Pacific Drive Is S.T.A.L.K.E.R Meets Stranger Things Meets FAR: Lone Sails


Pacific Drive
Pacific Drive

The world needs more games to explore the idea of driving. Going around turns at the perfect apex at 120 MPH, running some hooligan off the road for a takedown, or using that mushroom for a speed boost eventually just becomes old hat. What about just getting lost out in the wilderness and trying to find your way back home? Enter Pacific Drive, the driving and exploration mystery from developers Ironwood Studios.

You play as a nameless individual known only as a “Breacher,” an explorer who illegally enters the Olympic Exclusion Zone, a walled off and heavily quarantined area of the American Pacific Northwest that fell victim to a bizarre event in the 1950s that’s been sealed off for over 30 years. Disturbances of mysterious energies change the fabric of reality on the regular inside this forested area – the air could become radioactive, a grassland suddenly turns to a swamp, or you could be teleported to someplace miles away in the blink of an eye. Now stranded inside the Exclusion Zone, your only objective is to find a way back out before the anomalies do you in.

Already barely a couple of hours in, this game holds a similar air of mysterious dread games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R have. You have some general knowledge of the how and why the world is the way it is, but the accounts barely scratch the surface. It’s horror-esque, but without needing to scare your pants off. This unfamiliarity with the world gives you a huge push in the curiosity department to investigate every little disturbance, find books and journals to understand it better. The mystery never overstays its welcome, instead you feel like you always need to know more. You want to drive off the beaten path. You wonder what’s out there, and that is what makes Pacific Drive so captivating.

Pacific Drive game
Pacific Drive game

But where Pacific Drive really stands out is how you get around the Olympic Exclusion Zone. Instead of backpacking, your primary companion is a run down station wagon and tools to survive the drive. Your tools include gadgets like an impact wrench, a scrapper’s saw, and even a trusty crowbar. All of these tools can either strip an abandoned car for parts, break something open, or navigate your way through the ruins of the Exclusion Zone.

More crafted items and weird gadgets come as time goes on, but your main tool is the car itself. It’s both a shield against deadly radiation and your main way to avoid the anomalies. On foot, you may not have a chance, but in the car there’s a little bit of safety between you and the unknown. The story of the game even pushes that idea by a scientist you communicate with calling the car a “Remnant,” a strange phenomenon of the Olympic Exclusion Zone where people feel obsessively attached to inanimate objects affected by the strange energies of the Zone.

Your car is quite the companion, too. The driving mechanics feel methodical, compared to most offroad games where you’re going 100+ MPH and twitching the steering wheel. It’s like piloting a tank or a battleship. From the first person perspective, you can freely look around and interact with the car’s controls while driving. Look down and turn on the headlights, honk the horn, use the GPS-like “Arc Device” — all of it can be done while also just driving around normally. The freely turning camera seems a little dizzying at first, but it becomes second nature once you remember a basic checklist to do once you’re in the seat. Start the engine, disengage the parking brake, and then you can move.

Pacific Drive game
Pacific Drive game

Sometimes you can forget to do certain things, like taking the car out of park when an anomalous creature is coming towards you and you’re panicking to get as far away from it as possible. Smart decisions all around make the driving experience something that actually feels incredibly unique while also adding an immersive feeling to the entire experience.

This “extraction driving game” is something very fresh and it stands way out from the typical crowds of other survival games while also feeling still a little familiar in little ways. Driving, crafting, and just surviving out there all culminate in a game that feels almost alien, but still maintains some sort of recognizable package that anyone familiar with something like Minecraft or The Forest might know.

If you liked games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R, or even Fallout, Pacific Drive is something to watch out for. It’s just an interesting way to package the survival genre into something that doesn’t seem like it’s been tried yet. Pacific Drive is shaping up to be one of those rare games that captures lightning in a bottle by just being as original as it can be rather than staying on the beaten path.

A key was provided by PR for the purposes of this preview. Pacific Drive will be out on February 22, 2024 for PlayStation 5 and PC via the Epic Games Store and Steam.

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