21st Mar2018

‘Gravel’ Review (PS4)

by Emma Rees

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Gravel is an arcade style racer that is presented as if it were on a TV channel. Whereas many other games in the genre try hard to appeal to car enthusiasts, Gravel focuses more on fun and accessibility.

Once you have set up your driver with a name and nationality, you can get started with racing more or less right away. There are several gameplay modes: the main events, called ‘Off-Road Masters’, Freerace, Multiplayer, Time Attack, and Weekly Challenge.

In ‘Off-Road Masters’ there are a series of events, each which contain different challenges and race types, and take place in different parts of the world from the sunny, Pacific Ocean to the mountains of Alaska. Aside from the different countries, there are also a variety of stadiums. There are several types of race such as checkpoint race, lap race, time attack, elimination and championship. After completing a set of events, you will be challenged by a racer ,introduced via an epic introduction, and get a special event to play through.

Unlocking further events requires either a specific level, certain number of stars or completion of a specific event. Stars are earnt by fulfilling objectives which are usually related to your finishing position, but levelling up is done via the points you earn whilst racing. Points will be earned depending on the skills you demonstrate on tracks, such as skidding and jumping over ramps, plus bonus points pertaining to difficulty level.

Driving is both fun and challenging due to the incredible sense of speed and the vehicle handling on different terrains. It is surprising how difficult the AI opponents can be even on the medium difficulty setting, so it feels triumphant to finally overtake them and stay ahead of the race. The variation in locations also helps to keep the gameplay fresh, as do the different types of races and challenges.

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Playing through the main events unlocks many other cars and race tracks which can be accessed in ‘Freerace’ mode. The cars consist of many recognisable brands such as Suzuki, Toyota, Ford and BMW to name a few. ‘Freerace’ mode also allows you to choose any course depending on how many have been unlocked in the main events. If the track permits it you can also alter the time of the day and/or the weather. It is the perfect mode for getting to know tracks, trying out new cars or simply admiring the scenery. The graphics may not be up there with the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo, but they still look impressive, particularly weather and other environmental effects.

You will be racing in environments such as desert, caves, beach, snowy mountains, country tracks and stadiums. Weather varies from sun, to rain and snow depending on the track and the country; this also affects how cars handle on tracks. Water effects are stunning, with droplets that splash onto the camera. Cars even leave behind tyre marks, which look different depending on what kind of terrain you’re driving on. Car damage looks realistic and it’s hard not to admire the way that mud flecks and smears over the pristine paintwork. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before in countless other racers but it’s always nice to see such attention to detail.

Players itching for new content can access the ‘Weekly Challenges’ which offer a track with an objective. Weekly Challenges gives players a chance to win big prizes such as a huge amount of ‘show points’. There is also a simple multiplayer mode where you can play a quick match with other players or set up a session and wait for other players to join. ‘Time Attack’ mode speaks for itself: you choose a track and race to beat your time.

Except for the weekly challenge, no matter which mode you choose, there are a vast amount of options to customise both the race and the car.

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The ‘car settings’ are geared more towards professionals; you can alter things such as the front and rear suspension, brakes, alignments and transmission. In ‘race options’ you can adjust the AI difficulty, and when not in event mode, the time of day and the weather. Even the handling of the car can be altered to be more automated, and trajectory lines can be shown on the road for those who aren’t such confident racers. Damage can also be made to be simply cosmetic or to have an effect on the car. Going easy isn’t without consequences though, as the more assistance you require and the easier you make the AI, the less bonus points you will earn during races. Thankfully there is a handy ‘rewind’ feature which can be used during races and seems to have no effect on final score. There are more options that can be tweaked under the HUD options, including units of measurement and other on-screen information that can be turned on or off.

In the pause menu, there’s even a camera to mess around with where you can experiment with filters and angles before taking a screenshot. This is particularly fun when watching a replay, as memorable moments can be captured in spectacular fashion. The sounds are typical for a racing game but are impressive nonetheless. Car engines roar and tyres screech around corners. The music is about as generic as it gets; high energy rock that quickly becomes background noise. It still sounds good at high volumes, however, and the audio is highly customisable, even to the point of being able to turn off the menu music.

Overall, Gravel is an arcade racer that is not only accessible to new players, but also appeals to more professional racers with its high levels of car handling customisation. There’s a decent amount of variation in tracks and locations, made even more interesting by the number of different race types. Multiplayer mode is simple and allows you to quickly join or have other players join you, but Gravel focuses more on the single player experience, delivering a fun and engaging series of events. Players who want even more challenge can take part in the weekly challenges.

Although the graphics are not up there with the likes of Forza or Gran Turismo, the tracks are detailed and the weather effects are gorgeous, especially the rain. Gravel doesn’t do what other racers haven’t done already, but for fans who are after a simpler, more arcade like experience, Gravel is the perfect fit.

***½  3.5/5

Published and developed by Milestone, Gravel is available to purchase or download now on the PS4.

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