Gravel (Xbox One Review)
This generation has blessed us with an abundance of excellent driving games – DriveClub was an extremely solid title, Gran Turismo made a pretty successful return and both Forza series continue to set the standard for console racing sims. However, what I’ve been missing is something that harkens back to my days in the local arcades playing Sega Rally – something a little more arcade-like in a rally setting.
Enter Gravel, a title from Milestone, a developer with a rich history in motorbike games, but also experience in the rally sim field with the FIA WRC series. Can Gravel be the Forza Horizon to WRC’s Forza Motorsport?
Early impressions…aren’t great, sadly. Gravel launches straight into its USP – TV show-style presentation – with a flashy promo introducing us to the various drivers you’ll take on throughout the game’s career mode. This immediately confused me, as I wasn’t sure at first if Gravel was based on a real TV channel and, if I’m honest, I found the presentation to be more than a little cheesy.
However, when it comes to the game itself, I have to say that, at times, Gravel can look absolutely outstanding. I should point out that I’ve been playing on Xbox One X but, invoking more than a little touch of Forza Horizon in how it looks, Gravel is bright and shiny, even in some of its muddier environments, thanks to fantastic lighting and great attention to detail. With good vehicle models to boot, Gravel is an excellent showcase for Milestone’s environmental design.
Unfortunately, once you’re finished admiring the game for afar, you’re quickly left with a game that’s far less inspiring. Gravel’s showcase mode revolves around the aforementioned faux TV show, with races taking the form of ‘episodes’ that you must work through to reach special events in which you take on some of the drivers featured in that cheesy intro. And, honestly, that used to be fine for an arcade-like experience, but Forza Horizon – and even the newly remastered Burnout Paradise – have raised the bar for what can be done in this kind of racing game and, as a result, Gravel’s offering feels too light and flimsy in comparison.
Onto the actual driving itself and, in keeping with Gravel’s fairly inconsistent nature, it’s something of a mixed bag. Aided by its graphical prowess, Gravel’s sense of speed is fantastic and works really well on its longer point-to-point courses which, again (sorry, but it has to be said), call to mind some of the Forza Horizon series’ best moments.
Unfortunately, these races also mask one of Gravel’s biggest flaws – the handling. On those longer, straighter courses, Gravel’s loose controls are a plus, allowing you to fling the car around with reckless abandon for little detriment. It allows for some really fun moments, especially when navigating jumps with other cars around. However, those same quirks can often make the game’s tighter stadium-based races a real pig to succeed in.
Again, to play Devil’s advocate for a moment, the game does offer a number of assists to make that handling a little easier to contend with, but those come a cost to the amount of credits/XP you’ll gain from each race. Veterans of the genre will likely find some of these issues too much to put up with, and will quickly gravitate to meatier games like any of the recent Dirt titles.
All in all then, Gravel represents a confident, but ultimately shallow experience that’s difficult to recommend at full retail value. However, if it receives a decent discount (and it seems ripe for such a thing down the line), then there may just be enough here for anyone looking for a few hours of distraction. And, with a few tweaks here and there, Gravel 2 could be a real contender.