Pacific Drive review - bumpy roads ahead

pacific drive review car in the forest

pacific drive review car in the forest

Pacific Drive is a survival game where you drive around in a car in the Pacific Northwest, except the twist is that the landscape is ravaged by some kind of supernatural anomaly. This sounds promising and could have made for a great experience, but unfortunately, the road is anything but smooth.

The game starts with you and your car getting sucked into a giant anomaly. Anyone familiar with games like Stalker will be familiar with the strange happenings here. Next thing you know, you’ve been spat out into the Olympic Exclusion Zone - a place where things have gone wrong.

You end up finding the car you’ll use throughout the game, and then, over the radio, you get into contact with a group of individuals who will help guide you to a safe house that will serve as the gameplay hub for the game. This safe house is actually a run-down car garage where you’ll be spending a lot of time.

pacific drive review driving the car
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From here, you will be able to repair and refuel your car, craft new tools and materials, heal yourself, fabricate new workshop items, and plot your routes around the Olympic Exclusion Zone before navigating the zone on your adventures. This is also where a lot of the story plays out, as your new-found radio companions talk about the events going on in the zone.

This is where the negatives start to come into play, because while maintaining an air of mystery around how the Olympic Exclusion Zone came to be and what’s actually going on is important to keep players hooked, it goes a little too far and becomes convoluted. For example, your radio pals will be talking about things like ‘anchors’ and other objects you find in the zone without giving you context. This info dump is very overwhelming and hard to follow.

Pacific Drive plays like a survival game with some light roguelike elements. You plot your route on the map in the garage, before driving around the zone and getting out of your car to loot abandoned buildings for their crafting materials. You can craft tools to help too, like a saw that you can use to cut up objects such as cars to acquire their materials. Then, you return to the garage to upgrade your car with better materials that can withstand more radiation and don’t degrade as quickly. Once this is done, you’re ready for your next outing.

pacific drive review the saw
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The gameplay loop is simple, and not all that exciting either. Some of your outings will include “main story missions” that progress the roughly 12-hour story, but you’re also free to set out and just gather materials from the surrounding areas. The more “missions” you do and the further the plot advances, the further you can explore the zone. There are varying biomes in Pacific Drive, but you’ll find yourself most often just driving down a road, getting out of your car at every building, looting, and then continuing.

Unfortunately, this gameplay doesn’t hold your attention, and you’ll find the tutorial lasting hours before you understand how to play the game properly. Each time you set out on a drive, for instance, you plot a route from the garage’s map, but then you have to keep track using the computer in your car while you’re out exploring. Depending on the distance to your destination, you will likely pass through connecting areas and have to find the “exit” marked on the map to progress to the next area and close in on where you’re heading. When you reach the exit, you hit a loading screen that will load the next area.

To get back to the garage, you need to fuel an Arc device in your car (a machine in your car) and then you drive into a portal. You’ll also encounter enemies along the way in the form of machines that can pin themselves to your car, shorting its electronics, or grab your car with a magnet and pull you somewhere else on the map. These two early-game examples are symbolic of how Pacific Drive’s systems and design are frustrating in practice. You’ll often find yourself looting a building, only to come outside and find your car somewhere far away, which makes you have to chase it down.

pacific drive review anomaly
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Pacific Drive is such a great concept, but it feels like developer Ironwood Studios’ first game. And it is. So, for a debut game, it has a lot going for it. When you’re driving the car, you can turn it on and off, put it in park, open all the doors, use the headlights, and store things in the back. This might sound basic, but very few games give you this sim-like experience without going too far into simulator territory. The graphics are good too, and the audio design and voice acting is fantastic.

But, at its core, Pacific Drive is simply too complex too quickly. You’re shown systems and processes, told how to craft in basic terms but not shown, all while the story is yelling at you about anomalies and exclusion zones. Ultimately, the pacing is just off. When you add in the fairly drab and boring gameplay loop and enemy shenanigans, you’re left with a feeling that it was all so close to being a sleeper hit.

In reality, Pacific Drive just isn’t a whole lot of fun. It’s not interesting either. Mostly because the story is delivered largely via radio while you’re trying to navigate the zone’s dangers, and so you’re focused on staying alive rather than following what’s being said. There are logs to be picked up throughout your journeys, but again, it’s all so overwhelming that you’ll struggle to keep up.

Pacific Drive isn’t a bad game, but it’s certainly not what I was expecting. It’s a great debut game, but it falls a bit short of expectations because of its strange pacing and overwhelming mechanics. It’s worth checking out if you’re a die-hard crafting fan, but those looking for a good story or an easy-to-play experience should look elsewhere.

Pacific Drive review
Pacific Drive Drive’s interesting setting is overshadowed by overwhelming, convoluted, and boring gameplay.
6 out of 10
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