Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition Review: Addictive, High-Tech Racing

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The Anki Overdrive racing system has long been one of our favorite high-tech toys, because it provides addictive fun for adults and kids and is infinitely expandable via new tracks and cars.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that there are nine track pieces in the set when actually there are ten.

Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition combines all the fun of racing tiny app-controlled cars with the thrill of competing against characters from the movie franchise, using their iconic vehicles.  With a price of $169, the Fast & Furious Edition isn't cheap, but it is only $20 more than the regular Overdrive starter kit, and well worth the premium.

How it works

The Fast & Furious Edition operates the same way as the regular Anki Overdrive, with a few extra features. The set comes with ten magnetic track pieces, a series of guardrails, a charger and two small racing cars. Unlike the regular Anki kit, which comes with a black car and a blue car, this package comes with two vehicles that are straight from The Fate of the Furious: Dom's "Ice" Plymouth Charger and Hobbs' International MXT truck.

Before you get started, you must download the Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition app, which is similar to the regular Anki Overdrive app, but has artwork and character voices that match the theme. The app is available for iOS, Android and  in the Amazon store, which means that Fire tablets can use it.

To play, you attach the pieces of magnetic track together and then use the app on your phone or tablet to control whichever car you choose. You can compete against either computer-driven characters or your friends, provided that they bring their own mobile devices and install the app.

Controlling the cars is easy, and, in theory, you should never be able to drive offtrack. You accelerate by holding down an accelerator pedal and change lanes by tilting your mobile device. There's no way to turn your car around or go into reverse. You can't brake, but you can slow down by taking your finger off the pedal or holding only part of it down.

The biggest thrill is battling against friends in multiplayer.

Depending on what mode you're in, you may have weapons you can use to shoot your opponents, either disabling their cars temporarily or scoring points in a "battle race." As you earn more points, you can unlock better and more effective weapons and outfit your car with them.

Racing against the Fast & Furious crew

One of the main differences between regular Anki Overdrive and the Fast & Furious Edition is that you can race against any of four characters from the movie series: Dom (Vin Diesel), Hobbs (the Rock), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) or Tej (Ludacris). When you compete against them, the characters spout random sound clips of things they said in the Fast and Furious movies. For example, Dom says things like "If a war is coming, we're gonna face it on the streets that we know best," while Tej repeats lines such as "Now I know what it feels like to be every cop ever chasing us."  Parents will be pleased to know that none of the dialogue contains profanity or sexual references.

According to Anki, the actors had to approve all of the audio, but none of it was recorded exclusively for the game. The dialogue is very entertaining if you're familiar with the Fast & Furious movies, but it's also completely random and not necessarily relevant to what's happening in your race. For example, Hobbs sometimes says, "I'll get out of here the right way," a line which comes when his character is in prison in the movie. Characters will also repeat the same lines over and over within the same race.

Racing around the track is fun, but the game really hits its stride when you engage in a battle.

Aside from hearing the dialogue and seeing the characters’ pictures on the screen, there's nothing character-specific about the gameplay. Dom doesn't have a special driving style that's different from Letty's or Tej's. The computer-driven characters will drive whatever car hasn't already been selected by a human player, so Dom could end up driving Hobbs’ truck, which he never did in the movies.

The tracks

The set comes with ten tracks: four straight pieces and six curve pieces. The tracks look and function just like regular Anki Overdrives, but they have a small Fast & Furious logo on their edges. They are extremely durable and easy to snap together with their built-in magnets. Anki tracks are so simple to use that my son was able to put them together by himself when he was 4 years old.

The Fast & Furious Edition offers eight different track designs, ranging from simple ovals to more complex figure 8 shapes. You can also combine them with any Anki Overdrive tracks you want, including accessories such as the $29 Collision Kit, which is a four-way intersection, and the $29 Launch Kit, which has your cars jump over a gap in the road.

One of the straight pieces contains the starting line and another contains the Power Zone, an "F&F" symbol that "hacks" your opponent's car if you drive over it and their vehicle is in range of yours’. This "hack" is meant to mirror a scene in the movie where Charlize Theron's character uses her computer skills to take over a whole bunch of cars. However, in the game, the "hack" is simply that your opponent's car stops for a couple of seconds; you don't get to take control  of the other vehicle, and you don't get any points if you're in a battle race.

Anki says that the cars actually got a little bit faster in Fast & Furious, so the kit comes with 12 guardrails you can attach to keep your cars from accidentally going offtrack. Though this didn't happen during our testing, even in regular Anki Overdrive, cars can end up veering off the track, a problem I experience frequently when playing the original version at home. The regular Anki Overdrive set doesn't come with guard-rails, though you can buy a box of them for $9.99.

Game modes

Like the regular Anki Overdrive, the Fast & Furious Edition allows you to play as a single or a multiplayer. Single players can choose between Campaign mode, where you advance to more complex levels by racing computer characters one-on-one, or Open Play, where you choose the type of race you want and pick your opponent(s). If you're playing with one or more friends -- the game supports up to four competitors at once -- you can only do Open Play mode.

In Campaign mode, you compete against each of the four Fast & Furious characters, starting with Dom and advancing to Hobbs, Letty and finally Tej. Once you defeat Tej, you move on to the next chapter and race against a new set of computer opponents, who have nothing to do with the Fast & Furious movies. The first is a character called "Fuzz," who is a cop.

There are six main types of race you can choose from in Open Player or encounter while advancing through the levels in Campaign mode: Race, Battle, Takeover, Time Trial, Battle Race and King of the Hill. With "Race," the object is to finish in first place by outpacing your opponent(s). In "Battle," you get a point each time you shoot an opponent with a weapon and the first player to reach a particular number of points wins.

The goal of "Battle Race" is to finish first, and you can slow your opponents down by shooting them. In Time Trial, each contestant drives alone on the track, and the one with the shortest time wins. A King of the Hill race awards points to the driver who remains "king" long enough; you become king by shooting the player who  has the crown. Finally, if you have one of Anki's Supertrucks, you can do a "Takeover Race," where each player tries to gain control of the truck by shooting it. And, once they have control, players can take out their opponents.

Racing experience

Racing around the track is fun, but the game really hits its stride when you engage in a battle and have to target your opponent with virtual weapons. As a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, I enjoyed competing against my favorite characters from the films and driving cars that come from the franchise. The ability to unlock new weapons or earn virtual currency for car upgrades made me want to keep playing to see what else I could unlock.

Using the Power Zone to "hack" your opponents is fun, but the attack stops opposing vehicles for only a second. So it probably won't have a dramatic effect on the outcome of your competition, unless you're in a hotly contested non-battle race.

The dialogue is entertaining, but it's also completely random and not necessarily relevant.

Anki says that the cars have a slightly higher top speed in Fast & Furious Edition, but I wasn't able to race both sets side by side to verify this claim. Based on my experience, the cars in both sets are very fast, and the real challenge is making sure you slow down and get behind your opponents so you can shoot them.

I can imagine getting bored hearing the same lines from the movies repeated over and over again if I played the game many times against NPCs (non-player characters). However, the biggest thrill of regular Anki Overdrive or this special edition is battling against friends in multiplayer. It's a great party game for adults, and my 5-year-old son loves to play Overdrive both with me and with his 7-year-old cousin.

MORE: Anki Cozmo Review: An Adorable Coding Robot Buddy

The only significant problem with the game experience is that, once in awhile, the app fails to see all of the cars as available for play, an issue I have also experienced with regular Overdrive. I had no problems when connecting to all of the cars with my Samsung Galaxy S8 phone, but when I switched to a Lenovo Tab 4 10, a few times the app showed only one of the two cars on the menu, or failed to complete the handshake when I selected a car to drive. I solved the problems by either turning the vehicles off and on, or closing and re-opening the app.

Differences from and compatibility with Anki Overdrive

The Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition is completely compatible with all other Anki Overdrive products: cars, trucks, tracks and accessories. You can use other Anki vehicles and tracks within the Fast & Furious app, or you can run the regular Anki Overdrive app and use the Fast & Furious pieces. The only real difference between the two apps is that the Fast & Furious program features the movie characters as NPCs and supports the Power Zone feature on the track.

There are a handful of differences between what you get with the $149 Anki Overdrive starter kit and the $169 Fast & Furious Edition. Both kits give you two vehicles, but the Fast & Furious kit comes with Dom's Charger and Hobbs' truck instead of the two less-famous cars. The Fast & Furious kit has the same number of tracks as its cheaper sibling, but one of its straight pieces has the Power Zone. It also comes with the guardrails, which are worth $9.99 if purchased separately. So, when you take into account the guard-rails, you're paying only $10 more to get a Fast & Furious-themed app and cars.

If you already own an Anki Overdrive set, getting the Fast & Furious Edition provides a decent way to expand your collection of tracks and cars. The cost of buying an equivalent number of track pieces ($20 for every two pieces), a guardrails kit ($10) and two extra cars ($50 each) is actually $210, and doesn't have Fast & Furious content. However, Anki fans who don't like Fast & Furious might prefer to spend their money on pieces that add  functionality, such as the Jump Track or Super Trucks.

Bottom line

If you don't already own Anki Overdrive, and you or the children in your life love racing, the Fast & Furious Edition is the way to go. It gives you a lot more value for a price that's only $20 higher than the regular starter kit. Anki Overdrive owners can combine the Fast & Furious Edition with their existing cars and tracks for a more robust experience, but buying this kit only makes sense if you're at least a casual fan of the movies.

Credit: Avram Piltch/Tom's Guide

Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.