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Pacific Drive Hands-On Preview (PC) – Drive To Survive

Pacific Drive Hands-On Preview (PC) – When Pacific Drive was first revealed during 2022’s September State Of Play, it immediately caught mine, and many other indie lovers eyes on atmosphere alone.

An atmosphere that absolutely does not quit can help carry a game even if the gameplay doesn’t always match the same quality bar.

Thankfully, as appears to be the case in the time I’ve spent with Pacific Drive, this game is more than just heavy atmosphere, delivering a so-far solid and intriguing story, with a fun gameplay loop to match.

Developers at Ironwood Studios seem to have something very special on their hands, I just hope now the full release fulfills the expectations I now have.

Pacific Drive Hands-On Preview (PC) – Drive To Survive

Remnants, Anomaly’s And A Radio

First, some housekeeping. I played this preview on PC, as a console code was not made available for this preview so I can’t really speak to how it’s looking on PS5 so far.

What I can say that when plugging my DualSense controller into my computer, all the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers worked as if I was playing on PS5, so I can still speak to that experience.

There were also some other known issues with this preview build that won’t be there in the full release, so I’ll leave them out for now.

At the same time, I’ll still make a note of them just in case they appear in the full launch.

This demo/preview version of Pacific Drive only included the first few missions, beginning with being thrown into the deep end of the mystery surrounding the Olympic Exclusion Zone.

The Olympic Exclusion Zone looks to be what you’d get if the Bermuda Triangle was located in a forest in the Pacific Northwest, with just as many unexplainable phenomenon, though in this case it can all be more easily studied.

A lucky thing, as there are experts like Oppy, Tobias and Francis who radio you with tips on how to survive and where to go to stay alive, after you appear on their radar thanks to a beaten-up station wagon you find.

Your car, the star of the show in Pacific Drive, is more than a car but is in fact something called a Remnant. Remnants take the form of unassuming material items as a means of slowly but surely latching onto the mind of their chosen victim.

They also drive their chosen person mad by making the person obsess over the form of the Remnant. A Remnant tea kettle for example makes tea so good you’ll never have a better cup in your life.

How the Remnant car will drive your player character mad is still to be seen, but it’s a credit to Pacific Drive that even before learning that fact about Remnants, I had already developed feelings for the car.

I could already feel my desire to fix up the old, practically broken down hunk of machinery and make it this shiny, luxurious and sturdy chariot for survival.

Knowing that the thing I’m beginning to fall for is also the thing that’ll end up driving my character mad is an interesting, tension-filled relationship that I’m excited to see play out in the story and gameplay down the line.

Pedal To The Metal

As I said before, playing with my DualSense controller plugged in, all the adaptive trigger and haptic feedback features seemed to work normally, and I was thankful for it because they add a great level of immersion.

The resistance felt on both triggers while driving or reversing along with the haptics really help give you a feel for the car, and further help you picture yourself in the drivers seat.

It’s also nice that Ironwood Studios includes enough detail when it comes to operating the vehicle to make it realistic without going too far into the simulator genre.

Little things like needing to turn the key in the ignition, or needing to put the car in drive before you can go anywhere. Turning headlights and windshield wipers on/off, and keeping an eye on your various instruments beyond the car’s basic ones.

On the actual driving itself, your Remnant Station Wagon handles pretty well, and you’ll not be thrown off track unless you purposely drive like a maniac.

Which isn’t exactly recommended, since that’s a one-way ticket to a game over screen, with your car destroyed and no way back to safety. Not to mention all the materials you’d need to try and grab to fix up your car.

Not wanting to drive like crazy and smash up your car cleverly reveals another layer to Pacific Drive’s gameplay, that when you’re driving peacefully it’s actually quite calming to be in Pacific Drive’s world.

Seeing wonderful green vistas with brightly coloured anomalies scattered throughout, or looking at your headlights cut through a dense fog as you drive around looking for supplies.

I do hope these aren’t the only kinds of sights I have to look forward to, but for now they suggest that there’s a visually interesting journey ahead.

Especially when considering that everything about what you see in the Olympic Exclusion Zone changes when you return to an area you’ve already been to.

Repair, Prepare, Loot, Return, Repeat

Besides the driving, the other core gameplay aspect of Pacific Drive is everything around how you survive. Like building a Scrapper tool so you can saw cannibalize abandoned cars and trucks.

Or creating a makeshift impact driver to smash doors and glass containers easily to collect specific loot. And of course making sure you always have enough materials to rebuild these tools, since they break down after extended use.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like you can repair your tools, but that could also be part of an upgrade not yet available to me in this preview.

Even having to replace your tools though feeds even more into Pacific Drive’s loop of: Repair, Prepare, Loot, Return and Repeat.

Repair happens at the garage, a safe place where you can do everything to fix up the car you just beat the hell out of, which leads right into Prepare.

Stock up on items you’ll need and make sure your car’s battery is charged and gas tank full, craft anything you may need for the trip and then select your destination on the map.

Head out into the Zone and loot as much as you want, all of it will be destroyed and replaced the next time you drive out into the Zone anyways.

All the while making sure to scan anything you’ve not yet come across for your logbook and continued research to help you stay alive.

Then high-tail it to a gateway to make it back to the garage before a storm hits the Zone and kills you in the process.

While the animations and sounds for all the tools are enjoyable, what I love most so far about the survival side of the gameplay is the race against time you’re in each time you drive further into the Zone.

Yes, you can loot as much as possible, but it’s unwise to take too long, lest you find yourself too far from a gateway to make the jump back to the garage.

There’s also all the unknown hazardous anomalies you’ll see in the Zone that’ll begin to appear in greater numbers with a coming storm.

All of it works to create a feeling that you’re narrowly escaping death each time, something that feels even better if you do it with a trunk full of supplies.

Capping off each trip out into the Zone like this made me feel more inclined for one more trip out right after, to capture that feeling again and collect more supplies to keep improving on my car.

Ghost On The Road

In only a few short hours with Pacific Drive, I now can’t get this game out of my head. The mystery of the Olympic Exclusion Zone draws me in like a moth to flame while the goblin section of my gaming brain will only be satiated once my car is tricked out will the best gear, and every piece of my car or tool is upgraded to perfection.

Speaking of upgrades, there are multiple upgrade trees for every aspect of your tools, your car, but I could only unlock the opening upgrade in the missions included in this preview.

The atmosphere and lighting set the tone for Pacific Drive from the top, and now that I’ve peaked into what the gameplay has to offer, I’m more intrigued than ever to go further down the rabbit hole.

Pacific Drive will launch on PS5 and PC on February 22, 2024.

Preview code generously provided by publisher.