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Gravel (PS4 & Xbox)

Developed by Milestone S.r.l., Gravel is available now on PC (Steam) for £29.99, PS4 for £44.99 and Xbox One also for £44.99. Gravel is an Xbox One X Enhanced title.

Gravel is a racing game which leans more towards arcade rather than the simulation style racing found in their previously released Sébastien Loeb Rally EVO. It is a game which is all about pushing the car to its limits across a multitude of racing surfaces.

I have been fortunate enough to play Gravel on both my PS4 and Xbox One X consoles which has certainly given me an eye-opening experience. The difference between consoles is abundantly clear from the offset with the PS4 version feeling dark and lifeless. Playing on the Xbox One X, there was a vast amount of detail, which had gone unnoticed previously, suddenly coming to life. Whilst the enhanced console improved the graphics, it doesn’t quite live up to some other titles of the same genre.

Aside from graphics, the difference between the two consoles regarding the game’s performance was also very noticeable. Regular framerate drops during races where pyrotechnics are used (common, especially in stadium races) are incredibly frustrating and distract you from the race itself. It seems to be a recurring issue running through Milestones recent titles although it seemed to be less of an issue on the Xbox One X edition. Even worse is the occasional 2-5 second stutter on a few of the Alaskan routes, which occurs on both consoles (see the clip below).

Gravel is introduced to you in the style of an episodic TV series on the “Gravel Channel”. Whilst technically a TV show, you will only ever hear about it, there are no cutscenes beyond the racers who pose a little. The show’s presenter is possibly the hardest part of the game to listen to, he doesn’t sound like a fan of racing at all and speaks in a monotonous, inexpressive tone. One of the things he has said which stuck with me was, “If you didn’t faint watching that race then you’re clearly used to strong emotions”. I honestly couldn’t tell whether that was tongue in cheek or a terrible script. As a fan of motorsport, I have very much remained conscious when watching races. It is nice to see them try to add some character to go alongside the gameplay, it just didn’t seem to hit the mark for me and came across more cringe-worthy than entertaining.

To accompany the show, they have tried to incorporate an upbeat soundtrack which consists of energetic, rock style, mostly instrumental tracks. They fit the tone of the game but unfortunately, there is not quite enough variety, so they become repetitive very quickly which is most noticeable whilst in the menus. During races, your car’s engine will drown out most of the extraneous sounds.

The controls are quite simple and what you would expect from a racing game. By default, the game started with all handling assists maxed. The cars handled well, were fun to drive and allowed you to push them to the absolute limit. You do get increased rewards for using fewer driver assists, however, in trying to alter the settings, I found lowering certain things such as traction control would make the car significantly harder to drive. It surprised me that in this instance changing from full assist to high assist (one step lower), there would be such a drastic change and ultimately left me with no desire to change it.

The main career-style mode in Gravel is called “Off-Road Masters”. There are 5 fictional characters featuring as the racers in the TV show, with you playing as their challenger. Each of the characters appears to be a master of each of the race disciplines with the ultimate champion being a master of all of them combined. Whilst Milestone has included characters from a diverse set of backgrounds, they haven’t managed to include a female. Whilst I am aware that motorsport is heavily male-dominated, female drivers do exist and so I felt let down by no female representation in the game whatsoever.  

The races take place across four distinctive styles of track: Cross Country, Wild Rush, Speed Cross and Stadium. Within these, you have a wide range of race types including lap races, checkpoint races, elimination races and head to heads, to name a few. I really enjoyed being able to race the diverse types of cars in different environments from the forest trails of Alaska to the sand dunes of Namibia and snow-covered tracks of Mont Blanc. This is complemented by a selection of speed cross and stadium tracks (some of which are real). The races are held at various times of the day in all weather conditions, forcing you to adapt your driving style accordingly. The AI that you race against are fair for the most part and refreshingly, don’t act like brick walls which allow for more aggressive racing.

One of the race types which I really didn’t enjoy at all was called “Smash Up”. As you race, you will need to drive through a board with a green arrow. These appear every 20-30 meters and will give you a selection of boards which have green arrows or red crosses. If you hit a board with the red cross on, your car will essentially be brought to a halt. There are a few problems with this race type. The first lies in the fact that timing is inconsistent at best and you are often left with little to no time at all to react and get into the correct position. If you happen to be using an SUV style car, there is a good chance that you will not be able to see the boards at all from the chase camera. To make matters worse, you can’t learn the placement of green arrows throughout the tracks because they are randomly generated. The competitors’ times are set regardless, so it is entirely possible for you to be handed a terrible run of boards that have you zigzagging all over the track, losing you too much time to be able to win. The game does have a rewind feature, but it is conveniently turned off in this race type.

There are three other modes which are:
  • Free Race – choose your location, route and car then race against the AI.
  • Time Attack – choose your location, route and car then try to set the fastest time on the leaderboards.
  • Weekly Challenges which are set by Milestone.

Gravel has a sizeable selection of vehicles for you to choose from such as trophy trucks, raid-style vehicles, modern and classic rally cars and speed cross adapted vehicles. Each race has a required category of cars, but you can select your own from the category listed. You unlock liveries as you play through the game, beating the drivers and winning races. The final livery will be unlocked once reaching level 99 or by completing the final event depending on which you reach first.

There is the option to play online in Gravel however, I have been unsuccessful in finding an online race which has more than one other person waiting in the lobby. After each race, you can vote for which category and track you want to race but apart from being able to host your friends, there is not much to the online. It is limited and feels like an afterthought rather than a feature.

Overall, Gravel has its moments where it can be a fun, intense off-road racing game but the longer you play, the more obvious the flaws become. Whilst overall racing is sold, it is in the technical and presentational aspects of the game which I felt lacked polish. Therefore, if I had to give it a score, it would be 6/10. There isn’t something Gravel offers that you wouldn’t already find implemented to a higher quality, in other similarly priced titles.

Gravel has 30 achievements available for a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. A decent sized achievement list which consists mainly of progression-based achievements. There are a few skill-based achievements such as sustaining a drift for 7 seconds or performing three perfect landings from a jump but nothing impossible. Gravel should be a straightforward completion. If you need any help or guidance with any of the achievements then head over to True Achievements where you will find plenty of useful information.

A physical copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review. Thank you!
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