The racing genre has seen a massive shift in focus in recent years with simulation-based titles very much in vogue relegating arcade racers to minimum numbers.
Fortunately for arcade racing fans, 2018 will see a resurgence with The Crew 2, Onrush and Burnout Paradise HD all vying for your attention to name a few. Today sees the release of the very first arcade racer of the year with Milestone's Gravel. We've been playing the game on a standard PlayStation 4 for the last couple of days so we can now share our initial impressions of the racer, with a full review to follow shortly.
Gravel is a love letter to arcade racers of old. Its unapologetically simple nature pays homage to racers released around a decade or more ago, and that's certainly not a bad thing. Gravel centers around a fictional TV channel imaginatively titled “Gravel Channel” and events are played out across multiple “episodes.” If you've played the excellent Split/Second then you'll be somewhat familiar with this concept.
Gravel has four main racing disciplines, which will see you take on point A to B races, real-world rallycross tracks, as well as tight and technical stadium circuits. Along with the more traditional racing action, Gravel also throws time trials, elimination races, and “smash up” events at you: the latter sees you smashing through green arrows while avoiding the red X's which tests your agility and reflexes. It's these mix of events that make Gravel so compelling to play.
Whether you're blasting through water at one of the many beaches in a 1995-era Impreza, taking to the air in a Trophy Truck Baja style, skidding a ridiculously fast RX car around a rain-soaked rallycross track, or bracing yourself as you approach the crossover point on a figure-8 stadium track, Gravel never fails to put a smile on my face.
The handling of the vehicles is very much at the arcade end of the spectrum, so don't go expecting much real-world simulation here. Even when all assists are turned on the game still feels like it has “hidden assists” so those expecting an experience akin to Sebastian Loeb Rally EVO should look elsewhere. It's this simplified handling (which still takes some mastery) which makes Gravel so fun to play – especially when using a racing wheel as the title has surprisingly decent force feedback, which elevates the fun factor.
As with any title, Gravel does have some negatives – chief of which are the vehicle sounds. Granted, classic cars such as the Ford Mk II Escort and the classic Porsche 911 sound delightful, however other vehicles can sound wimpy and soulless by comparison which is a great shame.
This overall lack of grunt to certain vehicles is made worse in several viewpoints which dull the sound further. This is why I recommend playing from the bonnet (or hood for our American audience) or bumper camera viewpoints, as these provide the best vehicle audio, not to mention, a cracking sense of speed.
We are around half-way through Gravel and are yet to get stuck into the online portion of the title, but early impressions are very good indeed. At this point, I can certainly recommend Gravel to any arcade racing fan that craves experiences of years past albeit brought up to the modern day with stunning visuals and locals thanks to the use of the Unreal Engine 4.
Check back soon for our full review of Gravel.