As far as racing games go, this generation so far has been a tremendous and complete disappointment. Need for Speed has completely fallen from grace. The highly promising The Crew, was nothing more than a yet another dull, Ubisoft open world game. And even the new entry in the highly regarded Dirt franchise, Dirt 4, was nothing like its exhilarating and adrenaline driven predecessors. And if not for Forza and Gran Turismo, one could even go as far as to say that the racing genre is as good as dead.

Amongst the many disappointing AAA racing oriented releases, there was a plethora of AA titles which made valiant attempts at trying to conquer the market. However, even the best of them were nothing more than cheap, throwaway, arcade racers with no form or substance. And the Italian Milestone S.r.l, has been the most active developer when it comes to the AA racing market, as since 2014, it has released thirteen individual titles. Meaning that it has released at least three titles per calendar year since the launch of the current generation of consoles.

Calling Milestone’s efforts failures would be unjust as the vast majority of its games were of acceptable quality. But no matter how hard the studio in question has tried, the greatness was always just out of its reach. And you might have noticed that I have overwhelmingly referred to the past tense when describing Milestone and its games. And that’s because Milestone, for the first time in history, has released what you could regard as a AAA racer, in the form of the just released Gravel. And this particular title has allowed the studio to reach the levels which many would deem to be out of its reach.

Gravel, just like the aforementioned Dirt, is an arcade off-road racer, which utilises numerous sub-disciplines of the motorsport, such as Dakar’esque cross-country, and stadium-rush, amongst many. And while it may share a lot of similarities with Codemaster’s most recent effort Dirt 4, it does differ significantly in the department of fun. As unlike the latter, Gravel is an incredibly exciting and entertaining racer, just like the games of old. And one could go as far as to say that Gravel might just be the best arcade racer of this generation.

Milestone has clearly treated Gravel with an overwhelming amount of tender love and care. As its quality and features are above and beyond the developer’s previous efforts. And one will find all that he expects from a AAA off-road racer, within the digital confines of Gravel, as the title in question is of a AAA quality, even if it wasn’t built on a comparable budget.

From malleable, soft-surface tracks, through hot and dusty roads, all he way down to frozen and snowy landscapes of Alaska – Gravel has it all. And just like the colossi of the industry, it also comes with all the minor details in the form of extensive particle effects, realistic weather effects, fully destructible cars, real time reflections, comprehensive and responsive lightning, and last but certainly not least, cars which get appropriately messy and dirty as you drive them through mud, sand, and gravel.

Now that it has been established that Gravel possesses all of the AAA features which one could possibly think of, it is now time to discuss the features which it fortunately lacks. And the word fortunately plays a major role here, as Gravel, thanks to the efforts of the Italian studio, lacks all the greedy and needless features which titles such as Need for Speed: Payback, and The Crew have been synonymous with. And within the entirety of the title you won’t find things such as loot boxes, or any other RNG based microtransactions, as Gravel stays true to the roots of the genre, and gaming in general, by rewarding the player with its contents, for his/her efforts. And by the time you reach the end of the title’s story mode, which is at the core of the Gravel experience, you will unlock all in-game vehicles – just as it should be.

Gravel, while being a racing game, has been built on a foundation of a fictional racing show, where contestants challenge each other for the crown of the off-road master. And on your way to the top, you will have to battle other, AI controlled contestants, as well as the leaders of all the in-game disciplines. And in order to reach the Final League, and the Off-Road Master himself, you’ll have to defeat the Cross-Country Master, the Speed Cross Master, the Wild Rush Master, and lastly, the Stadium Circuit Master. And all those ‘masters’ are represented in-game by fictional FMV characters, who at times come across as a little cringe worthy, but the feeling of shame caused by the characters is quickly dispersed by the joy which comes from the racing itself.

In order to describe the frantic and exciting sense of speed, which is featured within Gravel one would have to refer to hundreds of words, as it is simply breath-taking. However, it is possible to give you a visual representation of it, without having to write endless paragraphs, and in order to do so, one has to refer to the one and only, DJ Keemstar, who gives you a one-to-one representation of how fast Gravel truly is. And you can see the video in question below. But before you go and indulge yourself in the world of the lightning speed of DJ Keem, you should know that Gravel is not just about speed. As its core challenge doesn’t come just from the reckless sense of speed, but also the rather challenging AI, which can give even the seasoned racers s run for their money on higher difficulties.

 

Gravel might just be one of the best racers of this generation. However, just like most games, it has its issues. And the most jarring of them all, stems from the fact that it shows its cards way too early. And by the time you reach the halfway point of the final league, you will have seen all that the title in question has to offer. And having to replay tracks which you’ve previously raced on numerous times, right at the very end, against what supposedly is the crème de la crème of Gravel feels a little disheartening, especially when you consider that the title’s final challenge features a track on which you have driven on, for the very first time, just an hour prior. Which is rather disappointing to say the least.

When all is said and done, all that has to be said about Gravel, is that it is likely going to be one of your favourite titles of this generation, if only you are willing to give it a fighting chance and won’t judge it by the studio’s prior efforts. And some, including those who gave the superb Kingdom Come: Deliverance a score as low as 4/10 – and I won’t name any names – will surely try to discredit Gravel, for its sheer audacity to challenge the constructs of modern gaming. But by doing so, Milestone has brought you a racer, which this generation desperately needed. A racer which is simple, yet effective. A racer which will stay with you for a long, long while. And that’s because Gravel is a great game, and not just a great experience™.



Author

Kamil

My name is Kamil, and I'm the 'Feature Man'. I write news, and reviews just like everybody else, however, feature articles are my true forte. And this is not because I'm another self-centered, pseudo-intellectual games journalist, but because there are many discussion worthy matters which go unnoticed in the flurry of other video-game related articles. If you want to read more of my #HotTakes and #Opinions, or if you simply want to fight me over the internet, you can follow me on Twitter @Kama_Kamilia.