Pacific Drive (PC) REVIEW – Road Trippin’

On the road again...

Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive
Release Date
February 21, 2024
Ironwood Studios
Keplar Interactive
Our Score

Exploration and survival games have largely remained a pretty similar genre over the years. You’re just someone backpacking it on a lonely piece of land trying to either build something or get somewhere. But what if you instead were stuck driving a beat up, old car instead of staying on foot and strange pieces of sentient junk, radiation storms, and lots of weird anomalies are trying to stop you from escaping this Northwestern hell? Well, that’s what Pacific Drive is here to maybe answer. A unique take on elements of a roguelike, an extraction shooter, and a survival crafting game, this is one road trip that’s going to be a pretty memorable one.

You play as someone only known as a Breacher, an individual who’s entered the Olympic Exclusion Zone, which is an area of the Pacific Northwestern United States that was mysteriously closed off in the 1950s after an anomalous event transformed the area forever. 30 years later, the nameless hero is passing near the Olympic Exclusion Zone and is sucked into an anomaly outside the wall that protects the rest of the world from what’s behind it. Now stranded, your only way out of the Zone is a rusty station wagon that you feel strangely drawn to. After discovering the station wagon is a Remnant, an object infected by the energies of the Olympic Exclusion Zone that eventually drives its victims mad with obsession, you must now escape the Zone and break your bond to the Remnant. But you’re not alone on this journey, as two misfit researchers and a brilliant but disgraced scientist guide your way.

The story is much stronger than in most roguelikes. Tons of info can be gleaned from journal entries, unlocking recipes, scanning things in the open world, and audio logs from various characters. There are some rather poignant messages about legacy and what you do that matters, not who you are. It’s an emotional story that not even some Hollywood productions have touched on this well.

Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive

The gameplay is very similar to an extraction shooter and the loop is relatively simple: get in, find treasure, escape. You plan routes on a much larger map that itself can be constantly changing with different anomaly conditions moving around, and each stage is procedurally constructed and never exactly the same. Some areas are fixed but only for purposes of the story. The bigger change to most is that you can control when you leave for the most part. You can open a gateway back home and race a storm to the doorway you made or navigate on to the next stage via an exit road.

Crafting and building is very much like the child of games like Minecraft and survival games like The Forest or the like. You build tools to break down other things, and then build structures at your base to enhance your treasure hunting experience or make cool things for the car. It’s very cookie cutter on paper, but Pacific Drive packages this experience in a unique way where it concentrates mainly on the car and only a little bit on the home base itself. It’s more like the car is your mobile home and also a weapon against the unknown. It’s a very fresh way to change up the typical survival game experience by condensing down the base building and crafting to one object that you interact with rather than many.

Pacific Drive isn’t strictly a horror game, but the strongest element of its experience is atmosphere. It feels mysterious, but not entirely horrifying. There’s a consistent air of dread, but not an oppressive kind of dread. It’s a dread that you have no idea how things are going to change or what’s about to happen next. The roguelike nature of the stages gives the game a completely unpredictable nature that in of itself instills a little bit of fear in you.

Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive

Driving the car in Pacific Drive is very unique compared to most other driving games. It’s an incredibly methodical experience navigating terrain and finding obstacles, more akin to piloting a tank than driving a normal car. You have to operate levers and switches manually by either looking around and interacting with them or using your bindings to do things even as simple as shifting the car into park or drive, activating lights, or honking the horn. The granular and somewhat clunky controls give Pacific Drive a fresh approach to the driving experience that not many games have done this strongly. Damage to the car is incredibly detailed with almost any external and internal part developing some sort of defect or damage.

The car can even inadvertently develop weird behaviors called Quirks, where if you perform certain actions the car can react in unexpected ways. Some examples are if you turn on or off the headlights the horn can honk, or if you shift the car into drive a door randomly opens. Some Quirks can be even more dangerous doing things like sudden acceleration, or the car will completely lose power.

Even if Pacific Drive is an incredibly unique experience, it’s not a perfect one, as there are some pains with finishing it. It does not hold your hand for very long. By the third expedition, you’re expected to learn a majority of the game on your own through trial and error. It’s very unforgiving during times where your car can be absolutely ruined by mistakes you might not even be aware of unless you fail at something the game didn’t obviously tell you.

Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive

The UI is also incredibly dense and clunky with lots of clicking through tabs and subtabs to find recipes to craft and managing an inventory and finding out how to do certain things. Usually this results in you stopping to read the journal just to figure out the game at times, breaking the immersion and momentum of the experience at times. On top of that, crafting can also be somewhat frustrating as you can and will go through feast or famine cycles of resources that you need to plan accordingly for. And lacking important materials for crucial pieces of armor or equipment can result in grinding expeditions to just find some missing materials to progress even one or two steps ahead. Punishment in Pacific Drive is harsh, sometimes to a fault not of your own making, but such is the nature of the beast of a roguelike sometimes screwing you over via randomized bad luck.

Fans of survival games and sci-fi adventures will feel very much at home in the Olympic Exclusion Zone and its strange anomalies haunting every twist and turn. The atmosphere is immaculate, and it doesn’t scare the pants off of you with horrific jumpscares or bloody monsters. Instead, there is this nagging feeling that instills fear in you that nothing is safe for very long. Subtle horror combined with a unique way to get around give Pacific Drive a unique niche to exist in that may not be for everyone, but if you can vibe with this game, not much else can touch the kind of magic that it possesses. Not very many indie darlings can hit as hard as Pacific Drive and Ironwood Studios have delivered an extremely charming experience.

A Pacific Drive code was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.

Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive is a rare experience in the space of roguelikes that combines unique mechanics with a deep story that not very many games in the genre offer.