With the jokes about its rather awful name aside, Gravel is a surprising game. It might have rather predictable race modes, with 3 main disciplines – an A-to-B race, stadium tracks, or Rallycross-like races (without the joker lap) but it feels more like Sega Rally than almost any game I’ve played since. Just hear me out after we get the basics out the way.
- Stadium Tracks – These are short sprint tracks, set in a stadium. They have very short straights, and many tight turns meaning you are almost always breaking and turning. The trick here is getting on the power early and making sure you control the slide to get out the corner facing forwards.
- A-to-B Races – These are long point-to-point races which often see you going completely off-road, with not even a dirt track most the time. The trick here is simply to keep your foot planted for as long as possible – be fearless.
- Rallycross-like – These are circuit races which are essentially Rallycross events, but without the longer joker lap (some are not on circuits, but most are). The trick in these is to control the slides, but at the same time make sure you don’t race like you would with a standard race car, get the car sideways, but without too much of an angle.
There are different variants of race type within these, with time trials, elimination modes, standard races, and head-to-heads. Everything you would expect from an arcade racing game.
So Why Does Gravel Feel Like Sega Rally?
With the overall game modes, and even tracks, feeling rather regular. Why is it that Gravel feels more like Sega Rally? For a start, let’s talk about the force feedback on a racing wheel. Like Sega Rally, the feedback isn’t a nuanced and intricate simulation of how a car in the real world would react, as in GT Sport or Project Cars 2. No, Gravel’s force feedback jolts the wheel about and is more brutal than anything else.
Like Sega Rally, the feedback doesn’t give you a massive amount of indication if you are oversteering, or understeering. It mostly tells you about ruts and bumps in the road surface, and where your front wheels are going. Yet, this is all Gravel needs to do. The driving, again like with Sega Rally, is an arcade racer. A pure arcade game. While it does have some nuances in braking zones, and using opposite lock, it’s all very intuitive and easy to pick up. When using a controller, yes, you don’t quite get the full Sega Rally feel but Gravel is still ultra-playable with one.
The Annoying Parts
There are, however, some issues I cannot let go. One of the biggest is the photo mode being locked off if you are not using just a controller. When using my wheel, I couldn’t use the photo mode at all, even if the controller was on and connected. I understand how taking photos with a wheel isn’t easy to implement, but, each button on the controller is mapped to a key on the wheel (in the case of the console versions). This makes less sense on the PC version, but there is no re-blindable key option. I, like many other PC gamers, see it as a necessity to have this as an option. The fact it isn’t, hints that not a lot of time was put into the PC version at all. Even if the game runs brilliantly with very little stutter on PC, the lack of customization makes me think that. On the PS4 version, mostly when lots of drivers were close, the game had a noticeable slowdown in the framerate in some areas.
Developed By Milestone, Who Hit A Massive Milestone
This then brings me to the biggest issue I have to Gravel, aside from the photo mode not working with a wheel, is the motion blur. Luckily, you can turn this off on PC, but on the console, the amount of motion blur actively stopped me being able to work out what’s going on and made the control input feel more sluggish. Now, when I say sluggish, I’m not meaning there is a massive delay in input response time, but it was slightly noticeable when at high speeds. However, I wondered if this was just something about the console version, so I tested it on PC with and without motion blur. Even on PC with motion blur on, the inputs felt a little sluggish and with the option off they felt very direct.
Gravel feels like an old-school arcade racer, with a modern lick of paint. Everything is modernised, but the core experience is old school. From the cheesy rival introductions to just the feel of driving, even through to the menus Gravel oozes classic design. Only, the cars feel weighty, the animations on the suspension when mimicking the surface and rolls as your break, the pure texture of the graphics are very good.
But what makes the game stand out graphically is the lighting and the clouds of dust. The only thing the game really lacks in is the audio. The mix is way off, with you being able to hear other cars far better than your own car – this is even after turning all audio down to 50 other than the car engine.
There is a positive to this thought, as the car selection is amazing.
There are some real classics of the rally from Richard Burns’ and Colin McRae’s Impreza, and the 90s Toyota Celica Rally car, along with the Alpine A110 to name a few. But, if you are a fan of old-school arcade racing games, I would recommend you pick up Gravel – or even if you love racers it’s a good break from the onslaught of sim racing games.
Note: a copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.