Milestone are a known quantity when it comes to racing games, having focussed mainly on rallying and biking games in recent times. On the whole the games have been very decent, offering some fun intense racing while missing out on the shine and polish of the bigger developers in the world of racers. So with Gravel we’ve got a slight diversion and move away from official rallying or motorcycling but the end result remains mightily similar – it’s fun, it’s intense, but it’s a little rough around the edges.
The racing, though, is where the fun lies and where the game rightly shines, partly due to a well produced aggressive AI that’ll hustle you through long sweeping corners, nudge you into hair-raising sideways moments and produce their own screw ups that cause multi-vehicle crashes that will either let you nip past into a lucky lead, or get you tangled up in a race-ruining crunch. It’s not too dissimilar to playing against other humans, and when an AI can produce fairly life-like racing that’s a big plus point to the game as a whole.
To hit the track you’ll be able to pick from 70-odd vehicles from the past 50 years including fast sports cars, heavier trucks and knackered stock cars which all give you a different feel to the racing. Add to this the 65 tracks and several game modes and you’ll have a massive range of combinations on offer. In terms of game modes Wild Rush offers more traditional races with several laps which most players will get to grips with pretty quickly, but these are overshadowed by Cross Country races, point-to-point tracks against other cars which offer high speed sections mixed with winding sequences of corners. These races are tough and demand concentration, but they’re nothing short of exhilarating and will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to end. Elsewhere, Stadium tracks offer short, tight crash-filled races, with Speed Cross nudging towards Rallycross with a mix of tarmac and dirt tracks which add an extra challenge but don’t really feel as enjoyable as the other options. You can play individual races if you like, but the best way to experience them all is the Off Road masters championship which takes you all over the place in various cars and disciplines to become the best racer on the circuit.
With the vast number of tracks on offer it’s no surprise to see that some are better than others, and while they’re mostly good fun and well made they can fairly frequently look a bit ropey. Scenery around the tracks generally looks rough by modern standards, which you don’t tend to notice when flinging yourself round at speed, but does put a bit of a dent in the overall experience. Essentially, as mentioned in the intro, it’s typically Milestone. In fact, I’m starting to see Milestone racers as the Pro Evo of racing – really nice gameplay that people won’t understand until they try it, wrapped in unpolished visuals that might prevent people from playing it to find out. But Gravel is easy to play, the handling works well for anyone and really, when all’s said and done, that’s what you want from an arcade racing game.
There are some online modes that work well if you can find others to play against (it was pretty quiet when we tried it), and contains a few ways to play, but it’s nothing new and contains game modes that we’ve had from years from the likes of DiRT Showdown and suchlike. There’s King’s Rush, a kind of the hill style mode which is pretty frantic and good fun, as well as a Capture the Flag mode where you need to get hold of the flag and keep away from everyone else for as long as possible. With a good crowd there’s some good fun to be had, and you’ll have access to the various race modes as well, so hopefully the servers fill up and there’s always games to be had.
So while Gravel doesn’t hit the heights set elsewhere in terms of visuals and consistency of track design, it’s still a really fun game with some great racing action available to those willing to give this a go. My concern would be whether you’ll find enough going on when it comes to online games, but even without there’s plenty of single player fun to be had. It’s a fun, easy to play racer that should serve you well if you’re after something a little bit more crazy.
Reviewed on PS4