Pacific Drive Review – A Survival Gaming Anomaly

8.0 TOTAL SCORE

Pacific Drive Review

Buy Now

Pacific Drive is a peculiar blend of game mechanics that inexplicably come together to offer one of the most engaging and addictive survival gameplay loops around. With a world full of strange oddities to get lost in, and a big ol' station wagon to do it in, Pacific Drive is a game that promises hours of unsettling and chaotic fun. Visuals are found a little wanting, and the systems present are tough to get your head around at times, but those who stick with this one will be rewarded with the best survival experience of 2024 so far!


Score 8
PROS
  • Unique Car-Based survival mechanics
  • An Interesting New Weird Setting
  • A very immersive experience due to a lack of hand-holding
CONS
  • A story that underwhelms despite the cool setting and concept
  • Visuals are pretty average
  • Game can be needlessly obtuse at times

I have a confession to make. I prepared for this review a little too well. Let me explain.

Just a few weeks back, I decided to play Control, a game that embraces the science fiction offshoot known as ‘New Weird.’ A genre that is about as self-indulgent and ostentatious as they come, but when done right, it can be a surreal and enthralling experience.

To its credit, Control is that kind of experience, but it requires you to go all in on the strange and unpredictable world laid out before you, and I worried when Pacific Drive tapped my shoulder for attention, that I would be all ‘New Weirded’ out.

Thankfully, Pacific Drive does something that Remedy Games can’t seem to do. It allows you to engage with the story at your own pace, and lets the atmosphere and depth of systems do the heavy lifting.

It’s a game that offers vehicular exploration, unlike anything you will have witnessed before. It’s a grueling and uncompromising survival game, and it’s a game that may spawn a new wave of games known as CaRPGS.

But that being said, it’s a game that many may bounce off for a number of reasons, and I do want to offer a full picture here. So, without further ado, take the car out of Park and hit the gas. This is Indie Game Culture’s Pacific Drive Review, conducted on PS5.

Did I Take A Wrong Turn?

The first thing you need to accept about Pacific Drive is that a lot of things are going to sail right over your head from the offset, and that will continue pretty much right until the closing hours of the game.

This is because this game is a ‘New Weird’ piece of fiction, meaning irregularity, unpredictability, and the unexplainable are commonplace.

So commonplace that the game immediately drops you into a big vat of strange minutes in, as you find yourself ripped from your Sunday drive through the Northwestern Forest and dropped into the Olympic Peninsula, this game’s irradiated, irrational, and ominous setting.

Pacific Drive Northwestern Forest
When the sun’s out, there’s nothing to worry about!

From here, your only means of human contact is a one-way connection with some mysterious inhabitants of the Peninsula, and despite their constant bickering, they manage to get you back to an abandoned Garage, which will be your home base for the rest of the game.

This onboarding sequence is a long one, and you never feel like you are off the leash until you are hours into the game, but believe it or not, that’s not a bad thing.

Pacific Drive has an overwhelming amount of systems, and without this constant tutorial, you’d be as useless as a Station Wagon with no wheels, which if you’re really unlucky, you’ll find out firsthand is very useless indeed.

Build It, Break It, Repair it

The gameplay, when boiled down, is pretty straightforward. Once you have access to the Garage, you’ll go through a constant gameplay loop of fixing up your car, packing and crafting supplies to improve your ride, and preparing for the next outing, and then chart a course through the Penninsula, either taking on a story mission, or simply exploring in search of parts or resources to ready yourself for the challenges ahead.

It’s typical Survival game stuff, but I never found myself burned out or unwilling to engage with this loop, and that’s because the game leans into the weirdness of it all and, as a result, always has something fun, odd, terrifying or all of the above to throw at you.

pacific drive building a car
My lovely little flower-power station wagon

To break it down into parts, the time spent in the Garage feels a little like Kerbal’s Space Programme, where you are building a vehicle that you hope will survive the next journey, but in reality, due to the intricate and often obtuse systems, it’s more like educated guesswork than anything else.

Slapping Repair Putty on a busted panel becomes second nature, but knowing how to fix a quirk, for example, may leave you scratching your head for many loops to come.

You’ll have so many handy resources to get things done, and with each loop, your options multiply. But that’s one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to embracing Pacific Drive.

Aside from the bare essentials, the game won’t teach you how machines, anomalies, or items work, and you’ll need to use your scanner, random journal entries, and experimentation to figure things out. Which can be fun and rewarding, but can also lead to wasted resources, moments of frustration, and stalled progression.

A lot of these issues are curbed by dropping the default difficulty, but in terms of time spent, mistakes will still lead to long outings in the Peninsula to make up for costly errors.

But despite this, I found this need to immerse myself in the world and trust the process of trial and error a blast. It meant that small milestones like having a 100% repaired Steel car, or working out how to crack open a Dumpster Pearl felt way more special than if a pop-up window just told me how it was done.

On The Open Road

Tinkering with your vehicle is definitely where you get the biggest injections of dopamine, but to get those little rushes, you’ll need to head out into the irregularity and scavenge for resources.

In this portion of the game’s action, the star of the show is obviously your car, which acts as your shield against the elements. You’ll use it to navigate the world and will need to keep your car’s condition high, its fuel topped up, and its battery charged, amongst other things, or you’ll be a sitting duck.

pacific drive gameplay review
Beam of light, here I come!

This often means that you’ll be siphoning fuel, not unlike in Days Gone, and you’ll be walking head-on into the darkness to explore abandoned buildings in the hope of Chemicals, Rubber, or whatever you need most at that moment.

It’s the jeopardy of it all that makes moment-to-moment gameplay feel so immersive and engaging. One wrong turn could lead to a flat tire. If you light a flare at the wrong moment, you might alert a deadly anomaly.

Or if you lose sight of the road because your map-reading skills aren’t up to snuff, you could barrel down a sheer drop and double your journey time, which often means more chaos along the way.

But, provided you can get enough Arc Juice to power your vehicle in the same way a Flux Capacitor powers a time-traveling Delorean, you can trigger a rift back to base, which you’ll need to gun it for as the area falls apart before your eyes, essentially putting your map-reading and driving proficiency to the test in a race against the clock as you battle to make it to the beam of light in the distance.

And in these moments, more than others, you really feel like you should re-take driver’s Ed for a refresher.

The way the car handles was initially a real pain point for me, but after a few hours, I got exactly why the game chose to do this.

The first-person perspective, the need to control the lights, parking brake, and wipers manually, and the boxy controls all add to this feeling of unease and imminent chaos. you have just enough control to affect change, but equally, you know that if the Peninsula wants to give you a hard time, it can, and it will.

Investigating The Irregular

Speaking of the Peninsula itself, the world-building within this game actually takes a lot of notes from Remedy’s New Weird epic Control, in the sense that the main story is front and center, but there is so much optional content on offer, and without delving into the logs and descriptions, you’ll miss a lot of what makes the Olympic Peninsula so amazing.

Players could have a smashing time without ever listening to a single log that wasn’t tied to progression, but through engaging with the world, you are rewarded with explanations about the Dharma initiative-like project of this world, the mysterious entity that fronted this, how the anomalies came to be, what they do, and so much more.

pacific drive dharma
Finding out what each Anomaly does is both intriguing and terrifying

It’s not often that engaging with world-building leads to gameplay benefits, but with this higher level of understanding, you’ll suddenly find that you’re better equipped to use situations to your advantage, and ultimately drive further with each loop, and if that isn’t what world-building should be, then I don’t know what is.

This may seem a little odd, but I felt like the world set before you was a mash-up of Atomic Heart and Fallout 4. The world felt like a vast, open, and chaotic one that Atomic Heart offered, complete with strange and unpredictable creatures and events.

Then you have the scavenging for parts to take back to base, which immediately made me feel like Vault 111’s finest on the hunt for Biometric Scanners.

But to continue comparing this game to others, I played a survival game a while back called Tin Can, and this game does share a rather unwanted similarity with that space-maintenance title.

Tin Can throws a series of unknown events and perplexingly complicated systems at the player at an alarming frequency and then expects the player, with very little context, to dig themselves out of this hole with the little they had around them, and this, at least for me, always felt overwhelming and insurmountable.

Pacific Drive is nowhere near as devastating in this regard, but sometimes, through no fault of your own, you’ll be put into bad situations one after the other, and unless you have complete mastery of the systems present, which is a big ask, you’ll soon see that the task before you is a mountain simply too steep to climb.

Sure, there is no hard fail state, and technically, if you play your cards right, you can get out of most binds, but I sometimes felt that the game could have given the player more levers to pull in a crisis than it did.

If Looks Could Kill

I can honestly say that every single fiber of Pacific Drive’s gameplay felt mechanically sound, cohesive, satisfying, and thoughtfully implemented. But, like many survival games of this nature, the trade-off for intricate systems is rather basic visuals.

The game offers cel-shaded and rubbery textures akin to the likes of Killer Frequency, Lethal Company, Phasmaphobia, and other games of this nature, and I also found that the game even struggled to cope with this, as the game would regularly drop from 60FPS, which made me wonder if a locked-in 30FPS output would have been a better option here.

pacific drive visuals review
It looks fine, but shouldn’t those rocks have some texture?

That being said, what they do to create a jaw-droppingly interesting and eye-catching world despite these limitations is rather impressive.

With each loop, you begin to understand what certain environmental hazards mean and commit them to memory. You immediately know what a light in the distance could mean, and even though the visuals are what they are, the sheer scale of each area somewhat makes up for that as well.

The visuals are a weak point, but the sound design doesn’t suffer the same fate, as the game provides foley production, ambient noise, and a soundtrack that is out of this world. From a non-musical perspective, the way that this game creates unease through bumps in the night, moans of a distant Anomaly, or even the flickering of your car’s systems is masterful.

And without this sound design, the stark contrast, and the added danger of exploring at night would be nowhere near as apparent and unsettling.

Then, to touch on the music, you have a selection of indie rock, folk, synthwave, and vocal stylings of true-to-life American Northwestern bands, and every track is phenomenal and suited for the game in question. Yet, thanks to the eclectic nature of the music on offer, you can’t really put a timeline on what the radio is throwing your way, which only adds to the surreal nature of the Peninsula.

A Means To An End

I would love to say that the story on offer within Pacific Drive hits the same lofty heights as the score, but unlike the silent narrative and worldbuilding told through logs and the environment, the main mission kind of feels like a means to an end.

Yes, it’s important to have something driving the player toward their ultimate goal: escape. But honestly, it all felt like busy work that distracted me from the real fun that came from building my car and exploring the world.

pacific drive narrative review
I know where I should go, but look at all those buildings I could ransack instead!

While the radio chatter was often welcome, and fun to listen to, I never felt like I had a strong connection to Oppy, Tobias, or anyone for that matter, as the one-way communication and the lack of actual interaction with anyone, and as a result, I often took myself off the beaten track for hours on end, before I felt I was properly equipped to take on the main mission as an extension of my real goal, scavenging.

Yes, you do get some important resources and extras through engaging with this core narrative, but I never felt any urgency or tangible force drawing me back, and while I liked that freedom, it left me with a feeling that the story was found wanting.

Best Alternatives

if you are looking for a game that shares a few similarities with this rather unique vehicular survival game, then these are the games you’ll want to check out:

  • Days Gone
  • Sons of the Forest
  • Fallout 4
  • Atomic Heart
  • Raft
  • Sea of Thieves

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Unique Car-Based survival mechanics
  • An Interesting New Weird Setting
  • A very immersive experience due to a lack of hand-holding

Cons

  • A story that underwhelms despite the cool setting and concept
  • Visuals are pretty average
  • Game can be needlessly obtuse at times

The Verdict – 8/10

In the end, It turned out that I had more bandwidth for New Weird ventures, and I think that is mostly down to the sheer quality on show from Pacific Drive, a game that is completely uncompromising in what it wants to do from a narrative and gameplay perspective for better or worse.

While I can already foresee a wave of players picking up and dropping the game due to the unclear systems, the lack of handholding, and the often unforgiving controls and events present in the game, I think all these things are necessary to make Pacific Drive as successful as it as.

While it does have rather underwhelming visuals, and a main quest that only serves as a nudge toward your end goal rather than an actual compelling reason to do so. You have to look at those games in the same field and understand that, by and large, that is always the case with survival games, and gameplay systems are king.

It’s the depth in abundance, the chaos of the moment-to-moment gameplay, the palpable relief of returning to base, the satisfying nature of tinkering, and the surreal nature of all that exists (or doesn’t) around you that makes Pacific Drive a must-play in 2024.

So, if you’re dying to get behind the wheel, I say do it and drive until the wheels come off!

Play Log

Callum Played for a total of 15 hours, managing to put together a Station Wagon he could be proud of. He fully intends to travel deeper into the Peninsula and make his car even more unsightly to battle the elements.

Continue reading:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top