Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
It seems like there’s no slowing the team at Italian studio Milestone down – after just releasing Monster Energy Supercross earlier this month, they’re back again with another off-road racing spectacle in Gravel. Of course, you’re taking on four-wheels instead of two this time around, though otherwise it’s a lot more of the same exciting racing across a wide range of tracks.
Unfortunately though, whilst Gravel is fun to play, it doesn’t really do anything unique to help it stand out in the crowded racing genre.
The core experience of Gravel is found in its Career mode, where you take on existing and legendary off-road racers across a series of events spread across four different disciplines: Cross Country, Wild Rush, Stadium, and Speed Cross. Each discipline challenges your racing skills in different ways and ensures that the events are varied, with them typically switching between checkpoint racing, lap racing, and even the occasional twist on the rules with ‘Mash Up’ (where you’ve got to hit certain targets on the track). The career as a whole is pretty meaty and it’ll take you a while to complete each event, whilst there are plenty of new cars, liveries, and tracks to unlock along the way too.
One interesting touch that Gravel adds to its Career mode is its TV show like presentation, though it felt a little cheesy to me. It presents the racing as if it’s an episode of a show, which is a neat idea but one that isn’t really executed in a particularly cool way in-game. It doesn’t hurt the gameplay at all, but you can expect to feel the occasional cringe here and there.
Gravel’s racing feels like it has strived for a more arcade-like feel as opposed to over-the-top realism, with it easy to pick up and play from the get go. Pulling off tight 180-degree turns is easy enough, as is weaving in between other racers and drifting across each bend in a race track. Obviously, the varying track types and environments feel different to race across, but there’s nothing that even a racing newbie couldn’t handle. That being said, I was playing with the default assists enabled so maybe those who want a more authentic racing experience could try turning them off, though in honesty it was fun just playing the game in its standard setup anyway.
Whilst Gravel is accessible to play and you shouldn’t have too many problems getting around each track, there’s still plenty of opportunity for you completely mess things up – in my first race alone I smashed into a barrier and mistimed a jump so badly my car was flipping around everywhere. Fortunately, there’s a rewind function in place that allows to quickly take the race back a few seconds and rectify any of your incoming mistakes. It’s a really useful function and one that certainly saved a fair few of those tense races I was a part of, but on the flip-side it can feel a little bit like cheating. But hey, it’s not a compulsory feature that the game forces on you, and if it makes the game more enjoyable then there’s no problem with using it, right?
It’s worth mentioning that the A.I. racers in the game take no prisoners too. Now I think I’m quite decent at racing games, but even I found myself often having to take more than a few attempts before I was able to get that coveted victory in some races. In Gravel, you’ll constantly see other racers storming ahead of you, and whilst it’s always possible to catch up with them, there’s always plenty of other racers hot on your tail too. The game is very accessible as far as the driving itself is concerned, but you’ll need a good racing knowledge and have to be able to find the best driving line if you want to find the most success.
There’s a good selection of varied tracks on offer in Gravel that are spread over multiple environments across each racing discipline. You’ll get the chance to race through the muddy jump-filled stadium layouts (which was are always a blast) as well as the standard (though unconventionally laid out) courses. You can expect to see the likes of snowy tracks, mountain roads, and even tropical paradises throughout your time racing, and they all offer plenty of wondrous sights to see. Some of the tracks have an assortment of obstacles to watch out for too – it adds to the tenseness of a race knowing that some stray rock could completely throw you off your racing line, though at the same time the aforementioned rewind function does alleviate some of this pressure.
Gravel’s tracks are certainly pretty to look at, though it could be a bit of a mixed bag elsewhere. Whilst the cars themselves are licenced, I was never particularly blown away by the recreations. The same goes for the weather effects, which were a little bit underwhelming compared to what other racers have offered – even slightly older ones than this. With an emphasis on going off-road and across sketchy environments, I hoped the weather would play a bigger role in how the race looked and played out. Instead, it felt like it was just there for show.
Besides the Career mode, you’ve also got standard race modes to take part in including the likes of solo races and time trials. Anything you take part in during the career you can enjoy in freeplay too, so you’re never restricted to simply doing what the career tasks you with if you just fancy indulging in a particular discipline. There’re also the Weekly Challenges to take part in that give you a specific set up and challenge you to get the best time against other players – it’s a nice touch and it shows that Milestone are hoping to keep players hooked into the game for the long run.
Gravel also has multiplayer modes on offer, but since I played it pre-release I haven’t had a chance to try it out. Milestone’s most recent effort Monster Energy Supercross had a decent online component though, so I’m expecting the same here.
The main problem with Gravel is that it has no unique hook and doesn’t really do anything that hasn’t been done before (and better) in another racer. Everything is enjoyable and competent, but it never has much depth to it. I never felt as hooked into Gravel as I did with the likes of the DiRT series or even more realistic racers like Forza, and I can’t see it being the sort of title I’ll come back to for weeks on end. If you’re a fan of off-road racing, I can imagine you’ll get a lot more out of the game, but as a driving sim alone it’s more competent than spectacular.