Knowing almost nothing about Pacific Drive, I didn’t know what to expect from this game by Ironwood Studios when I sat down to try a demo build at GDC 2023. Located near the end of a long line of demo stations at the Day of the Devs booth, the game was rather unassuming. From the sound of it, I thought the game would be an exciting road trip through the forest near, say, the Rocky Mountains. While that description isn't entirely wrong, I vastly underestimated how exciting it actually was. Within minutes, I was mending the doors of my station wagon, dodging strange anomalies that were trying to zap me with electricity, and racing away from an energy storm that sought to wreck the forest and everything in it.
An adventure that would make Doc Brown blush
In a nutshell, Pacific Drive is a race against time where you need to collect anchors around the Olympic Exclusive Zone to open a gateway that will allow you to escape. The developers call the game a “road-like” as a play on words, since every run will be different and not reaching the gateway in time means losing any resources you pick up along the way. The experience is similar to playing No Man’s Sky on a planet with radiation and hostile creatures, except that your ship is a car with DeLorean vibes and the stakes are much higher.
For the demo, I was pretty much thrown into the deep end without much context or instruction. I was given about fifteen minutes to escape the zone after first inspecting the health of my car. Each section of the station wagon, including the hood, trunk, and all four doors, has its own structural integrity and required a quick repair using the blowtorch I had in my toolkit. While I could technically walk from one objective to the next, the car protects you from any potential radiation and it gets you places faster so long as it still has fuel.
Put the pedal to the metal
I was fortunate enough to have watched the last few minutes of the demo being played from a prior session where the player failed to grab all the anchors in the allotted time, so I decided not to dally around too much. I slipped into the driver’s seat, turned the key, and immediately checked the holographic map which sat in the center console. It was tough having to look to my right at the map while trying to pay attention to where I was going, but that was part of the challenge.
It wasn’t a smooth ride either, as there were a few times I had to go offroad to avoid an obstacle or a strange anomaly that acted like a sandworm carving through the earth. One left a trail of electric fences (weird, I know), while another lifted the ground in pillars as it snaked around the map. I didn’t have a way to attack or defend myself, so the only options I had were speeding ahead or taking a detour.
Some of the stable anchors were in the middle of the forest, so there were times I decided to get out of my car instead of possibly getting stuck in a ditch or behind a tree. If I got lucky, there would be a rundown vehicle nearby that I could deconstruct into components for upgrades or a random bag that had health pickups. But given the time constraints and the fact that inventory management is done in real-time, I didn’t spend too much time scavenging and snatched the anchors as quickly as I could.
The final countdown
Once I had all three anchors in hand, the final sequence suddenly triggered. The sky was suddenly red as an oncoming storm began to ravage the landscape, littering the world with more anomalies than before. There was an anti-gravity field I had to cut around, some weird tumbleweeds called broken bunnies that annoyingly clung to the windshield, and some alien jellyfish that grabbed my car using its tentacles and whipped it a few hundred feet to the side of the road. Even so, I continued to zoom toward the gateway, shaped as a giant cylindrical pillar of light, as the safe zone began to shrink with every passing moment. And with barely twenty seconds left, I finally made it through.
Pacific Drive is slated to release in 2023 on PlayStation consoles and PC via Steam and Epic Games Store. You can wishlist the game on those platforms now.
This preview is based on a hands-on PC build provided by the publisher at GDC 2023.
Nick Tan posted a new article, Pacific Drive is a "road-like" for scrappy car junkies
I'm looking forward to this weirdness. :D
I'm glad that it sounds like the gameplay is solid, the trailer definitely made it look like it was going to be something unique.