With no relation to actual motorsport events, Gravel tries to carve its own niche by creating a simulated show. But, does it really have something new to offer?
The main mode in Gravel is called “Off-Road Masters”. The progression is through a TV show, where sets of three or more races are known as episodes. When you play the races in each episode, you acquire stars, depending on your finishing position. These allow you to unlock subsequent episodes and progress through the game. Every now and then there are “special episodes”, which are one on one races against a special opponent. This opponent is showcased in a trying-hard-to-be-cool introduction sequences. Think of them as the blacklist players in NFS: Most Wanted. These are the boss battles.
There are a number of race types. There usual lap, checkpoint and elimination races are in there. There are also Time Attacks where the other cars do not show up on the track, but you have to finish the race before the best AI does so. The Smash Up mode is a really fun mode, that adds just a bit of variety to the gameplay. There are pop up indicators on the track, that show either a tick or a cross just before you hit them. Hit the ticks, and you can pass through smoothly, but hit the crosses and you get slowed down. Reacting to these at breakneck speed within the time limit is a rush. There is also a championship mode that requires you to complete three of these races one after the other.
Even in the easy mode, the AI can be grueling. Although Gravel is an arcade racer, don’t expect to be rewarded immediately. Often, your cars are not just good enough for the tracks, and you have to progress deeper into the game and revisit the tracks with better cars to get all the stars. While the conditions for getting three stars are demanding, it is possible to get to the next few levels by only getting one or two stars per track. Some tracks give you one star for just finishing the race. A single mistake can spoil the whole race. However, the L1 button allows you to rewind in the race for a short duration if you make such a mistake. The mode is not allowed in some modes, such as the Smash Up mode.
There are several layouts of tracks in the same locations. Some of the track layouts can be outrageously tiny. There are tracks with alternate paths, and you will have to choose between the two. The double oval layout in the Memorial Coliseum at Los Angeles is a hilarious layout where you can choose between mirrored image left or right sections after every lap.
The races take place across a wide variety of environments, including abandoned mines, stadiums, forests, snow clad mountains, beaches and sand dunes. The tracks are located all around the world, from the US, to Namibia to Australia. How the vehicles handle depend on the environments. They drift more in dirt tracks, skid more in icy and wet tracks, and are just a bit unpredictable over portions of shallow water. You will have to adjust your driving according to the road conditions, which can change multiple times in the same track.
The Free Race mode allows you to instantly get into the action. Select a location, and then a track layout at that location, and you are good to go. Completing the corresponding tracks in the Off-Road Masters mode unlocks the tracks in the Free Race mode.
A race options menu that you can access before every race allows you to toggle various driving assist modes. There are assists for braking, stability, transmission and trajectory among others. You can also change the AI difficulty here. Damage can be set to cosmetic or active. A combination of all these options gives you a bonus. The more the difficulty, the more the bonus. The bonus allows you to gather points after every race, and the faster you gain points, the earlier you will have access to more vehicles and decal options.
Sound and Graphics
The music that plays during the actual races is a heady mix of rock and metal. The career mode is packaged as a “Gravel Channel Web TV” show, which has a commentator who gives some flavour commentary to provide some context to the races. These are meant to pump you up, but often just end up falling flat. You can just skip the introductory commentary and go straight to the action.
In terms of graphics, the environments are vivid and colourful. Don’t expect immersive, realistic graphics. There are a range of environments, which have their own look and feel. The bright colours make the tracks look borderline cartoonish. This might be fun for some, but is sure to turn off those who demand their games to have realism. There is an evident lack of detail, and the draw distance is not that great.
Gravel – Verdict
I would easily recommend Gravel to anyone who wants an alternative racing game to their collection. In the beginning, the lack of familiar cars, the made up racer personalities and the difficulty just made the game seem not worth my time. After putting in a few more hours, it kind of grew on me. I found myself increasingly enjoying the game, the more I played it. There are few flaws in the game, but the problem really is that it is a generic racing title that has absolutely nothing extra special to offer. The good thing is, at times, a generic racing title is exactly what you need.
Publisher: Milestone, Square Enix
Played on: PlayStation 4
Price: Windows (Steam): Rs 989, PS4 and Xbox One: Rs 3,499
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