Pacific Drive Review – One Trippy Road Trip

Looking to get out on the open road and see new places, meet new people, or document reality-warping anomalies? Pacific Drive is just the game you’re looking for, taking you for the road trip of a lifetime as you and your very special car explore a place where the laws of physics are more like suggestions, and escaping requires a little bit of experimentation.

Pacific Drive opens as you skirt around the Olympic Excursion Zone, a massive quarantined area walled off by the government years ago. Your simple delivery job goes sideways when a roadblock sends you deep within the supernatural quarantine area, and your only hope of surviving is a beat-up little station wagon you find parked in a nearby garage—though it may ultimately be your undoing.

See, the Olympic Excursion Zone is a place where the laws of physics don’t apply, as I previously mentioned. More specifically, this zone carries a strange property where matter struggles to maintain its shape, shifting into strange and unpredictable forms at varying levels of stability. Suffice it to say, it’s an incredibly dangerous place for someone to be. If you aren’t killed by something that shouldn’t be there, you’re likely to be transformed into something unrecognizable yourself.

Pacific Drive The Big One
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Besides the crazy and unexplainable anomalies of the Olympic Excursion Zone, the entire map felt like a trip down memory lane for me. It’s set in the Pacific Northwest, where you drive through scenic roads, which felt like some of the trips I used to take with my father on the back of his motorcycle. It filled me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and joy as I cruised through the game. These feelings were only interrupted when something terrible jumped out to ruin my day.

The strange reality of Pacific Drive is shown throughout the game’s map as you explore and look for a way out of the exclusion zone. Sawblades will burst out of the ground. Electric storms will strike your car, steering you off the road and, worse, changing your radio station. Creepy mannequins will appear in places they weren’t a moment ago, and generally, you just have no idea what’s in store for you at any given moment.

The game leads more on the sci-fi side of things than on horror, but that isn’t to say there isn’t tension. There are even some traditionally spooky ideas and moments in there… But I’ll leave them for you to discover.

What’s worse is that the car you rely on to navigate and eventually escape the zone is, in itself, an anomaly. Described by your scientist helpers as something called a Remnant, your car is a special breed of anomaly, a kind that attaches to a person and drives them mad with obsession. This underlying theme that your best hope of escape may ultimately be your demise permeates throughout the game, adding another layer to the overall uneasiness and making you wonder if you’re putting a bit too much time into upgrading your vehicle.

Pacific Drive Visitors
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Vehicle repair, maintenance, and upgrading are essential parts of Pacific Drive and a feature I sort of have mixed feelings about.

On the one hand, I really like the mechanic. Maintaining and upgrading each part of your car is supremely addicting and gives you a reason to stop and scavenge for supplies as you pass abandoned buildings on your route. Driving like me means your car will be wrecked often, so gathering all the duct tape and metal you can find is essential to gameplay if you hope to survive the constant radiation and tree-slamming-into you’ll be facing.

On the other hand, however, I almost wish the game had forgone this feature. Sure, it would be one less thing to do, and considering how much time I spend in the garage before each route, it would either severely undermine the game or simply save me a ton of time. I feel like having to scavenge parts in the wild, hoping you can find a rare car battery or a tire that isn’t popped, might add more to the tension than simply being able to finagle rubber and duct tape together to make a new tire right in your trunk.

I initially had doubts about how the game would handle traveling. To navigate the huge map of Pacific Drive, you have to fast travel from your garage to a nearby node and then travel to another, basically driving from one level to another through connected points.

Pacific Drive Map
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Initially, I read “travel time: 3 hours” and thought this game would see me taking to the road. I was excited about this at first, then disappointed when I fast-traveled to the first map. However, since you can only travel to the closest area on the map to your hub garage, and you have to navigate the pretty big maps to get to the connected spots, I don’t mind this feature. There’s still a ton of driving to do.

No matter how far you go from home, you always get home the same way: Portals, baby. Specifically, when you’re done with a route and need a quick trip back to the garage, you need to power a handy gadget in your passenger seat using local power supplies called anchors. These anchors, unfortunately, are also the things keeping the area from completely descending into esoteric chaos.

There’s nothing quite like the thrill the game gives you in these harrowing escape scenes. The portals often open far from where you are and off-road, and a storm of reality-destroying chaos chases behind you as the land in front of you starts to unfurl. You have to drive like a bat out of hell while avoiding impossible hazards, clenching your teeth and muttering, “come on come on come ooonnnn” as you get closer and closer to the extraction point.

Pacific Drive Exit
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The game’s UI is initially a little awkward, feeling like something you’d see on a 90s fantasy of a supercomputer, but I quickly learned how to navigate it easily. It may, however, be a much more awkward experience on a controller. Having a mouse certainly felt like a small blessing when it came time to craft something or pull a tool out of my trunk.

I haven’t seen anything quite like Pacific Drive. The game’s uniquely car-centric gameplay mixed with incredibly creative use of their promising, reality-tearing premise makes for a game that’s absolutely packed with atmosphere. Driving feels utterly real, with all the dangers of careless driving or hazardous weather, and even in the quietest moments, this game manages to fill you with a sense of dread and unease, unsure of what comes next.

The Final Word

Pacific Drive offers a thrilling and unique experience that seamlessly blends the excitement of a road trip with the terror of the supernatural. The game quickly won me over, just as it’s sure to win over the imagination and thrill of players who give the game a much-deserved try.


10

Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Pacific Drive is available on Steam, Epic Games and PlayStation.

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