|ONLINE||Yes - 2-8 Players|
|PLATFORMS||Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC/Steam|
|ONLINE PASS||Yes (Season Pass) - $24.99|
Major shout-out and thank you to Milestone for providing me with a code and a chance to play Gravel. Much appreciated, guys!
The game runs on Unreal Engine 4 – which can usually pump out some nice visuals – and that’s mostly the case here. Lighting is nice on most tracks, textures are generally detailed and look good. Reflections are nice. There are no real major issues with the look of the game – aside from one or two moments where that classic UE bug happens, and textures take a moment to load in.
On the audio side of things – it’s not bad either.
There’s no licensed soundtrack to speak of – so don’t expect Gran Turismo or anything – but the music here serves its purpose.
Now, while Gravel does look nice – I do have some problems that I want to address.
Mainly that the game only runs at 30 frames per second on console (My review is based on the base Playstation 4 version, not a Pro.).
Not game-ruining by any stretch, it’s just a disappointing concession that I feel didn’t need to be made. If other UE4 games like Street Fighter V & Fortnite as well as some other racers like GT Sport, DiRT 4 and Project Cars can manage 60FPS on console, I can’t understand why Gravel can’t.
There isn’t much here that these other games don’t also feature.
Like I said, though – it’s not a game-ruining problem. I just wish that it ran at 60 across the board.
The other issues are minor as well – some of the UI work is a bit boring, and there are a few visual bugs that I’ve run into. As I mentioned before – you might run into the occasional texture bug that UE is infamous for. There were also a few times where, after finishing a race, the car would begin falling through the world on the results screen.
Like the framerate, these aren’t gamebreaking problems – but they’re issues that mar an otherwise decent-looking game.
It’s a racing game.
There isn’t too much more that can be said about the game overall. That’s not to say there’s nothing here – just that there’s not much unique about it.
Gravel is an off-road racing game – and let me go ahead and say this: Yes, the similarities to Codemasters’ DiRT series are quite apparent. The game is called “Gravel” after all.
However – while the game is similar in overall concept…and name, it does take a bit more of an arcade-like approach to the genre.
Gravel is not a rally game. It’s an off-road racer. There are no pace notes and no co-driver on any event. It’s purely just off-road racing.
There are a few different race types – Wild Rush, Cross Country, Stadium and Speed Cross. Now, most of these events are rather similar. Wild Rush is generally circuit races on off-road tracks around the world. Cross Country events are point-to-point checkpoint races that often share locations with Wild Rush.
Stadium events are more traditional circuit races – they take place in dirt stadium circuits like those in Motocross. Finally, Speed Cross is a bit like Rally Cross – they take place on tracks that tend to be a blend of track surfaces – asphalt, dirt and mud. There are even some real world rallycross tracks, like Lohéac.
There are also a few variations on these modes – Time Attack, Smash Up and Elimination.
Time Attack and Elimination are pretty straight forward. In a Time Attack event, it’s you against the clock – the other racers have already set their times and it’s your goal to beat them. Elimination is just that – you want to try and stay out of the back of the pack. After 30 seconds, the car in last place is retired from the race.
There is a second kind of Time Attack, though – the competitive version only appears in the Career (And probably online). The version on the main menu is just a basic time trial mode. Try to set your fastest lap and run the track for as long as you want.
Smash Up, though, is probably my favorite mode. It’s similar to the checkpoint races, with a bit of Time Attack mixed in – however, there is a unique twist to them. In a Smash Up event, you’re trying to beat the top time set by your opponents. However – it’s not just a matter of getting to the end of the track. At certain points throughout the track, you’ll have special checkpoints to hit.
These can range from 2-6 signs that light up randomly. You must hit these signs – but only the ones that are lit with a green arrow. If you hit a sign with a red X on it, your car will slow down considerably, costing you time.
When you reach these checkpoints – you have a choice to make. Do you go for a green sign, even though it might throw off your current line, costing you time? Or do you take the hit and crash a red sign for a guaranteed time loss, but the ability to stay on your current trajectory?
At the higher difficulties – this is a mode that will require the training wheels to come off. Assists slow you down considerably, and you’ll need every bit of control you can get to keep a clean line.
It’s my favorite mode in the game because it’s the most unique thing the game offers – and it’s the most fun that I had with an event here. It’s the mode that hearkens back to classic off-road arcade games.
Now, about that career mode.
It’s a career mode. There isn’t much to it. It’s lengthy, but kind of bland. It suffers from the same thing a lot of racing game careers suffer from. The sense of progression just feels like you’re going from event to event, each getting progressively longer and the cars getting progressively faster.
There’s no story detailing your rise to fame, no manager giving you updates on your progress, nothing.
Even the TV show angle isn’t really fleshed out too much – Gravel Channel doesn’t really feel like a “channel”. Sure, you’ve got little show bumpers and an announcer that kind of chimes in with slightly-related comments on the event to come, or the results. You also get intros and some background on the icon racers that you face in Special Episodes.
It’s just that there’s nothing that really feels like your events are being broadcast. That announcer is nowhere to be found during the events, and his commentary -when it does happen after a race – just barely relates to anything that happened in the event.
The career serves its purpose – but other games handle it much better.
As far as the way progress actually works – the career is broken up into “Episodes”, these episodes contain a number of different events. Each of these events can give a total of up to 3 stars.
In order to unlock new episodes, you have to earn a set amount of stars. Collect enough stars and the next episode will open as long as you’ve met the other requirements, which is generally “Complete X Event”.
Once you do, you’ll unlock the “Special Episode” for that tier of the career. These are essentially boss fights in which you take on a Master of a certain discipline represented in the game – Wild Rush, Cross Country, Stadium and Speed Cross – culminating in the Final League at the end.
These guys can be a bit more challenging that the opponets you’ve been facing – but not impossible.
So, what about customization? Well, there is no visual customization, which is fine. It’s nice if a racing game has it, but it’s a bonus to me. Not a deal-breaker. There is, however, vehicle tuning.
Don’t expect Project Cars or Gran Turismo here – the tuning is very basic. You can setup your car to your liking, though – and you can save up to 200 different tunes, so you can have a tune for every track in the game for your favorite car. Or a tune for every car.
Unfortunately, during my playtime multiplayer wasn’t really active yet. I did have the game a few days early, so there wasn’t anyone on when I looked.
There also doesn’t appear to be a splitscreen mode – which is quite disappointing.
Like I said before – it’s a racing game.
You likely know what to expect from it – a lengthy career, time trial modes, online multiplayer and plety of cars and tracks to tool around with. There’s plenty to actually do – but it all depends on how much you like racing games.
I still go back to GRID 2 from time to time, just to play checkpoint races. I can see myself coming back to Gravel for Smash Up, at least for a little while.
As I said – this is a racing game. So if you aren’t a fan of doing runs in time trial, or winning every event in first place, you aren’t going to find much here. If you are, though – then Gravel won’t really dissapoint.
There’s also a decent amount of content to unlock – as you play, you’ll earn points. These points are essentially experience. You get a set amount for completing an event, based on your final position. You also earn points through trick driving – drifting, braking, travelling at top speed, etc. Lastly, you earn bonus points based on a percentage that you get for certain settings you use – turning off assists, for instance, will increase the percentage bonus – similar to GRID: Autosport and DiRT: Rally.
These points – called Show Points, by the way – will level you up. As you level up, you’ll unlock more cars and liveries. You also unlock tracks by completing events on them in the career.
For you trophy/achievement hunters out there, Gravel looks to be a fairly simple Platinum/100%. Most of the list can be completed through natural play – it mostly entails coming in first for each event type, setting a time in Time Attack and completing – not winning – events online.
The rest are for doing special things that are still very straightforward – complete a race with 3 Perfect Landing bonuses. Complete a race with 6 seconds of jump time, etc.
All in all, Gravel has some meat to it, even if it doesn’t really do anything special.
Overall, Gravel is a fun time. If you enjoy old-school arcade off-road racers like SEGA Rally, you’ll likely enjoy your time with it.
The physics are fun – even with assists off, and the career is just long enough that it doesn’t really overstay its welcome, even though it isn’t too different from most other racers.
Gravel isn’t a unique game – there isn’t much here that you haven’t seen before – but it is a fun game, and that’s what matters.
I see potential here, and I hope to see this get a sequel and more time put into it. Flesh out the career, give it a bit more meat/purpose – and perhaps a split-screen mode.