I take a break from Milestone’s Monster Energy Supercross and enter some super fuelled 4-by-4 off-road beasts and tackle their latest racer Gravel. As I continue to wait for another Sega Rally or Daytonna USA game to hit consoles, it seems Milestone is coming to the rescue with their take on high speed arcade racing.
The Gravel Channel is where the single player mode takes place as you partake in the off-road Masters which consists of four different disciplines. There is stadium, wild rush, speed cross and cross country. If you have played any off-road racers then you will know what to expect. After every three episodes you will come up against a master driver in each discipline. During the episodes you will earn one, two or three stars depending on your finish position. To unlock all other episodes you need to gather the right number of stars. Gravel is all about fun and entertainment and it shows in the cheesy and funny presentation centred around a TV channel. Each of the five master drivers have their own video introductions as well as being more difficult than the normal A.I. It serves as a nice purpose moving from race to race. I have to congratulate Milestone in their A.I difficulty as there is no rubber-band A.I in sight. Increasing the difficulty gets more challenging and you will be punished for driving mistakes a lot more.
Outside the single player you have time attack, free race, online and weekly challenges. They are all pretty self explanatory and the same options you will find in most racers now-a-days. I do like that they have added in weekly challenges to give people something fresh to aim for every week. As you play Gravel in any mode you will collect Showpoints for doing things like jumps, perfect landings, drifts and so fourth. This will allow you to level up and just like in Monster Energy Supercross, as you level you will unlock new cars and liveries to use. Changing the games difficulty and assists options will give you a boost but even on easy it wont take too long to unlock a fair amount to use as well as all the tracks. I have managed to hit level thirty in about four to five hours playtime.
When it comes to the actual races there is the usual different types of race you see in all other games. There is the usual lap races, time attack, one-on-one, and in the case of cross country going from point A to B while hitting check points. Milestone have also put in their own mode called smash-up and can be very tricky even on very easy. What gives this its uniqueness is that you will have a row of squares show up as you drive and you need to hit one that has the tick. Hit the ones with the cross and you will lose time, try to avoid them completely and you will will be reset. This is a mode that could be a right laugh with a bunch of mates. All that is missing from the game is a track editor like in Monster Energy Supercross, but I can see the difficulty in having a track editor in Gravel.
So lets talk about the cars, which there are over forty to drive to your hearts content. There are eight car classes to choose from that include trophy trucks and off-road beasts to the light weight and very fast Lancia to the Vauxhall Astra. There is certainly a lot to choose from and while not every car feels unique in handling the large majority of them do. When you are racing different classes of cars they certainly do feel unique like the drift happy Subaru. It was just when I was driving different cars from the same class that I didn’t always notice unique handling. Given that this is an arcade racer and a fun one at that, I can certainly over look this. Overall I love the arcade handling of the cars on track. This really does show some of the best of arcade racing from back in the days of Sega Rally and Daytonna USA. If you are looking for more of a simulation experience to Forza or Project Cars you wont find that here. You can have car damage on but I found it very forgiving, but at the same time it makes this a very accessible racer to people of all skill levels. Car model damage is pretty good and you do see clear visible damage on your car. When you do finally get things to properly break like the engine or the steering you certainly know about it. It would be better if the amount of damage you need to take was less before things went south.
When it comes to the tracks in the game there are plenty to choose from across sixteen locations ranging from the wintry Frozen Peak of Monc Blanc to the sunny beaches of Blue Paradise in the Pacific Ocean. In total there are fifty-one tracks which includes alternate layouts. That is a pretty big number and considering there are more on the way via the season pass it’s a great amount just for the base game. I have seen previous racers fall in to the to many of the tracks just feel the same routine. While that can also be said about Gravel, there are some right cracking tracks to race. One minute you are driving on a beach to then navigating the twists and turn through a mountain forest all in the same race. Then in another race you are on a desert type sand dune track in Namibia which has some tricky parts like weaving in and out of rocks and driving through canyons. It is on tracks as stunning as this where Gravel really shines as a racer. The same can also be said about some of the locations as well. It certainly brings back memories of my Sega Rally days, that’s for sure.
Gravel runs on the unreal engine and while it may not rival the Forza series in graphical quality it certainly does make up for it in the vibrant colours and its very appealing charm. There are some low-res textures that creep in and some noticeable low draw distance low. This though hasn’t affected my enjoyment or playing experience. The lighting on the tracks can look amazing especially when you are driving through the forest at night. With an opponent knocking on your rear bumper and all you see is the beam hitting off your car it does look the part. I also love the look of the inflatable light-up checkpoints. You know that nice clean shine you get with new car toys? Well that’s what these cars look like on the race line making me just want to grab them from my screen and add them to my collection. The visual quality as they get dirty and cosmetically damaged is what I would expect and helps make things look that bit more real.
The Good Things
- Some stunning looking tracks with superb track design.
- Love the whole classic arcade racing feel, it will suffice my hunger till Sega release another Sega Rally or Daytonna.
- Healthy amount of cars and tracks layouts.
- No rubber-band A.I in sight.
And The Bad
- The graphics won’t rival the Forza series but they are still great looking for the type of game.
- Cars can take a lot before internal parts like engine and steering start causing issues.
- I have had only two instances where the game froze during a race for a few seconds, but it didn’t effect the racing as it was just as if something was still loading.
- Milestone have certainly produced a quality arcade racing experience and its good to see developers looking to bring back some proper arcade racing. Gravel is a very fresh experience after a year of all mostly racing sims. While Gravels heart lies in the arcade section they have included some settings to bring in more of a simulation feel. It will provide the new racers with an easy step up towards a more simulation experience. This racer certainly oozes a lot of visual charm and while not a rival to Forza the developers have used some great lighting effects and the locations just look stunning. There is a healthy number of tracks and cars too. There is some stellar track design and you have the ability to tinker about with car setting to get the best performance for those time attacks. Gravel takes first place in the arcade racing genre for me and I hope to see Milestone uses this Gravel as a stepping stone to an even grater arcade experience.
Gravel certainly satisfies my hunger for arcade racing and brings back the good old memories of Sega Rally and Daytonna USA.