As mentioned before each of the cars have their own characteristics and special weapons. Hobb’s armoured MXT is slow but strong with rocket launcher power up with a large area of effect. Dom’s Charger is fast and loose with a grappling hook that slows down your opponents. Weapons are unlocked by earning cash in the career mode, beating the AI opponents in a range of races that get significantly more difficult as you go on.
From the main menu you can access the shop to purchase new weapons. There are a variety available with differing effects, range, area of effect and damage. These include passive weapon drops such as spike strips as well as speed increases such as NOS boosts. Also available are support boosts that will recharge your health or power at the press of a button.
Upgrading Anki’s overdrive
- Nuke – A low slung green supercar with a high-energy blast weapon
- Nuke (Phantom Edition) – Aftermarket upgraded in silver with deadlier capabilities
- Thermo – A red supercar with flamethrower assault technology
- Guardian – A silver and blue supercar with a sonic beam
- Big Bang – A chunky armored van that generates shockwaves
- X52 – A truck and trailer with pulse ram weapon
- Freewheel – A truck and trailer with gravity trap!
(Parents, note that all weapons are virtual through the app and not physical!)
Naturally Anki also offer several expansion track packs, from basic corner/straight extensions to ‘collision’ crossroads pieces and even a ‘launch’ kit that provides a jump and landing ramps. There are also accessory kits for the track such as elevation kits for raising the track, rail kits for keeping the cars on the track and angled pieces for building banked turns.
Would I buy Anki’s Overdrive?
In a word Yes. Its as much fun for ‘big kids’ as it is for actual children. It offers far greater longevity than the equivalent spend on a slot car system, thanks to the range of weapons and crucially the ability to play against the AI. It can be thought of as a Mario cart for the real world, and it never gets boring dropping mines on the main straight for your friends to run into to slow them down.
The only sticking point is the price. At £150 it is markedly more expensive than all but high end Scalextric sets. And that’s before you factor in the smartphone or tablet required per player!
Also to get the most from the system you will want to expand your collection of track pieces with more corners a crossover section and a jump ramp to really spice up battles; These are available from £20 and up. Extra cars would also mix things up and they retail for £50 or £60 for the supertrucks.
The starter pack is available now on our webstore for £149.99 and we will soon stock the extra track pieces and other cars. But for the £20 extra, the Fast & Furious version we reviewed makes an ideal gift for any die-hard fan of the series.