Hands-On: Gravel

Hands-On: Gravel

by October 5, 2017

Last year, we gave you a preview of Ride 2, a motorcycle racing game developed by Italian studio Milestone. The team is very well-versed in the racing genre, having produced dozens of vehicle-based titles over the years. This time around, they’re back at New York Comic Con with something new: a gritty, off-road racer called Gravel. Prepare to get dirty.

Billed as “the ultimate off-road experience,” Gravel promises to bring the excitement of hardcore off-the-track racing straight to your home. Players will have access to over 50 beastly all-terrain machines, including some licensed and branded models from Porsche. The game will feature four main event types, each with their own unique appeal: cross-country checkpoint races, track-based speed runs, stadium-based jump-offs, and competitive combative races. Players can change the time of day and the weather effects for any given race; one sprint may take place under a cloudless, sunny sky, while the next may see SUVs kicking up mud as night closes in and a downpour begins.

While Ride 2 felt like a more hardcore racing experience, Gravel loosens the reigns a bit and gives the player a bit more leeway in their recklessness. It’s still very easy to spin out and crash, but the controls of both of the SUVs I tried felt much less touchy and finicky than their two-wheeled brethren. The raw power of these vehicles does come through as they churn through dirt and mud, and the moment-to-moment gameplay is more visceral as a result. No, it’s not quite as exciting as white-knuckle hairpin turns on a motorcycle, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.

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As with Ride 2, Gravel’s graphics aren’t the best at this point; the console version I tested suffered from some jagged edges and, pardon the pun, some muddy texture work. There are some fun visual touches on display, though; for example, slamming into a muddy wall or fellow racer will result in scratches and stains dynamically streaked across your own vehicle. The weather and track effects are pretty engrossing as well, and it all conveys the game’s rugged, gritty atmosphere effectively.

Racing games don’t necessarily have the exceptionally broad appeal of a AAA-level shooter or mascot adventure game, but for those who do enjoy these games, there’s no shortage of in-depth and similar-feeling experiences out there. Gravel does a pretty good job of differentiating itself from the competition by focusing on the messier aspects of off-road racing, and like Milestone’s other endeavors, it does so in ways that genre fans will certainly appreciate. If you like your racing games dirty, you’ll want to keep an eye on this one.

Gravel arrives on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2018.