Gravel is the newest title by racer veteran studio Milestone S.r.l. (MXGP, Ride), and with it the team is bringing its arcade skills to the off-road. At PAX West 2017, DualShockers had the opportunity to give the game a test drive, finding it to be a very pleasing sight but also to have a bit of a steep and punishing learning curve.
In my experience with Gravel, I had access to a wide array of different vehicles all with their individual, balanced statistics for my preferred mode of play. I felt like I could have perused these options for an hour before making a proper decision on which to choose. Being eager to dive straight in, I immediately chose a Mini Cooper, selected a black base-coat of paint with some neon green stripes, and I was off to my first race.
In Gravel, there are four types of race track: Wild Rush, Cross Country, Speed Cross, and Stadium. Being a big fan of the original Motorstorm, I naturally began my experience with the Wild Rush map that was available.
Wild Rush is a map type that feels like the off-road experience you might have been looking for in Gravel. It’s a lap race that takes you to a number of wild environments, all equipped with their own natural obstacles. I soon found my Mini Cooper getting battered around the track amongst a number of other vehicles, attempting to drift, and then bashing into more than a few objects in my path. I didn’t exactly finish in first, but that wasn’t the most important part to me for my first race.
What I first latched onto, and what is most obvious from the game’s onset is that Gravel is a very pretty game. Unreal Engine 4 is not going to waste here, as dirt and mud fling across the screen, lens flares flash, and vehicles take a beating with some brutal destruction physics. I got handily beaten by the game’s A.I., but I didn’t mind it so much because it was all so good to look at.
The next race I attempted was on the Cross Country map type. In Cross Country, I competed in a checkpoint race on a more defined road, but a no less beautiful environment. I elected to continue using my Mini Cooper since I was determined to not finish last as I had before, and I felt that I had a little more familiarity with the vehicle at this point.
I finished in last. While I made every attempt to control my vehicle just right, I found myself continuing to fly into walls on my drifts and getting seriously turned around, thus falling to last place every time I got close to the pack of other vehicles.
The last race that I had time to take part in was the Speed Cross mode, a lap race based on a real-world track full of jumps. For this race, I decided to ditch my Mini Cooper in hopes of finding a vehicle that handled completely differently, possibly making up for my otherwise inadequate previous attempts. I went with the biggest pick-up truck I could find.
I still finished in last. For some reason, I couldn’t get the drifting system down just right and it caused me to fall behind every time. It’s entirely possible that outside of a demo experience, I would have had more time to master the gameplay. All I know is that the demo wasn’t quite enough time for me.
To the game’s credit, its offline mode does offer a sort of rewind feature that allows you to go back 10 or so seconds to try remedying a mistake that would have otherwise ruined a perfect race. Although I had this option at my disposal, my races were so atrocious, there were few opportunities for me to use it to great effect.
One perk of being so bad at the game was that I became intimately familiar with the vehicle destruction animations. Something I tend to appreciate from my racing games is the ability to see my mistakes reflected on the condition of my vehicle, and Gravel pleasantly provides that opportunity. Although it doesn’t affect the performance of the vehicle, it’s some consolation to watch a vehicle become dismantled when you’re playing so poorly.
Gravel also runs on a point system. When you land a particularly sweet jump, shunt another vehicle, or are able to drift even a little (yes, even I got points for that), the game awards points that can be used to customize your vehicles with new paint-jobs, of which there seem to be many.
Gravel is certainly one for arcade racing fans to keep an eye on. Although my experience regularly resulted in deficiency and destruction, I still managed to have a good time, and I can see how my skills might improve after dedicating more time to refining them.