Gravel, yet another racing game from developer Milestone S.r.l., Gravel is an arcade style racer with unlockables galore. I got to spend a little time with the good folks from Milestone last summer at the New York City Comic Con when they invited me to come play an early version of the game. Upon start up, the Milestone rep with whom I was speaking with made it absolutely clear that this was indeed an arcade style racer and not a sim. So with that in mind, I will review the game as such.
I’ve already seen some reviews from other sources saying the game is crap, it’s too arcadey, so allow me assure you, Milestone takes much pride in the games they put out. It was their intent for Gravel to be arcadey. If that isn’t your cup of tea then perhaps Gravel isn’t for you. You’d be missing out on a fun experience though, in my humble opinion. Let’s get into the nitty gritty now, shall we? Released on February 27, 2018 on the Xbox One, Gravel’s single player mode is presented as a fictional television show called Off Road Masters, on the Gravel Channel. Play through each “episode” to unlock the next, until you can go head to head with a previous champion in a particular discipline.
The different disciplines are; Cross Country, Wild Rush, Stadium Circuits, and Speed Cross. Cross Country – These are high speed checkpoint races. Wild Rush – Lap races in a number of unique environments. Stadium Circuits – These feature both real and fictional arenas. Finally, Speed Cross – Nine real tracks with mixed tarmac and gravel terrain. As with many arcade style racers, you can expect plenty of pushing and shoving. Even some down right dirty tactics as the game description in the Xbox store encourages players to win at any cost. You have your standard fare of modes typical of racing games. Off Road Masters (single player), Free Race where you can choose from 16 locales and a number of courses, Xbox Live multiplayer for up to 8 racers, Time Attack to improve on your fastest times, and Weekly Challenges.
As an arcade style racer you can expect the physics to be pretty forgiving and for the most part they are. I had a few crashes where I ended up flipping and rolling a bit more than I expected but it was fun to watch. The AI can be pretty relentless. So much so that I actually enjoyed turning a few of them around just so I could put a bit of space between them and myself. And this is coming from a fan of clean racing in Forza. Customization is fairly limited with only adjustable sliders to tune your cars and trucks and no after market upgrades to speak of. A number of liveries are unlockable as well but these are all pre-rendered.
Visually speaking, I think they did a bang up job on the environments. Some of the lighting effects are absolutely gorgeous. Particle effects such as tires spraying dirt and snow are much more satisfying then the last game of Milestone’s that I reviewed (Monster Energy Supercross). As good as the environments are, the car models seem a little lackluster however. There are a few glitches I came across as well. On a few occasions while in the cockpit camera view I would get some rain hitting the camera lens even though I was in the car. Cycling through the camera views fixed this so that the rain only hit the windshield. And once while in the Hood camera view, at the start of a race I was stuck with the camera in rear view. Again cycling through the camera views fixed it.
I particularly enjoyed the elimination races, a mode in which you want to be any position but last. This mode will frequently remove the player who is in last place, every twenty to thirty seconds. It’s a thrill, that’s for sure. Unlike other racing games, cars are not purchasable. Instead, new additions to the game will be made available through natural progression. The more you play, the more you will have access to, simple. The season pass for Gravel is quite chunky, and includes five planned expansions. These expansions will feature; new tracks, new cars, new vehicle categories, new environments, and new career episodes. Sound-wise Gravel features your standard, unobtrusive background music. Engine noise is fairly accurate.
Collisions sound appropriately meaty but generic at the same time. The rev limiter at high speeds can become a little annoying after a while. My biggest gripe here is with presentation. Off Road Masters is supposed to be a television show. There is generic pre-race and post race commentary. Why then is there no commentary during the course of a race? If other sports games can call the action as it happens then why not a racing game? A simple example of what I’m talking about is Rock and Roll Racing on the SNES back in the early nineties. Something like that could give a player an understanding of what’s going on in the race, both ahead and behind him or her.
While it won’t unseat Forza as king of racing games on the Xbox One, there is a lot of good fun to be had here. Gravel is both visually and audibly satisfying, and comes with a decent pool of content. It’s a shame that the game lacks a dynamic commentary system, but outside of this, only a few technical issues linger, pulling it just shy of greatness.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.