Gravel is an off-road racing game that takes place in a range of locations over the world and promises game modes to keep all players entertained. The game puts players in a fictional Web Series called Gravel Channel Web TV and follows their career as they progress through four different race types to become a champion.
Gravel moves away from the more serious racing sims that have filled the market in recent years and is a much more casual take on the genre. Gravel goes for over the top rather than realistic but manages not to come across as too cartoony. The levels are realistic although fictional and players gain points for moves like jumping and drifting around corners and most tracks involve axle-smashing jumps that shoot fireworks as you go over them. Gravel has a similar no-nonsense, straight forward style to racing that will appeal to casual gamers as it is very easy to pick up and play. One button for go, one for brakes, one for rewind and one to change the camera, that’s pretty much it. There is also an option to add corner guides to show the perfect trajectory and there is even an option for automatic braking, which literally does it all for you so all that needs doing is steering acceleration. This may seem like overkill, and perhaps it is, but it does mean that players of all ages and all levels can enjoy the game, which I think is a great addition.
The heart of Gravel takes place in the afore-mentioned Web TV show in which players progress through stages in search of glory, which feels fresher than standard career modes. The races are set out in tiers and are unlocked by earning stars in races in order to progress. The stars are earned by meeting certain criteria within the races; first place will net you 3 stars, 3rd or above 2 stars and 5th or above 1 star for example. Most of the time, the car you are given to start with will not be fast enough to earn you 3 stars, but more cars unlock as you earn experience points adding to replay value. This may seem like a cop-out to make you play races multiple times, but I felt actually worked in the games favour and led me to want ‘just one more go’, similar to mobile type games. The dual currency adds a little extra as player will need to earn stars to progress but are rewarded for the way they race, which will earn experience points to be spent on new vehicles. Experience is earned in a variety of ways such as drifting or maintaining a high speed, giving the races a little more depth.
The career mode features five cross-country and track-based disciplines and within these, there are five different styles of racing. Among these race styles are checkpoint, laps and racing from A-B which are standard fare, as well as well as elimination which sees the player in last place at the end of a timer being….well…eliminated. The final style is a tad odd, but fun and is called Smash Up which involves racers driving straight through one of 3 or 4 barriers, depending on whether it is green or red but the colours change on approach leading to some very quick wits in order not to get obliterated. Although the career mode is fun and does encourage you to have another race, it doesn’t do anything particularly new other than using the Web TV show to hold it together. As someone who plays the occasional racing game, it was enough to keep me interested but may not appeal to those looking to play something with depth. When it comes to cars, again Gravel doesn’t win any prizes for numbers but the variety keeps things interesting. Players can battle it out in off-road vehicles, hatchbacks, SUV’s and 4×4’s, all with different race styles to go with them. The different types of vehicles are fun to drive and the tracks are well designed for each type. As well as career mode, the game offers the standard fare of single races and multiplayer which has become the norm for these types of games, there is nothing new added to the mix.
The graphics of Gravel do the job but overall the presentation isn’t amazing. Some of the effects are gorgeous, especially anything involving water, but unfortunately the overall look is a little messy. Each of the 16 tracks looks good on the surface but suffer from some odd collision detection and some very noticeable pop-up. There is also a bit of an issue when it comes to textures, especially on some of the foliage which would look much more at home on a previous gen console. The same can be said with the cars which again, don’t look ugly by any means but also, don’t look particularly pretty which is a bit of a shame. The weather effects however are effective and make racing the same tracks again feel very different; As well as looking good, they change the road surface and the handling of the cars as well as reducing visibility, adding more of a thrill than the standard races.
Overall, Gravel is far from revolutionary but it isn’t trying to be. It goes for simple, no-nonsense fun and in that respects, it delivers. The gameplay is easy to pick up and fun to play but lacks the depth and scope that more hard-core racing fans will want. Definitely worth a look for more casual gamers.
- Easy to pick up and play.
- Caters for all ages/play styles.
- Relatively shallow career.
- Poor graphics at times.
- Does nothing new.