Milestone’s Gravel has been released for PC, Xbox One and PS4. We playtested the game’s console versions for this review.
When people think of studios that specialize in racing games, Codemasters often comes to mind – but if there’s any studio that can really claim to be a specialist in the genre it’s the Italian studio Milestone S.r.l. In the past twenty years, with the exception of two singing games, they have literally not released anything BUT racing games. We first met with them back when they were handling the WRC license for Bigben, but their rally racing games were always overshadowed by Codemasters’ titles – something that was equally true for their more recent Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo.
In recent years they’re focused more on motorcycle-based racing, and that’s why I was excited to find out about Gravel last year – Milestone’s return to four-wheeled racing, and one without too much emphasis on simulation. Instead, Gravel promised to be an off-road arcade racer so that made me hope we’d finally have something like Motorstorm for this console generation. Alas, while Gravel is fun it’s not as good as the Motorstorm series. It turns out it’s quite a bit different too, so the comparison wasn’t fair to begin with.
For starters, depending on the game mode you choose, quite a few tracks in Gravel still have that “rally racing” feel, with narrow paths to drive through rather than open areas with alternate routes and plenty of space to overtake. In that sense, Gravel stays more true to real life racing than the average arcade racer does, even though the feel is that of an arcade racer.
Racing events are broken down into four different types, with Cross County, Wild Rush, Speed Cross and Stadium racing. Cross Country and Wild Rush generally make for the most exciting races, while stadium events make sure there’s a ton of explosive action in terms of jumps, crashes and upsets. Many courses are replicas of real life ones, which tones down the arcade-like aspects of the game. While it’s great to explore different corners of the world this way, it’s a shame that Milestone didn’t go more “full arcade” because it would have delivered the excitement that fans of casual racers have been waiting for.
In the game’s campaign, you follow an episodic TV show where you compete all over the world and against some of the top drivers. The latter is often done in one on one contests, which reminded me a bit of the excellent Grid 2 – but in an off-road setting. Doing well unlocks stars and this in turn gives you access to additional content and cars.
Gravel looks decent, but it doesn’t feel like a step up from Milestone’s previous work on Sébastien Loeb Rally Evo. In fact, with the licensed cars and real world tracks, it feels like they didn’t go all out when they decided to do something different with gravel. In a way, they played it safe… which doesn’t always turn out well. At least the frame rates are very smooth and the controls are responsive – allowing you to enjoy the pretty scenery when you review a race using the TV cameras.
Of course it’s perfectly fine for Milestone to not blatantly clone a classic off-road arcade racer from the past, but one feature was noticeably missing for me: same-screen multiplayer. There is online racing, but everyone knows how much fun it is to play a fun arcade racer together with some friends in the same room. A missed opportunity, which goes for Gravel as a while despite the fact that the racing is fun and it’s a solid package with plenty of content. It just could have been more had Milestone chosen to refresh their formula more.