Hot on the (w)heels of their recent Monster Energy Supercross sponsored game, Milestone have released Gravel. A 4 wheel racing experience set in various locations around the world, featuring indoor arenas, and point to point races to test your driving skills to the limit with huge trucks and famous rally cars. The choice is yours, should you unlock them of course. The big question though; does Gravel take pole position or suffer a stall at the starting line?
Gravel is a racer, which is the bread and butter of Milestone. No question about it. It’s what they do, and they do it admirably. Their back catalogue is an impressive list of racers that feature both two wheels and four to cater for your taste. Then there’s the genre to consider, which for a lot of them is racing simulator. However, Gravel is leaning towards arcade racer which pleases me, as I have a tendency to favour a game like this as they just seem to take themselves less seriously.
Reaching the main menu I was faced with various options to choose from; such as the Career mode, Xbox Live and Daily Challenges to put my racing skills to the test. Unlike their last outing, I had no issues joining an Xbox Live game and racing across the sand dunes of Namibia, the frozen tundra of Alaska and a tropical paradise. There are more locations, so don’t fret. A great touch here, is that if there’s not enough people to fill the lobby, AI racers make up the numbers. Ah yes, the AI. We shall get to that momentarily. The online for me at least was stable for the entire race, and these races are a showcase of white knuckle racing at its finest. There was never more than a few seconds between the pack, and this is how it should be. Winning by a country mile does become stale and boring after a while, and keeps things interesting and enjoyable as the AI keeps the pace from start to end.
The Career mode is exactly where the meat is at, and offers plenty of challenge from the race types involved. From circuit and point to point races against AI competitors, to Head to Head racing, Time Attack and finally, Special Episodes. The latter sees you pitted against one of the stars of the show in a selection of races which if you win, unlocks their livery for use and a huge chunk of XP to level you up, further unlocking cars and liveries. New car unlocks become vital to your success as you progress trough the Career Mode, as they tend to be more powerful machines that provide crucial power boosts against the tricky AI opponents. Who always seemed to try and block my overtaking on every race after you leave the starting grid by parking the bus directly in front of me. A cheap tactic for sure, but if you’re quick enough, you can force your way past them, which is especially simple on circuit based tracks.
Levelling up does become slower over time, and adjusting settings in the race options is advisable if you want to unlock more cars and liveries as fast as possible. It will make the game far more difficult, so that needs to be taken into account, but you will take your own driving skills into consideration I’m sure. If you want everything unlocked due to the obsessive nature of fully completing everything a game has to offer will require you to reach level 99 which is going to see you not only finishing Career Mode, but also repeating races to achieve the three star rating for each one and then some.
Time for the actual gameplay chatter now, and Gravel plays like a dream. Responsive controls that some times feel heavier should you be driving the Hummer, making turns a serious effort on your behalf. But they can charge through lesser opponents. Then there’s the smaller rally cars which can slide and drift around sweeping corners and launch of jumps in Namibia with ease. Naturally, this is actually a lot of fun, and can make or break your attempt to snatch first place. Drifting is a ton of fun as you slide through corners, racking up the points, and gliding past your opponents, and feels natural depending on the car you’re using. Obviously, the huge trucks lumber around with a greater degree of difficulty, but it’s still entirely possible.
Daytime and dusk times for tracks are immensely fun, as is the driving snow on the Alaska tracks. Limited visibility kept me focused on the little I could see ahead of me. But it’s at night when things become troublesome. The headlights just don’t seem to be able to cut through the dark enough for my liking, and straining my eyes to see ahead proved a minor irritant when you’re surrounded by trees and the like.
Usually, Gravel isn’t of a triple A quality, and is from a studio that certainly does the best it can, but it still manages to showcase a rather beautiful looking game. Sure there’s the issue when you drive through shallow water, you don’t get to see the spray of water and instead, droplets appear on screen. The underside of vehicles just have a smooth black underside instead of the usual bits and pieces you’d expect to see, but these are minor issues that can be largely ignored as they don’t detract from the gameplay, and instead just break the immersion slightly. Not something that can be a major criticism from Milestone.
One inclusion that I was not a fan of, was the Smash Up race type. As you drive along the track, you are faced with signs that offer a green arrow or a red X. You won’t be aware of what you’re going to get until you’re almost upon them, and hitting the big red X sees your car almost stop entirely. Completely frustrating and really not needed in Gravel. If they added time instead of halting your progress, then I’d be less bugged by them, but as it is, they’re in the game and many will find them annoying. Aside of this, Gravel is a blast to play.
Overall, Gravel provides a good 12-15 hours minimum should you aim to get most if not all content completed. Controls are spot on, race types are enjoyable for the most part, and the various tracks are pleasing on the eyes. Arcade racing done right, and if you feel that it would be up your street, then you can go no wrong. Blaring exhaust and thrashing engines as you race across the sand, across tropical beaches and more await in Gravel. Certainly a game that you should consider, and one that I’m glad to have spent time playing.
Overall Score 8/10
Release Date: 27th February 2018
File Size: 15.34GB
Xbox One copy provided for review purpose.
Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 & Steam