Milestone are better known for their 2 wheel racers but Gravel puts them firmly back on 4 wheels in an explosive arcade racer that feels like it comes from a different era.
Despite Forza’s flair for dramatics and Need for Speed’s cinematic Fast and Furious wannabe nature, modern racers want you to take them seriously. Gravel just wants you to have fun.
The game is introduced and interspersed with a TV show style presentation, a sort of early Saturday evening show that seems to be targeting a mix of petrolheads and Wipeout fans. This works to hold the framework of the game together and give you an end goal, facing off against ‘boss’ racers once you’ve earned enough stars on previous races. The boss racers are depicted by ‘famous’ racers in each discipline, though as far as I’m aware these aren’t based on real people (though interestingly, and perhaps coincidentally, have the same names as old racing stars). They are, however, played by actors in some pretty over-the-top intros that lean on the cheesy side. The idea here is to beat these professionals and win their cars before moving on to the next set of races.
The races and tracks are both varied and certainly help to make Gravel all the more interesting. Off-road and track events are well represented with mud, sand and gravel surfaces all feeling significantly different to drive on. Mud is especially fun, with huge drifts around corners being managed by plenty of counter steering. Add in a figure of 8 track where there is always the danger of smashing into the backmarkers and you’ve got a very fun racer on your hands. Game modes, too, are varied, though most fall into the usual categories of point-to-point race, circuit, elimination and time trials. One mode does stand out as it tasks you with smashing in to barriers in the middle of the track that change at the last minute to show a cross or tick, where you need to swerve to go through the ticked boxes or lose time.
Presentation is more of a mixed bag. The unreal 4 engine does a good job of keeping the action smooth but it’s not the prettiest racer out there. Some of the scenery is great, particularly the more exotic locations but the car models are lacking next to Gravel’s competitors. The Damage model is a welcome sight and you can customise whether it is just cosmetic or makes a difference to the handling, but watching your car limp home in first all crumpled up at the end of the race is great.
Gravel feels like a welcome change of pace, back to a time of arcade racers that didn’t take themselves too seriously, despite the terribly forced TV show element. It doesn’t have the depth of modern racers but it’s great fun and provides enough variety to keep you playing. I just hope that any potential sequel does away with the cheesy announcer.