Gravel is a brand new off-road arcade racing game from Milestone S.r.l. They are well established by now due to their variety of games developed in the racing genre. Gravel attempts to go back to the classic arcade based gameplay for the genre with a focus on progression system that relies on the skills of the player to reward them. It is completely different from the open world craze of the current generation racing games and hence tries to set itself apart from other games by offering simplicity and linear gameplay. As far as the racing element goes, the controls for Gravel are rooted deep in its Arcade nature and feature floaty physics that often end up looking ridiculous, but part of it is the charm of the game. The game features a lot of great looking levels with a different variety of environments and even though it might not be a pure visual spectacle, it still looks decent thanks to the underlying Unreal Engine 4.
Gravel offers a lengthy single player mode as well as a Time Trial and Multiplayer mode. The single player portion of the story basically revolves around going through different seasons covering Stadium Circuit, Wild Rush, Speed Cross and Cross Country in a set of tracks attempting to get the best ranking on each of them to get stars. The more stars you will gain, the more new events will unlock. There are also special events with the so called boss fights against an expert fictional racer that seem to be inspired from the design of the classic Need for Speed games, complete with their own opening real-time cinematics that introduces the main racer.
The game lacks variety in term of the racing modes offered. You have the standard time trial and elimination modes while a new addition is the ‘Smash Up’ mode that lets you race through a track while smashing through randomly generated barriers that will change position every time. This results in a game of trial and error rather than testing your skills, so the idea falls flat when it comes to execution. Racing challenges are also random for the most part, some don’t even require you to reach the top position and rather focus on offering a set of checklist for the events.
The progression is tied to the level that you currently have, and the more you play, the more experience points it is possible to earn through doing the main events or the optional side content. Leveling up unlock news vehicles to use in races which should help you complete some of the tougher events. The cars are locked initially and you will be stuck with a default choice and since there is no shop or currency system, leveling up is the only way to progress through the story and get better vehicles.
The variety of cars offered in Gravel is more than enough however if you are looking to deeply customize them, prepare to be disappointed since there is not much to see here. You can tweak the car stats through a set of parameters before a race but other than that, don’t expect to access much here. On the positive side, the cars seem nice to drive here and with the 16 tracks offering different variations, they should keep you occupied for a while.
Gravel works well because the game never takes itself too seriously. It doesn’t offer anything innovative here and basically works as a mix-match of other Arcade racing games. It even incorporates the time rewind mechanics from the Forza series into its gameplay, although I don’t think it holds up really well here. It does come in handy when you have made a wrong turn or get your car knocked out, however the game is mostly easy if you learn to keep a good pace while taking turns around corners.
Gravel often feels like a rushed experience because of the lack of polish. It is a simplistic racer but the racing is not exactly the best part of it. If you have played some of the racing games from last year like Dirt 4 and Project Cars 2, chances are that you will hate the controls offered by Gravel. If you can stomach them, the game actually offers a fun single player mode coupled with a score system that encourages the player to perform various tricks. The score system has an effect on the experience points that are gained so if you want to level up faster, you will not only need to win every race or challenge, but also try to perform tricks like drifting around corners or maintaining a good speed.
At the end of the day, Gravel is a decent arcade racing game which is something that is hard to find these days. It can’t really compete with some of the top of the line racing games but it attempts to find its own position in the racing genre and takes inspiration from some of the classic arcade racing games in a more modern environment. It is also sadly held back by a lackluster multiplayer mode that doesn’t really offer much for those who are looking for playing it together with a friend. The weekly challenges also don’t have much to show for them and feel like an afterthought for the most part, so if you are done with the single player, it is hard to see the game keeping its appeal up for a long time.
Gravel Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Take a tour around the world to discover the range of extreme and wild environments that will offer you a fully off-road experience. Pure fun, spectacular scenery and no-holds barred competition where each race will turn into a memorable battle!
This is a flawed racing game that can still be fun if you can overlook some of its flaws. It suffers from a lack of polish and underwhelming visuals but the driving mechanics are simple to grasp making it easier to recommend for a newcomer to racing games.