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Gravel Review

One of the biggest problems that Gravel faces, particularly on the Xbox One (which is the version that this review is based on), is that it’s always going to be compared to the Forza Horizon series. Which is really unfortunate as Gravel is a very good driving game, albeit without all the bells and whistles that you get with Playground’s masterpiece series of titles.

Gravel is developed by Milestone, an Italian team who have a good track record (sorry) in the driving game genre, having previously been responsible for the Moto GP and Ride games. They also used to develop the official Rally World championship games before it was passed to BigBen and Kylotonn. Having played and reviewed the disappointing WRC7 last year, my view is that an official rally game in this engine would be pretty darn impressive.

Although Gravel and the Forza Horizon series share a lot of similarities, the presentation methods are very different. Gravel ditches the open-world setting and instead goes for an edgy, Xtreme sports TV theme, called the Gravel Channel. Before races you are treated (or endured) to a commentator telling you just how awesome the upcoming race will be, and then afterwards you are told how great the race was, and to be honest this does become tedious and stale after a while. There are also some incredibly ridiculous lines of dialogue, my favourite being “If you didn’t faint whilst watching this race you’re used to strong emotions.” Wow. Although these lines of dialogue are repeated they are easily skipped and didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. In the multitude of options that are available it can also be turned off, much to my pleasure.

So, with the open world setting not present it’s up to the menus to provide the jumping point to individual races. There are of course a number of game modes to choose from, the main one being Off Road Masters, and there are also Multiplayer, Time Attack, and Free Play modes to pick from. At this current time there are also Weekly Challenges which require you to beat a certain time in a set race.

But Off Road Masters is where most players will start. It is split into sixteen themed episodes, with each of the episodes featuring three to five individual events that will either be a single race or a small three race championship. Each race or championship has three stars up for grabs, with the whole three awarded for a win, two stars if you finish in the top three positions, and the measly one star if you manage to just complete it. Once you have enough stars you will unlock the next episode, so at times you will need to revisit earlier events for some easy stars! Amongst these episodes are special events, which are head to head races against the famous fictional drivers set in the Gravel world. There are no stars on offer here, but you will need to win the episode in order to progress.

As you win and progress your in-game level will go up and you will also unlock new cars and liveries. There are no purchases needed, as everything will be unlocked via your progression, however there is a menu option for DLC, which currently only contains a Porsche pack and a free “Bowler Bulldog” car. Obviously there is scope here for the addition of paid DLC in the shape of car packs, but as previously mentioned, there is nothing pushing you to spend real money in order to unlock cars.

There are seventeen different locations to race around, and from the beaches of Namibia’s Gold Coast to the city streets of Las Vegas these are truly a high point of Gravel. I fondly remember the first time I played the arcade version of Ridge Racer and being mesmerized by the background visuals, and Gravel gave me that same feeling. The locations are gorgeously created, whether you’re racing through sand dunes before bursting onto a beach and splashing through the water, or competing in the Florida stadium in huge trucks with fireworks exploding as you race through checkpoints. The weather and environmental effects are very impressive also, whether its water splashing up on your viewpoint as you race through the sea’s edge, or the faithful representation of that horrible muddy murky stuff you get on your windscreen in real life on a winter’s rainy day.

The driving mechanics are pretty spot-on as well. With a game mode called ‘Off Road Masters’ you will be pleased to know that you will spend most of your time sliding cars sideways through mud, grass or snow. This is achieved without too much skill and you will soon be sliding and drifting around corners with a huge smile on your face! The AI can be tough, as races can resemble stock-car races at times, and the collision detection never feels unfair. For example if you cut across the front of an opponent it will put you in a spin that will put you at the back and will be hard to recover from. Forza fans will be pleased that the rewind function is included, so any mistake can easily be rectified.

There are a number of different races to take part in. Lap Races and Checkpoint Races are standard eight car events, Time Attack is a single player blast to get the fastest time possible, Smash-Up is a single player lap or checkpoint race where you have to knock down targets as you race around, and Elimination is a survival race where the player in last position is eliminated every 30 seconds. All of these are fun except Smash-Up which I didn’t like at all. The targets you need to hit either have red crosses or green arrows, and if you hit the crosses it causes your car to slow down. Even if you hit the green first but then the back of your car brushes the red cross afterwards it still slows you down. I found these levels the most tedious to play as the fun factor was removed.

Unfortunately I did encounter some gameplay bugs. These ranged from slight graphical glitches, especially on maps which feature a large amount of water, as the shadows and reflections seemed to take a while to load in. On one occasion I finished a Time Attack race in first position but when I proceeded to the scoreboard I had finished in third. I also witnessed the opposition cars go missing from the minimap, and on one Special Event the opponents car disappeared from right next to me and suddenly was ten seconds back. Again these are not game breaking but did put a slight dampener on my enjoyment. I played Gravel on an Xbox One X and so far it is the only game to cause my console to become very loud, just like the in-game car revving. I also tested it on the One S, and it did appear to have a few more technical issues, including the race starting with my driver sitting in mid-air!

Despite the occasional bug I absolutely loved my time with Gravel. Overall, it took around 13 hours of gameplay to finish the Off Road Masters on medium difficulty, and I still have around 60 stars to go back and collect, which I plan to do. There is also an achievement for reaching Level 50, and I’m currently at 37, so there is still content left to do, including the multiplayer. The Forza Horizon games are notable for their vast amount of content, and at a recent game event, their studio head discussed whether or not there is too much content, and Gravel is much shorter, and at full price you may need to question the game’s value for money. But the major reason to go and buy this right now is that it is really, incredibly good fun. As you are sliding around corners or bombing down a beach you will be smiling, and that’s a good enough reason as any to make this purchase. If you only have room in your life for one off-road racing game then Forza Horizon 3 is probably the one to go for, but this is a very credible second place for me.

Thanks to Xbox and Milestone for supporting TiX

Gravel season pass and DLC announced

Milestone is probably one of the most experienced developers when it comes to racing games.  Today Milestone have released details about the season pass and DLC updates about their off-road racing title Gravel.

Season Pass

For those ready to go beyond their limits, Gravel Season Pass will include 5 DLCs, which will give access to additional 12 new vehicles, 10 check point tracks, 4 new Wild Rush circuits and 2 new Off-Road Career Events with the aim of satisfying even the most demanding off-road racing fans.

Gravel Season Pass and Gravel Special Edition, including the Full Game and Season Pass, will be available to pre-order from 27 February 2018 on PS4, Xbox One.

In addition to the DLCs included in the season pass, new content will be available completely free, letting players broaden their car portfolio with new exclusive vehicles. The first two freemium DLCs are Gravel Free car Bowler Bulldog and Gravel Free car Acciona.

For all four-wheel enthusiasts, this DLC gives access to the first exclusive free vehicle, available for download from 7 March.
Straight from Great Britain, here’s one of Bowler latest creations, the Bulldog, a concentration of power which makes the off-road experience even more thrilling and engaging.

Details on all other DLCs will be disclosed later on.

Gravel will launch on 27 February on PS4, Xbox One, and PC/STEAM.

Porsche races onto Gravel as DLC

Despite not launching until February 27, Milestone have announced the first piece of DLC for Gravel, which includes the Porsche 924 GTS Rallye and the Porsche 959 Rallye – with various liveries for each one.

These historic cars are no stranger to racing – in 1981 Walter Röhrl placed second in his Porsche 924 GTS at the German Rallye Championship. The 959 was put through its paces in 1985 when it was entered into the Paris-Dakar Rallye race and taking the top two spots with René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne in first, followed by Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur in second. There was a third Porsche in that race, which started out as the support vehicle, instead ending up finishing sixth.

The two cars will join a rooster that already includes the 911 RSR Rallye and the Cayenne Transsyberia –the Porsche Rallye Pack is being offered for free as a pre-order incentive and will also be available as part of a Season Pass.

Gravel takes us on an off-road adventure to Montebianco

Releasing on February 27, Gravel is the latest racing title from Milestone. Rather than favour the more brutal off-road format that DiRT has taken on, Gravel looks like it is favouring a more arcade experience.

Complete with bright signage lighting the way, dodgy rock tunes to drown out the splutter of rally engines and other competitors to knock out of the way, Gravel looks like it’s going to be a very playable racer – check out the latest track, Montebianco, below.

The game features four different disciplines – Cross Country, Wild Rush, Stadium and Speed cross – rather than merely drive them, the game has you as the star of the show with Gravel Channel web TV being the central point of the game’s career.

2-stroke bikes finally coming to MXGP3

MXGP3

You’ve probably heard them tearing up and down your street, ridden by next door-but-one’s feral kids. 2-stroke motorbikes are some of the most fun and most nimble of the motorbike vehicle group, and after mounting fan pressure, they’re finally coming to MXGP3: The Official Motocross Videogame.

Developed by one of the leading and longest established racing game developers, Milestone, MXGP3 has opened pre-orders and they have also announced a release date for the game.

Along with the 18 official tracks from the Motocross Championship, MXGP3 will offer 10 2-stroke motorbikes to blast around those very tracks. The game will feature unpredictable, dynamic weather conditions to make racing just that little bit more than real. From hot, beating sun to torrential heavy rain, every change should decisively influence the rider’s visibility and the highly changeable track terrain. This should put even the most skilled rider to the test.

Add to this, the unmistakeable sound of the 2-stroke engine, and you should have the sweetest recipe for success.

These newly announced 2-strokes will be available for all the game modes in MXGP3 and have been designed in-game for ultimate physical reality and realism. The following bikes will feature on the 2-stroke all-stars list in game.

  • KTM 250 SX
  • KTM 125 SX
  • Husqvarna TC 250
  • Husqvarna TC 125
  • Honda CR250R
  • TM MX 250
  • TM MX 125
  • Yamaha YZ250
  • Yamaha YZ125
  • Kawasaki KX 125

Race these amazingly nimble bikes around all of your favourite MXGP World Championship courses, from Qatar to Argentina and Mexico, when it releases on the 12th of May, with pre-orders for the game open now.

Ride 2 review

Back in April 2015, I was handed what was in all likelihood, the first motorbike racing game I’d played since Road Rash. I won’t beat about the bush, Ride was distinctly average. Now Milestone have updated and released the 2016 model, Ride 2. Can we hope for a more comfortable seat and grips to carry us along, or is it another old banger of a game?

If there was one thing that really rankled from the first edition of Ride, it was the loading times. You will spend roughly 40% of your gaming time staring at a pretty picture of a bike. In Ride 2, I was really hoping that this would be addressed, but the first thing that hits you is not one, but two separate loading screens. From a gaming aesthetic, it’s massively frustrating to be staring at a loading graphic when all you want is to stick leather on a seat and wheel-spin away.

The chances are then, you get fed up with looking at the screen shot below, but don’t abandon the game too quickly for this. Stick with the loading and there’ll be a fairly pleasant surprise on the horizon. Like finding out that the price of petrol at your local garage has dropped.

Ride 2

Tedious loading time aside then, once you’re into the meat of the game, you can expect some refreshing changes to the first title’s initial menus and there’s been a welcome introduction of daily and weekly challenges in case the rigors of a seasonal tour are getting a little too much. There are a huge number of tracks available to play from the outset, with multiple layout variations on racing mainstays like the Nurburgring.

You’ll also find a massive selection of bikes to ride. The game doesn’t seem to have any license restrictions, so whatever your preference from a two-wheeled terror standpoint, Ride 2 will be able to accommodate. From Nakeds to Supermoto scramblers to Superbikes, there will be something for even the most demanding biker. The proof of the gaming is in the play though, and this is where Milestone have been busy in the garage with the cowling off.

When you compare the two games, Ride 2 has obviously had some attention. Even though the scenery rushing by when on-track doesn’t look to have had enough detail shoe-horned in, if it means the loading times are slightly cut, I can deal with that. The biggest improvement comes in the AI, bike handling and collision detection. Now, ordinarily, this would be a good thing. Given the fact that Milestone also make Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP game, which handles and feels much better, I can’t help but wonder if both development camps ought to have a bit of a get-together for Ride 3, should it make it that far.

Ride 2

So, while the AI is better than the first release, it’s still wooden. There’s no extra movement from the riders, something you’d expect from other folk when racing on bikes. They don’t glance around and when tipping the bike round a corner, the knee doesn’t go down from your opposition. That’s not my only grumble with the AI.  To explain, I’ll need to give you a bit of background. The bikes use a Gran Turismo-type PP score to rank your bike in Ride 2. With this and the bike type, you can only enter the events that your bike and PP qualify for. Your AI are all mounted on similarly powered machines, but on-track initially, you wouldn’t have guessed. Power along the Nurburgring’s Döttinger Höhe straight and your fellow riders will cruise past you, even on lesser ranked bikes. It doesn’t seem fair and frankly, doesn’t seem possible.

If you’ve played the first game, you’ll notice that the biggest improvement is the bike handling and collision detection. There’s a definite improvement in the connection between you and the bike. It is much smoother, even if the controls are still a little twitchy. You have more confidence going into collisions. The first game would flip you totally off the bike, losing you crucial places, at the slightest hint of a touch. In Ride 2 you can go in with a little bit of confidence as the AI rigidly cuts across you, sticking religiously to the racing line.

I’ve not got the greatest amount of experience on the usual engine whine and other related sounds on a raceday. Needless to say that the bikes sound like bikes. There’s some funky electro-pop during the numerous loading screens, which gets fairly tiresome after hearing it for a while.

Ride 2

So, the AI is improved, the visuals are pretty much the same and the audio is fairly standard. The biggest issue is career progression. You need credits to upgrade your bike and become more competitive. This will allow you to win races and become more competitive. It’s a bit of a vicious circle and getting off the mark will mean that you will have to come back and play the same tracks against the same opposition a few times to get some podiums and wins under your belt. You can then start to upgrade your current bike. It’ll be a long time before you can expand your garage with the game’s current career progression set up, that’s for sure.

In the order of a season review for Ride 2 then, the game is vastly improved over the first release, which in truth, wouldn’t have been hard. You can now hustle opposing riders without the fear of flying off, although the controls are a little sketchy still. The AI is stiff, however, and feels very robotic. Sharing equal 2nd place on the podium of irks for Ride 2, though is the difficulty in career progression and our old favourite, the ridiculous loading times. Comparing it to the market of bike games that are out there already, grab yourself Valentino Rossi: The Game. Even though they’re both by Milestone, one streaks away as the superior title.

Thanks to Milestone and Xbox for supporting TiX

Ride 2 reveal pre-order bonuses

Ride 2

Italian racing game developer, Milestone, have been around the block a few times. They created one of the earliest games I reviewed on Xbox One, the frankly average, Ride. They’ve been busy, however. As recently as last May, they revealed that they’d been working with publisher, PQube once more, on a new version of the motorbike racer. An upgrade if you will.

Ride 2 was revealed with a coming soon moniker and many two-wheeled petrolheads were hoping that this would see a  vast improvement on the orignal. The early signs are good.

Now, Milestone have revealed that there will be 174 bikes involved in Ride 2, including 16 modifiable models which spawn 16 new race models. That’s a grand total of 190 machines to choose from with pretty much the same categories as the first game, nakeds, superbikes and supersports. Ride 2 will also introduce some two-strokes, cafe racers and supermotos into the fray.

In addition to this, they’ve announced the pre-order bonuses that will be available for the game and Season Pass details, meaning that DLC is guaranteed. So, the pre-order details are as follows.

Pre-order Ride 2 from GAME and you’ll receive the Limited Edition Visual Book. This exclusive premium companion book will feature the favourite bikes of the development team along with commentary and detail on each of these machines.

Pre-order from ASDA in the UK and you’ll get the Suzuki Hayabusa 2015, the Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory 2015 and 10 bonus helmets.

Those of you who prefer to digitally pre-order can expect some exclusive content as well as two exclusive bikes, the Ducati Hypermotard SP and the Kawasaki ZZR 1400. A bonus of 10 helmets will also be yours.

As if that wasn’t enough, Milestone have been listening to the community and will dish out gifts in the form of nine packs with free special downloadable content from November to July so that the player can experience new, exciting adventures on dream bikes.

There will also be a Season Pass made available for the price of around 29.99 Euros. This collection of all of the DLC will let you fully live out the Ride 2 experience. If you decide not to go with the Season Pass, DLC will still be available to purchase separately, from the day of the game’s release.

Ride 2 will hit the tarmac from the 7th of October.

Here’s the lastest trailer that Milestone have released and it already looks better than the first iteration of the title.

Ride 2 rolling in soon

Ride 2

UK based games publisher, PQube have sprung a little bit of a surprise today, by revealing the announcement trailer for Ride 2. This console-only sequel to Miletone’s motorbike simulator, Ride, looks to be hitting Xbox One in the autumn of 2016 so far.

Ride 2 will feature over 200 two-wheeled machines to tame with an unprecedented level of customisation and exciting new race tracks to explore.

The major innovation in this second edition of the game will be the relationship between rider and motorcycle. This promises to be more connected than ever and directly integrated in the game, in career mode. The primary goal of the game is, as before, to race the bike of your dreams. To help you along with this, the game will offer a detailed customisation, including many more components for both rider and bike. You’ll be able to build your own machine from the ground up, in the finest detail, as well.

Another main draw is the ability to gather a collection of bikes in your garage and Ride 2 offers the promise of Two-Stroke, Supermotards and Cafe Racers that will bolster the line-up of bikes that were on offer in the first version of the game. These included Nakeds and Supersports among many others.

Track-wise, the new title will add the racer’s delight, the Nurburgring Nordschleife, Northwest 200 and other new circuits to help push the boundaries of competition.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Milestone are introducing new game modes that will accompany players on the road of the true motorcyclist. There will be social interaction, competitive AI and many more graphical and physics enhancements that are to be revealed over the coming months.

I reviewed the first title, Ride, back in April last year. Re-reading that review and remembering how that game played, I hope for the fans’ sake that Milestone have taken some of the more generalised points on board.

Here’s the brief announcement trailer.

Ride 2 is scheduled for an autumn 2016 released on Xbox One.

Valentino Rossi shows us the MotoRanch

valentino rossi 01

There’s was a happy sigh from MotoGP fans when The Doctor was revealed to be the face and, indeed, name of the next officially licensed MotoGP title. Valentino Rossi has been one of the names, faces and characters of the sport. It’s fitting that the multiple MotoGP World champion has his own game title.

Love him or hate him, he’s one of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time. Publisher PQube have taken developer, Milestone’s new two-wheel tearaway title and revealed the MotoRanch VR46. This allows you to take part in the engaging Flat Track races and experience the adrenaline of the Americana and be part of the most exclusive event of year, called EnduRanch.

This revelation comes in the form of the new trailer, below. It features the Tavullia hills and valleys, surrounded by a suggestive and naturalistic environment. This is the frame for the exclusive MotoRanch VR46, which will open it’s doors for the first time when the game is released.

The MotoRanch represents a training field for Valentino Rossi and the VR46 Riders Academy and consists of different circuits. These circuits allow you to practice one of the most engaging disciplines; Flat Track. On a circuit specifically created for this, 12 riders challenge on their two-wheeled chargers. This will include the Flat Track Bike, specifically for this circuit. Using a technique which involves drifting with a foot outside to balance the weight, Flat Track seems on the surface to be a mixture of Motocross and Supermotard. The surface makes it just that little bit more different though.

The weather will also play a part in the riding style, with spring and autumn playing a part in deciding the outcome of the race.

MotoRanch will allow you to ride in four different competitions. Dritta, Alla Rovescia, EnduRanch and Americana. These all offer differing weather conditions, coupled with daytime and twilight riding to provide an extra challenge.

The MotoRanch VR46 will also feature “Valentino’s friends”. These are all riders on the racing circuit and will feature; Tony Cairoli, Alberto Tebaldi, Mauro Sanchini, Thomas Chareyre, Marco Belli, and British favourite, Guy Martin among many others.

Have a look at the MotoRanch VR46 trailer below for a little further information. Valentino Rossi The Game is scheduled for release on the 16th of June.

Thrustmaster partners Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO for game launch

thrustmaster_tx

What better symbiotic partnership than a fast-paced, rally racing environment and a perfectly tailored racing peripheral? Thrustmaster are proud to announce today that they have partnered with Milestone to bring full compatibility with all current racing wheel peripherals, for Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO.

With the launch of the title fast approaching, both Milestone and Thrustmaster are pleased to have delivered this perfect racing partnership in time for release on the 29th of January.

Thrustmaster Development Director, Gilles Raulet;

In Milestone’s teams, we’ve seen an approach focused on striking a perfect balance between realism and driving sensations for fans of rally racing and Sebastien Loeb. It’s been a pleasure for us to provide our support on this great project.

Sebastien himself has also had a hand in the development of the game, with regular validation at various stages of development.

Milestone’s Vice President, Luisa Bixio;

The interactions between our development teams and Thrustmaster’s have been productive and positive, and will continue after the launch. Using Thrustmaster racing wheels in Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO is an undeniable asset in terms of living the rally competition experience even more intensely. The game has been designed to be enjoyable with racing wheels, and that’s the reason we’ve decided to make it compatible with all peripherals available from Thrustmaster.

Cementing this successful collaboration, a number of media-related activities have been scheduled for the lauch of Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO, using wheels from Thrustmaster’s racing ecosystem.

You can find out more about the Thrustmaster range here.

Sebastien Loeb Rally EVO is out on the 29th of January.