Pacific Drive review for PC, PS5

Platform: PC
Also on: PS5
Publisher: Kepler Interactive
Developer: Ironwood Studios
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

I feel like Pacific Drive is one of those games that either you’ll love or you’ll hate. It’s one or the other, and there’s no possibility of landing somewhere in-between.

While there are undoubtedly other games that can inspire that kind of love/hate reaction, I feel like in Pacific Drive’s case that this sort of reaction is by design. One of its central mechanics is one of those things that you’ll either think is absolutely brilliant, or you’ll loathe it with every fibre of your being: there are no mid-level saves.

That may not sound like a big thing – but in Pacific Drive’s case, it undeniably is. Pacific Drive is a driving-based survival game (or a survival-focused driving game, I suppose, depending on how you want to look at it) where you’re constantly setting off on on new missions into a nightmarish version of the Pacific Northwest, going into the unknown to track down car parts or carry out some mission or another. Since this is a survival game, and since you’re in a world where the Pacific Northwest has been walled out due to environmental hazards that can and will kill you, this means that every run brings with it the constant threat of death.

What’s more, because this is a driving/survival game, it means that not is your character always facing death, your car is, too. Every bump you take causes your car to take a little bit of damage, every mile you drive depletes your gas, and every time you use an item you wear it down just a little bit more. You can gather as much as you can during a drive, but if you die, you’ll probably lose it all.

(You can, of course, play around with the settings to make Pacific Drive a little more forgiving. It actively tries to dissuade you from doing so, but I should note that the option is there.)

And this is where the inability to save mid-run can be so frustrating. While there are very good technical reasons (and arguably less good design reasons) why you can’t leave off a level partway through your exploration of a level
Pacific Drive, that doesn’t make it any less annoying when you find that you’ve lost all your progress and all the items you’ve gathered because you couldn’t tell whether the game had saved properly.

Obviously, you can tell which side of the love/hate divide I found myself on, though I fully recognize why some people may find that approach thrilling in its own way.

The same goes for a lot of the other elements that make Pacific Drive so unique – they fit in from the perspective of it being a survival driving game, but they can also feel horribly frustrating if you don’t love the game and what it’s going for. The cars, for example, don’t handle all that well. To a certain extent, that makes sense: we’re talking about abandoned cars in a post-apocalyptic world, so naturally they’d degrade over time and perform less-than-optimally. But at the same time, it often feels like it’s a challenge just to drive in a straight line, and the handling when you go around a corner is abysmal.

Similarly, your constant repairs can either be seen as a brilliant gameplay mechanic, or an exercise in painstaking busywork. Personally, it felt like the gameplay loop of constantly scavenging for new parts to repair the ones you were breaking as you went out on a drive to find new parts seemed a little self-defeating, but if you’re the sort of person who lives for that kind of Sisyphean gaming task, I can see why it would be so much fun. And the same goes for the rapid rate at which your tools degrade – I found it a pain to go through so many crowbars, but others may adore the world’s forced scarcity.

As I said up top, the whole game is something you’re either going to love or hate. Pacific Drive isn’t going to leave many (or any) people saying, “Enh, it was okay.” You might think it’s a brilliant take on the survival genre, or you might think it’s endless amounts of busy work without enough of a payoff, but either way, it’s guaranteed to get a reaction out of you.

Kepler Interactive provided us with a Pacific Drive PC code for review purposes.

Score: 7

Pacific Drive Deluxe Edition (PS5)

Price: $39.88

2 used & new available from $39.88

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