Gravel preview

Gravel Preview — Going Off-Road (PS4)

Italian developer Milestone is best known for their simulation racing titles. While they don’t quite rival Gran Turismo and Forza in scope, they’ve found successful niches in the past by replicating several racing leagues including MXGPMotoGP, and WRC. Their latest title, called Gravel, is something very different, as they’re setting out to create an accessible arcade racer.

As the name hints, Gravel is all about off-road racing. Don’t expect to find yourself on the Nürburgring here, as players are racing through colorful fields, snowy mountains, and through dirt. Each type of ground brings with it a slightly different feel to the action, so don’t expect it to be a simple palette change. The feel of the cars will shift, and driving through snow and mud are very different experiences.

My first race had me racing through a gorgeous field lit by moonlight. Colorful flowers and plants helped illuminate the path I was supposed to take, and I was getting some pretty sick air off grassy hills. A few bad corners where I accidentally went off the “track” gave me an early disadvantage, but I managed to race my way back into contention by the end. I still managed to get a podium finish, even if it wasn’t my best performance.

I ended up racing on several other tracks, and what really impressed me about Gravel was how varied the track line-up was. I started racing on a grassy field, but on the next level I was sliding on snow. Afterwards, I was driving my car around a dirt track inside a stadium. By not restricting itself to one type of racing, Milestone is able to give the player a truly unique experience that changes on every level.

Another cool feature is that there are several different types of races. The first level I raced was a cross country one, that had me racing through a series of checkpoints rather than completing laps. Other races take a traditional lap-based approach, but it still only takes a few minutes to complete a race. This isn’t F1 2017 where players will spend 30-minutes trying to master a track. Instead players get a much lighter experience that is still a lot of fun.

While Gravel is definite on the arcade side of the racing spectrum, that’s not to say there isn’t depth. As I mentioned previously, each type of surface has its own minutia to master. I generally performed well in the several race demo (I won every race except my first), but I could still tell there a lot of room for improvement. I also ended up switching to the game’s first-person camera for a bit, so I’m glad to say that simulation players familiar with that viewpoint won’t be left out here.

One part of the game that I didn’t get to go hands-on with was its story mode. Called the Gravel Channel, the mode is presented as a web television series. Players have to work their way through the ranks and eventually challenge several “Off-Road Masters,” who look to be the douchiest drivers alive. It’s definitely a different spin on a career mode, so I’m looking forward to checking it out when Gravel releases next year.

It’s definitely cool to see Milestone trying something different within the racing genre. They’re showing a lot of unique ideas in Gravel, and I had a great time in the 30-minutes I spent with their upcoming arcade racer. It’s definitely not the in-depth simulation that fans are used to receiving from them, but it might be their most fun title yet.

Gravel preview conducted at PAX West 2017. Previewed on PC.