I scan the games on sale section on Xbox each week, because well, I have a gaming problem, and a few weeks ago the racing game Gravel popped up for $5 and some change. I’d never heard of the game. A quick look at the reviews by users revealed a common message of “Good for what it is.” Looking at some of the big review sites like IGN revealed fives, and sentiments such as, this is a mediocre racing game that is at least a generation too late. Ouch. I figured what the hell and decided to give it a try.
Paradoxically, the user reviews and professional reviews are accurate. If you compare Gravel to the other arcade-ish racer that came out in 2018, Forza Horizon 4, it’s a piece of dog shit. Gravel is much more of an arcade racer than Forza though, and when it is viewed through that lens, it totally holds up. The game isn’t flawless, but it is a great diversion over a weekend.
Gravel is at its best when you have the pedal to the metal, and you are careening down a hillside. The handling is good. I turned the sensitivity up a bit on my wheel. It felt fine with a controller. Little camera tricks keep the action feeling intense. One thing that I became a big fan of during my playthrough with the dynamic lighting. Just about every ramp has fireworks that blast off when you go over it. Random right? Details like this are what give Gravel its charm.
Take the vehicle selection for example. Rally trucks and cars, which are all somehow manufacturer licensed, and then…armored vehicles. What? Don’t get me wrong. They are fun to drive, but it seems so random.
Then there’s the cringeyist setup ever for the entire game, the Gravel Channel. Apparently, this whole thing is a fever dream of reality television, with no-name drivers, that you must face off against. Each driver scowls at the camera before you take them on, wearing racing suits with no insignia. The whole thing seems so fucking weird. Yet, the racing is a lot of fun.
There are some decent tracks, although by the end of my 12-hour playthrough, I was ready to wrap it up. You can customize your car setup. I never touched those settings once. They have a decent number of cars for this type of game. I had a few favorites and didn’t give a shit about the rest.
My first gripe with the game is that you don’t really know how cars stack up with one another. There should be an acceleration, top speed, and handling rating or something. There isn’t. You see info about horsepower and drive train, and that’s about it. There’s also a relatively severe bug where when you reverse time, your car is invisible for the remainder of the race. Weird that they left that one in.
Here’s my verdict. Gravel is an excellent game for $10 or less. They want $25 for it normally. Don’t pay that. It is a really fun arcade racer to play if you’re looking for a fresh diversion. Some of the features in the game feel a bit bolted on, but the core racing and decent tracks are all there. Give it a try if you find it on sale.