Pacific Drive

Review: Pacific Drive – Both Hands On The Wheel

Pacific Drive

Pacific Drive made me loathe heading out onto the road. And that’s a good thing.

Usually, I associate driving with a sense of freedom. Driving can be therapeutic in the right circumstances, and nothing is more freeing than having a tank full of gas and the ability to head out onto the open road.

So, seeing Ironwood Studios take that idea and turn it into a hellscape where your only safe space is a station wagon is a pretty solid idea.

Pacific Drive Makes You Want To Drive Into The Problem

Trapped behind a 300-meter wall, you’ll explore the Olympic Exclusion Zone, a place filled with hazards and anomalies. Your lifeline is an old station wagon, a car you need to maintain by repairing it and swapping out parts. You can experiment and configure your vehicle and fit it with the right equipment.

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During each run, you must collect crafting gear and other essential resources to help you survive. Once you have gathered enough resources, you must race against time and reach a spacetime-disrupting “gateway” before a storm hits. This gateway will transport you back to safety, where you’ll bunker down in an auto shop owned by Oppy – where you can deposit your resources. You can use these resources to improve your character and vehicle for subsequent runs.

To sell the idea you’re in a precarious situation is that you’re constantly working on improving or mending your car. Whether it’s the body being damaged (which you don’t want due to the nature of the irradiated environment) or the lack of tires to keep you from the shoulders of the road, there’s always something you need to focus on to ensure your survival.

Much of what I’m explaining is standard for a roguelike game, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. Your car also needs fuel, so you’ll be looking to keep your vehicle topped up. Cars also have batteries, and in a world plagued by supernatural events, you need to keep it charged and focus on keeping your windshield devoid of any seriously harmful cracks.

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My first handful of runs through the Olympic Exclusion Road were a mess. I was in constant fight-or-flight mode throughout each run, and I felt like I was woefully underprepared (surprise, I was!), and yet I was eager to press on to discover more about this strange world where I was in a constant state of terror. And there’s a lot to do, considering you’re at the end of the world.

Head out, get wrecked, come back to the shop

Are you ready to experience a thrilling adventure? In this game, each level has a few objectives to complete, which Oppy doles out.  Your goal is to find an open gate on each map that will take you closer to your ultimate destination. But be careful because you’ll need to set off a storm at the end and quickly find your way back to safety. Once you’re back, you’ll have the chance to upgrade and repair your equipment before setting out again. Rinse and repeat.

I generally like the gameplay loop in Pacific Drive, even if, at times, some of its systems work to complicate your future runs. Instead of the expected open world, I thought we’d see the world sectioned into Junctions, which are probably a better way to engage with this world.

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Every Junction has you scavenging for supplies by stepping out of the safety of your ride into the varying environments. Later on, Junctions open up new pathways to discover and expand your map with more places to visit for supplies.

The zone is dangerous and full of deadly anomalies that can harm you. There are electrical spirits that can damage your car, patches of radiation that can reduce your health, and other varying insane creations which can physically pull you into ditches. And the weather is not sunny and calm but rather moody and ominous and potentially a hazard.

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And to drive home how, sometimes, life can flip upside down, no matter how good things are going. I’m alluding to the fact that your car might stop working despite having proper tires and working parts. You’ll need to use the auto shop to ensure what’s under the hood of your car is in working order by working through the pain of a broken-down ride.

Achieving success can be a challenging experience, but the effort put into it can make the victory more rewarding. Acquiring valuable items and knowledge while escaping dangerous situations and finally teleporting back home can create a sense of excitement. Making progress in a new area can be satisfying, especially when resources are scarce. Returning safely from a dangerous situation can lead to a sense of accomplishment.

Verdict

Pacific Drive successfully balances many systems and delivers a creepy, unnerving rendition of the Pacific Northwest. If you thought Alan Wake’s world was spooky, Pacific Drive offers a pretty worthy contender for what is an outrageous and outlandish supernatural roguelike. Sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed by the list of things you need to do, but part of the fun is hitting the road in your steel horse and going where your car takes you.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Pacific Drive
Review: Pacific Drive – Both Hands On The Wheel
Summary
Pacific Drive successfully balances many systems and delivers a creepy, unnerving rendition of the Pacific Northwest. If you thought Alan Wake's world was spooky, Pacific Drive offers a pretty worthy contender for what is an outrageous and outlandish supernatural roguelike.
Liked
An incredibly tense atmosphere
An engaging and expansive upgrade tree
Well worth driving off the main path to explore the mysteries of this world
Didn't Like
Some sections can be frustrating at times