Project Overdrive is a cancelled first person open world game that was in development since 1999 by Russian studio Vistage, to be published by Buka Entertainment in late 2000 / early 2001, many months before the release of GTA 3. Overdrive was an ambitious project, with many features that are still missing from today’s open world games, such as explorable buildings with no loading times and destructible environments, vehicles and gibs.
By looking at the screenshots and video below you can notice how Project Overdrive looked great for its time, with a big city to freely explore while hijacking cars, completing missions and trying to not being arrested or killed by cops. If only finished and released before GTA 3, Overdrive could have been a huge influence for the new generation of 3D open world games and Vistage could have became the Rockstar of Russian video games.
As we can read in the original press release by Buka Entertainment:
“Behind the bright, clean surface of a modern city lurk the masterminds of crime, the ones they never catch. You are not yet one of them, though. Here you are, at the federal prison’s gates, a crumpled $20 bill in your pocket and a whole new life to build.
You’re smart, hi-tech and deadly: will you spend your days being an honest worker? Think again. There are enough high-paying jobs, and, with your underworld connections, it’s time to start climbing the crime ladder again, but remember: your reputation will always precede you.
Starting small is a wise choice: it should be easy to become a courier for the local mob. There are a whole lot of opportunities if you don’t mind getting your hands a little bloody or occasionally washing them in water that’s too hot for comfort. Become a bodyguard – or a hit man. Take orders from no one except the Boss – or work only for yourself. Save up and buy a car – or just steal one (remembering to watch out for the police – or just shoot them, if you think that’ll be easier).
Uniquely, PROJECT OVERDRIVE combines the best elements of shooters and driving games in a way that will appeal to anyone who likes movie car-chases and shoot outs, as well as hard-core gamers. It promises to release the first person shooter from the dungeon, bringing portal technology and high quality gameplay into the open where they can be appreciated properly.
This is a new kind of game that redefines the meaning of the words immersive world. Imagine a giant metropolis, several hours across, with streets full of cars and people going about their business, legal or otherwise, hundreds of buildings looming over your head and complete freedom to live your life as you see fit. Make your choices and face the consequences.
Unique 3D-engine with portal technology allows consistent frame rates while walking or driving in the streets, or inside complex buildings; no loading screens and therefore no pauses entering or exiting buildings. Intelligent reflections and shadows.
For the first time ever, real life physics and damage. Everything obeys the laws of physics with unparalleled accuracy, and this means that, just like in the real world, everything can be destroyed: cars can be twisted out of shape, windshields broken, doors torn off; humans can be maimed or reduced to a pile of body parts, furniture can be broken to pieces or burned.
Sophisticated artificial intelligence: all characters have sophisticated and realistic behavior models. Cars and pedestrians obey traffic lights and signs, intelligently following the best route to get to their destination and doing their best to avoid collisions.
Enormous city with distinct districts, for example Chinatown. Uniquely, you can enter any building in the game. The final level takes place on a separate island. Day and night cycle. Complete freedom of action; there are many different ways of finishing the game.”
Even more details can be found in the old Project Overdrive FAQ:
“You start at the bottom of a crime syndicate’s ladder and work your way upwards, hopefully right to the top. You can steal cars, kill for hire, intimidate the opposition, in the process earning money for buying weapons, equipment, cars and even fancy apartments.
Players are trying to increase their wealth and status in the criminal world by successfully completing a variety of missions. The gameplay is non-linear, however, so there is no single way of completing the game. In addition, most of the missions in the game aren’t pre-scripted, but automatically generated by the AI, and these two features should ensure great replayability. There will also be the option of selecting and playing any mission, with a free choice of weapons, out of context as an independent unit.
Most importantly, the high quality of the game’s engine, graphics and AI. The city already looks breathtaking (see screenshots), and, for the first time ever, it will be possible to enter absolutely any building in the whole city and interact with its contents, whether they are people or (smashable) furniture or whatever.
Secondly, the game’s uniquely realistic physical model should put it head and shoulders above the rest. Objects are not just a series of polygons, but real entities, which interact and deform just as they do in the real world. For example, if a grenade lands near a tree, the tree will catch fire; later, the tree might fall on top of a car and squash it. This real world complexity is unprecedented (although a few sacrifices have been made in the name of more exciting gameplay).”
Unfortunately Vistage had some problems during development and in January 2001 Project Overdrive was put on hold by Buka Entertainment, and never completed:
“It was not easy to us to make this decision, as a great effort had been put forth to the development of the game. The originality of the design had attracted attention of many gamers both inside and outside Russia. Quite a few people had expected the game to be released at the beginning of 2001, hoping it to become a hit. But, when the game went alpha, it became clear to us, that the final version would not meet our and our users’ expectations. And as we would not like to disappoint our users, we made the decision to put the project on hold.”
Thanks to a Russian gaming journalist a playable prototype of the game was saved and preserved online, you can download it from mirrors at 3D Shooter Legends and The Iso Zone. As wrote by Talonbrave, in this prototype you can find many of the promised features that would have been expanded if only the game would have been completed:
“The game is actually quite complex; supposedly it’s playable from the first mission to the end, vehicles have per-vertex deformation, a lot of elements within the environment are destructible, characters use inverse kinematics for some interesting results, cars have a limited amount of petrol and need to be filled up, there’s a trading system in the game, you can customize your character, there’s supposedly support for multiplayer, shadow mapping, a completely dynamic lighting system that supported day and night cycles, it appears there were also multiple locations such as an island, there are no loading screens as the game attempts to stream in content during gameplay and seems to feature fairly complex AI for the time.“
Thanks to Svyatoslav for the contribution!