Anki has steadily improved its Overdrive AI racing system since it launched last year. Software enhancements have added extra modes, like One Shot Kill and Balanced Cars, and it now sports handy features, such as replaying the same track without the cars having to scan it again.
Now we get the first major hardware update. The company has added new vehicles in the form of two big articulated supertrucks: Freewheel and X52. These hold true to the Matchbox toy aesthetic while mixing in the talents of Harald Belker, who also worked on the movie Minority Report.
In the hand, they have more weight than the cars. They're three times the size, after all. They also have upgraded motors to offer the extra grunt needed to pull those trailers around any of your Anki Overdrive tracks.
It takes a bit of getting used to. The trucks handle very differently to the cars. Their articulation requires you to take corners a little wider to avoid clipping the connection bumps. They take longer to get going, but once rolling they're harder to stop.
The smartphone app used to control the vehicles has been updated to match, with bespoke designs for each car and truck making it easier to remember who you are controlling in the current challenge.
The trucks' acceleration is controlled by an on-off pedal rather than slider, which adds to the sense that these big rigs need constant power to keep them rolling. There's also a new rage meter for them which slowly fills as their speed builds.
Once the rage meter is full the real fun starts. Tapping rage puts the truck straight into top speed and triggers a weapon that whizzes any cars in front of it off the track. It sounds a bit over-powered but actually requires quite a bit of skill to use.
The trucks each have a special weapon as well. Freewheel has "Gravity Trap" that disables opponents making them to lose control. X52 has an "Air Ram" attack that forces cars up to top speed to send them sprawling off corners.
Speaking to Anki Engineer on Supertrucks, Tommy Liu, I asked how the trucks' weapons would effect other trucks: "We can race two trucks but the exact effect we are still figuring out and tuning the best way for it to be the most fun," he said.
Hearing how the Supertrucks required Anki to redesign the artificial intelligence, there is obviously a lot more going on under the hood here than is immediately apparent. "There's a lot of work that went into modelling the truck and how it handles. We had to change our AI path-finding so it could plan the best place to use the truck weapons."
Liu was keen to talk about the new game mode that trucks offer, in addition to being able to add them into existing battles and challenges: "The user interface detects if you have a truck connected," he explained. "The Takeover mode will be greyed out unless you have a truck. We also customised the screens so you can see more easily which car you are driving."
This Takeover mode is where Supertrucks really starts to get exciting. Human opponents each race in a car, but to earn points they must Takeover the truck by shooting it. Get a successful hit and they are swapped into the truck's driver seat and can earn points by taking down the other cars.
It works well because everyone has a chance to drive the truck, and there's a balance between being in the more powerful truck and having all the other players trying to take you down.
It's in this balancing of the game between trucks and cars that Anki must focus for Supertrucks to be a success. It's certainly fun to drive the big rigs around the track, blasting the cars out the way, but it's also important that the cars can fight back too. Modes like Takeover go a long way to resolve this tensions.
The two trucks will be available from 3rd October and cost £59.99. To use them you need an Anki Overdrive starter set that retails at around £149.99.
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