Here at GRAVEL Channel, we pride ourselves in giving you a spectacle worthy of awe. Incredible landscapes and daring drivers in extreme motors. We give you our new season of: Offroad Masters! What awaits will leave you breathless.
Gravel is Milestone S.r.l.’s newest racing game, published by Milestone and also Square Enix, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The game resembles a more Arcade approach to the races where you need to accumulate a certain amount of starts to progress to the next challenge, or “episode”, in order to progress. The game is presented as a “wild” TV Show, where your avatar will be taking part in “intense” race events all around the world, where all the races take place on off-road paths and terrains. With a variety of vehicles and racing challenges to compete in, it would seem that this could be a fun experience.
The game’s story is this: You are a faceless driver taking part and competing in what’s been coined the wildest TV Show to be aired, called “Off-Road Masters”, on the “Gravel Channel”. Many racers are competing to earn the title of “Off-road Master”, but in order to do that, they need to show that they have what it takes, and beat each race type’s “Master” to be able to go against the previous year’s “Off-road Master”, who has kept his title for years. These “boss levels” are one-on-one races in three levels of the respective race discipline, of which there are four. The idea of this is great, but is unfortunately unsubstantial in this game, giving us a mere surface-level of reason and insight to the races. The box looks pretty, but there’s not all that much inside. And what’s more, the commentator tends to give me a headache, constantly emphasising that their great idea of “the wildest TV Show” is the best innovation for TV and that it’s the one thing that has been missing in people’s lives. You’ll be hearing comments like this before every single race in every challenge, and I’m not the only one who rushed to press the “Start Race” button to interrupt and end the audio. Much respect to the voice actor who had to try and do the best he could for that role.
All aside from that, the racing has its fun moments, though the driving model has a few kinks when it comes to the different terrains, eg. muddy terrain didn’t feel all that different from the sandy terrains, but the overall experience did not have me yawning. Every track has its own challenge, and though some may seem very similar to one a few challenges back, I found I was focusing more on making sure my opponents didn’t pass me at the next sharp turn. The four race disciplines are: Cross Country, Wild Rush, Stadium and Speed cross, with the differences not being all too clear aside from the vehicle types. Wild Rush and Stadium modes are lap races with heavy or light for each, while Cross Country and Speed Cross is more of a Sprint-type race with checkpoints that you need to pass through, also with either heavier or lighter vehicles. I quite enjoyed the Cross Country and Speed Cross the most. You even get a Time Attack mode, Elimination mode, and my personal pet-peeve, the Smash-Up mode. Smash-Up is unnecessarily difficult, forcing you to drive through specific signboards within a ridiculous time-frame, while also disabling the game’s best mechanic. If you drive through the wrong board (which is very easy to do) your car is slowed down immensely. It’s easy to say that if you hit even one of those boards, you will have an unnecessarily tough time reaching first place.
The handling model for the vehicles feels inconsistent as well, offering very little distinction between vehicles aside from the odd extreme difference. A big number of cars had the same handling, with the only difference being in how fast the car accelerated and how well it braked. My other complaint would be the inconsistencies in the physics as well, even though this also gave me a few laughs. A bush would be enough to stop my car in it’s tracks or have it spinning out of control, or a slight nudge from the opponent would be able to have your car careening to the side and have you do an irritatingly smooth 180-degree turn, facing the angry opponents coming towards you. Here is where the game’s life-saving mechanic comes in the best; Rewind! Instead of resetting your car’s position, you can merely rewind and adjust or completely change the direction you want to drive or slow down slightly more before a corner, etc. This mechanic is a lot of fun to mess around with, and as I’ve said, can be a massive life-saver during races, which is why it is such an irritation for it to be disabled during the Smash-Up events (which I completely avoid now, thank you very much!)
You are also able to adjust your vehicle’s transmission, differentials, ride height, etc. in order to customise your cars performance based on the track you might be riding on, and personal preference. But, a lot of races felt repetitive unfortunately, and though some tracks are fun, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling of going through the motions with these races. And so I thought playing online multiplayer would be the fresh change I was looking for, but as it stands, multiplayer has nothing to offer (quite literally). You might as well only use the Multiplayer mode for playing against friends who might have the game, because you might as well give up any hope of jumping into a quick match against other people online. After numerous attempts to find a match to play against people, I eventually gave up, and this is two weeks after launch. RIP GRAVEL Multiplayer.
Visually-speaking, the environment of the game is beautiful. The lighting effects help in the immersive effect, but unfortunately that’s where the visually pleasing graphics stop, because most of the vehicles’ bodies look a lot like Hot Wheels cars than the roaring wild rides they’re meant to be. The short draw-distance on the tracks was also a bit disappointing.
GRAVEL promised more than it delivered on, and even though there were some fun bits, such as cars rolling over each other because the AI happens to have a vendetta against itself, there were just as many mediocre bits. The races feel shallow and the handling and physics leave something to be desired. I eventually lowered the Voice volume to 0 to cut out the Commentator completely, and I actually enjoyed the game a lot more. The graphics had its ups and downs, and even though not a total disaster, requires improvement. The music is fitting to the theme of “Wildest TV Show” with a lot of Hard Rock playing in the background of each race, as well as the menus, however, the Main Menu has a single song that plays every time, which does not help its already repetitive downsides. Overall, GRAVEL is a racing game that is uncomplicated, lacks the substance that other racing titles have, but has its enjoyable moments. At the time of this review, GRAVEL can be bought from BTGames for R655.00 for PS4 and XBox One, and R269.00 on Steam for PC.