Title: Gravel
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Milestone S.r.l.
Publisher: Milestone S.r.l., Square Enix
Release date: Out now
tl;dr:: The ideal racer for gamers on a budget.
Price: $50 / £45
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

Gravel has players going through a fictional TV show called Offroad Masters. The game is spread across a handful of episodes which require players to successfully win races in order to unlock the following episode as they work their way to the finale, and face off against the Final League Master – Sean Walker.

When booting up the game and after getting through that initial race, players have a few different game modes to choose from:

  • Off Road Masters
  • Free Race
  • Xbox Live (and its PS4 equivalent)
  • Time Attack
  • Weekly Challenges

Through each event, players can earn up to three stars in each races and how many are earned depends on your ranking. Finishing between first and fourth place will reward players with three stars, crossing the finish line fifth will result in two stars, and simply finishing the race will net players a single star. In between episodes, you’ll also have to face off against one of five “masters,” a series of boss races against an off-road master. Earn enough stars through an episode and you’ll be able to unlock the following episode to progress forward.

Free Race and Xbox Live (and its PS4 equivalent) are pretty much self-explanatory. Free Race allows players to pick any unlocked vehicle and track to race around in. Xbox Live (and the PS4 equivalent) allows players to test their racing skills against up to twelve other playersonline. Time Attack allows players to race in order to beat their previous times. Weekly Challenges is an interesting mode, as it features a different challenge every week, and players have seven days to attempt to win. For example, this week (release week), the challenge has players racing in the desert in a Hummer, and have to beat the set time.

The game also has a system where players can level up by earning points in performing “things” in races and earning stars. For example, you can perform jumps, ride on two wheels. or drive at top speeds; this will reward players with XP. As players progress through the game and level up, they’ll unlock (YAY!) new vehicles and paint jobs for cars available off the bat, or unlockable ones earned by leveling up.

Throught the game’s various episodes, players will go through different racing events: Cross Country, Wild Rush, Stadium Circuit, and Speed Cross. These events are peppered with different types of races: Lap races, Elimination and Checkpoint.

Unlike other racing titles we’ve come to know and love over the last few years, Gravel has a much more streamlined and linear progression system. Instead of wandering around an open world, players get into the current episode, pick an event, and race. Once players have reached the required amount of stars, they can unlock the next episode. Often times, you aren’t required to get 100% of the stars, so if obtaining three stars in certain events is overwhelming, you can move on to the next episode.

As mentioned earlier, the game has an arcade-y feel to it; don’t expect a Gran Turismo-esque experience. However, for a racing title, controls aren’t as tight as they should be. For example, driving a Hummer almost feels like driving a Grand Theft Auto III vehicle; heavy, not that responsive and “slidey.” Additionally, asphalt-based surfaces feel more slippery than muddy surfaces, which seems odd (while I’m not a big racing connaisseur, logic would dictate that mud is more slippery than asphalt). Additionally, if you screw up during a race or another driver bumps you out of the way, there’s a handy rewind button allowing players to correct the last mistake.

Gravel’s presentation is the game’s weakest aspect. The game looks like an an early PS3/Xbox 360 game; after seeing games like the Forza Horizon franchise or the latest Gran Turismo entries, playing Gravel looks like a trip back in time. Environments look fine, but don’t expect the level of detail that we’re used to in the current gen of consoles. Certain races have crowds standing nearby tracks and they’re near indistinguishable from the rest of the background. Audio-wise, there’s nothing that really stand out. The British commentators do a fine job of complementing the game before and after the races. Another issue with the presentation is the long loading times prior to starting a race; we’re talking upwards to one minute or ninety seconds. There’s also quite a bit of audio stuttering during that time.

So is Gravel worth your money? Absolutely. If you can get over the game’s hiccups presentation-wise and take the time to adapt to the loose control scheme, as a budget priced title, the content in this package is a steal. Having a mix of modes and race types to drive through, combined with a buttload of vehicles and paint jobs to unlock, will ensure players are busy for the foreseeable future.

The Good

  • Streamlined career
  • Playable in short bursts
  • Lots of unlockable

The Bad

  • Long loading times
  • Looks like an early PS3/Xbox 360 game
  • Iffy controls

Family Focus

Gravel is rated E for Everyone and PEGI 3. It’s a racing game suited for anyone who can pick up a controller, whether it be content or control wise.

This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.