Gravel Review

Gravel, developed by Italian racing-game veterans Milestone, is an off-road racer centered around simplistic controls, and intense encounters.

Off-Road Masters

Gravel starts off strong and simple, introducing players to a off-road racing league, however, the repetitive gameplay quickly becomes stale. The game includes a multiplayer mode, free play, time attack, weekly challenges, as well as Off-Road Masters; a fictional racing TV show which acts as a career mode.
The game ultimately shines brightest when playing through Off-Road Masters, though this could've been improved upon. The main aim of this mode is to complete races with the ultimate goal of beating the Off-Road Master Sean Walker.
Gravel does a good job of creating an authentic experience, building up its 'Gravel Channel' which, if it was real, I'd totally watch. This includes a breakdown of the exotic race locations, as well as several promos from racetrack masters that the player must beat in one on one competition. This is one area which seems to have been overlooked however, as Off-Road Masters could have been padded out to make it feel as though the player is actually competing with the other contestants. For instance, a scoreboard of the racers that actually ties into gameplay, instead of just finishing tracks to unlock a boss race.

The game's multiplayer would be fun with friends; however, it is very disappointing solo as matches are almost already nonexistent. Also, the fact that the game doesn't support split-screen, even in free play, is a missed opportunity, as arcade racing games especially lend themselves to this kind of couch-based gameplay.

The good

Milestone make good use of the jump to Unreal Engine 4, as Stadium tracks and Cross Country races look vibrant, featuring vast deserts, caves and beaches. There are a hefty amount of races to partake in, which take place in the likes of Alaska, as well as circuits in Latvia, Namibia, Florida, and Las Vegas. Races are split up into intense Wild Rush and Speed Cross tracks, sprawling Cross Country, and head to head Stadium circuits. My personal favourite, Cross Country, allows for players to experience all of the above, as it incorporates everything into one big race, and is long enough for players to get back into if they (like me) have a catastrophic spin-out.

These Motorstorm inspired races are complimented well with the soundtrack and the AI; which can block the player, forcing them to crash into things like trees and rocks. Medium difficulty provides enough of a challenge, as you will find yourself driving erratically, smashing into other contestants, and playing dirty in order to win.

An array of camera angles to match your playing style e.g. first-person view, is also available as standard. This can enhance the feeling of rallying alongside other like-minded daredevils, as can the attention to detail, such as cars getting covered in dirt when drifting around corners. Cars also perform realistically in the weather conditions, for instance, they skid in the snow, and you can really feel a change in the road surface when, for example, going from a beach to a gravel road.

The bad

The game features vehicles from Ford, Toyota, and even Porsche, and allows players to take control of trophy trucks and other cars depending on the track type. The game limits players to just one default car per race to start with however, until the player levels up, unlocking more cars. A way to purchase vehicles would have worked well here, though sadly it is not included.

In contrast, what immediately stands out is the level of customisation options available to the player, allowing for things like suspension tuning. This is let down, however, by the immersion-breaking copy-paste cars seen in races. The rewind feature is also quite unusual and confusing as there is no real use for it, except to avoid crashing/missing checkpoints, but this detaches the player from the action.

The graphics, while admittedly not terrible, are slightly lacking for 2018, with many other current racing games outclassing that of Gravel. This is seen during races, in the crowds and when crashing, as impact is met with awkward camera jerks, and is again outclassed by games like Burnout. Cars disappearing in front of the player, environment pop-in, and even soft-locks can also happen during play.

The game is simply overpriced for what it offers, at an average of £35, and would be better suited at a lower price of around £15. Gravel is a game that I feel players could experience a lot of fun with when played in multiplayer, though this doesn't justify the price, nor does it excuse the general lack of polish within the game.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Gravel is a good game for racing novices to get stuck straight into, however, pros in the genre may well want to stick with Forza and Gran Turismo for their racing fix, as Gravel unfortunately isn't the ultimate driving simulation. The studio told Red Bull in 2017; "We want to bring back those good vibes from the ‘90s, where the games already looked realistic but were easy to control and enjoyable for everyone." This sentence perfectly sums up Gravel; a simple, realistic and accessible arcade racer, which is a fun way to lose a couple of hours, even if it is a bit bland.

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