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Gravel review: offroad variety show

Gaming: arcade racer aims to bring back the Sega Rally glory days

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With the Dirt name already taken by Codemasters and this game’s development studio Milestone claiming Mud for their own motocross series, we arrive at Gravel, yet another evocatively filthy one-word title for an offroad racing game. Hey, if it ain’t broke…

The word Gravel’s actually a rather modest appraisal of the contents of this racer, given you’ll be ploughing through Alaskan mud, slithering around a snowy Mont Blanc and skipping across Namibian sand dunes. A bit like Dirt 2, this game is less concerned with whether a location is steeped in motorsport history and more interested in whether it provides a dramatic backdrop for an enormous powerslide.

Variety is definitely not something Gravel’s short of. Wrapped up in the game’s slightly cringeworthy pretend TV show format there are also a handful of recognisable rallycross venues, a giant open quarry that reminds us of many a TG challenge and over-the-top stadium Trophy Truck courses that take us right back to hoary old arcade game Super Off Road. The only major misstep is a horrible billboard smashing mini-game that relies heavily on trial and error and should probably be classified as a form of torture under the Geneva Convention.

At your disposal are several decades worth of legendary offroad vehicles, from Dakar raid machinery to vintage Safari-spec rally cars, though if you’re expecting Forza and Gran Turismo levels of laser-precise accuracy, then maybe avert your gaze from the screenshots above. These are relatively simplistic car models compared to the current state of the art, making it feel a bit like you’ve just inherited a long lost relative’s Matchbox collection.

In better news, at least you don’t have to scrimp and save your imaginary winnings to buy the cars, instead they just automatically unlock with generous frequency the more mileage you complete in any game mode. More of this sort of thing, please.

There’s plenty of fun to be had with said vehicles too. Even with the driving assists switched off, the arcade-style handling is geared to be entertaining and drifty, if a little simplistic. It’s not that Gravel was bunking off during physics class, it just that it was sitting at the back doodling rally cars doing sweet jumps and pulling rad slides.

The goal here is clearly a modern day Sega Rally and while Gravel is slightly flattered by the comparison, it’s knockabout arcade fun that harks back to a simpler era in videogaming. The difference is, it’s also laden with the vast number of cars and tracks we’ve come to expect in a modern racer. Perhaps with a little refinement and a fresh coat of paint the eventual sequel, whatever it’s called, could be considered a classic too. Might go and put a fiver on ‘Muck’…

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