Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC and PlayStation 5
Release date: February 22, 2024
Driving through the wilds of the Olympic Exclusion Zone in Ironwood Studios’ newest survival game, Pacific Drive, can be a peaceful and beautiful experience. But when it rains, it pours, and the once tranquil pine forests can quickly shift to a chaotic hellscape.
Being aware of everything that poses a threat to you and your vehicle can be overwhelming at first; there are Angry Abductors. They can fly up to you, hook onto your car, and lead you astray. There are also Bolt Bunnies, small balls of scrap and flowing electricity that hop around and can latch onto and damage your car.
Thanks to these threats, you'll want to make sure you open a gateway - a rift that'll lead you out of the Exclusion Zone to the safety of Oppy’s Garage, your base of operations.
There’s a radius when it comes to gateway exits, meaning you can’t open one when you’re already right next to one of these points. However, if you’re smart, you’ll place yourself right at the edge of said radius to give yourself the best chance to make it to the exit. Or, you can do what I did, which is panic when an Angry Abductor drags you off into the woods, scream a bit, and then open a gateway when you're on the other side of the map; the choice is yours.
There are no take-backsies in Pacific Drive when it comes to opening a gateway, as, once activated, it will bring forth an instability that will slowly close in a radius around the gateway, destroying everything that's caught up in it (similar to the Storm in Fortnite). This feature meant that I wasn’t just racing against the anomalies that were trying to obstruct me, but I was also racing a killer atmosphere that moved way faster than me.
Using the standard engine, only capable of a maximum of 45mph (miles per hour), with some Summer tires, which have never graced a dirt road, much less the side of a cliff, I drove in a straight line over rocks and through woods, screaming “zero to 60!” as I slowly deforested half the map, all while trying my best to escape the oncoming wave of instability and destruction.
Against all the odds, I made it to the gateway and back to the safety of Oppy’s Garage with two doors, three flat tires, and a lesson well learned. All that was left now was to fix up my station wagon and head back into the zone, whether that be to explore the mysterious Mid-Zone location or simply collect more parts and scrap to help fix up my car.
A bit of a fixer-upper
Generally, I’ve never understood the appeal of cars. I get the premise of how getting from A to B quickly is helpful, but people obsessing over fixing up old cars or religiously switching out components always felt alien to me. However, thanks to the crafting and upgrading systems in Pacific Drive, I finally get it - I’m now a car person, which may mean I have to finally start watching Top Gear.
Initially, I went into Pacific Drive looking forward to the thrilling action sequences, beautiful landscapes of golden fields of wheat and mountainous pine forests, and intriguing stories. To me, the car seemed incidental - a mere way of getting to those vistas, stories, and action setpieces. However, to my surprise, I spent a significant chunk of time sitting in Oppy’s Garage, changing out car parts, building new additions for the station wagon, and fixing issues with the car at the Tinker Station, a workshop found in the garage.
As a resident of the Olympic Exclusion Zone and researcher of all things anomalous, Oppy gives you one of her many garages to use as a home base. Here, you have everything you possibly need to make your time in the Zone easier.
Completing my first clean run in The Olympic Exclusion Zone with no close calls. Coming out with a tank full of gas and a ton of supplies made me feel like a real professional.
There’s the trusty workbench, which allows you to craft various car parts like doors, lights, health kits for yourself, additional storage, and much more. You also have access to the highly coveted Fabrication Station, which players can use to unlock upgrades to their car like offroad tires, lead-lined or steel doors and panels, and side or roof racks for even more storage. In order to unlock these upgrades, you’ll just need resources found in the Zone and some information on the strange anomalies that traverse it. You can do this by walking up to said anomalies and scanning them; just try to keep a safe distance.
One of my favorite tools is the Tinker Station. At first, I didn’t pay this much attention; however, after losing three doors to the Zone, I found myself having to give the station a try since, every time I shifted my vehicle into park, it would open the front right door. I decided to try and come up with a fix.
Once accessed, the Tinker Station will show you a diagnosis screen, allowing you to enter any problem in the form of what you are doing and what the causes are. For example, if you were in my shoes, you might declare that putting your gearshift in park causes the front right door to open. If you manage to put in the correct diagnosis, then the Tinker Station will provide you with a fix. Usually, you need a mechanics kit in your inventory to complete said repair, but if you don’t have one, you can always craft it at the workbench.
The Tinker Station is tremendous and added a puzzling twist to making repairs on my car. I subsequently used it to fix my horn honking every time I shut the trunk of my car, a problem that was slowly driving me off the deep end during my expeditions in the Zone.
The gift that keeps on driven
Pacific Drive has an impressive range of accessibility features. There are various motion sensitivity options, such as reducing flickering visuals or an in-car assistive camera, as well as three color deficiency modes (Deuteranope, Protanope, Tritanope) and a brighter nights option, which makes a world of difference when driving through the nighttime. There’s plenty of flexibility and customization here, so the game can easily be tailored to specific needs and preferences.
Pacific Drive can really be what you want it to be. There are options to turn off damage, the need to refill fuel, and the penalty of losing most items in your storage if you die while traveling through the Zone. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how you’re meant to experience this survival game, making it accessible to a wide range of players. Whether you want an unforgiving experience that punishes you for pushing your station wagon too far, or if you just want to have a fun time exploring the zone and upgrading your car, you’ll find plenty of mileage here.
These options can go a long way to offsetting the at-times overwhelming experience of surviving in the Zone. If all the lightning strikes, thick fog, or relentless damage gets too much, you can easily switch up the experience without taking away from the gripping struggles of finding enough resources or the thrilling nature of navigating the strange anomalies.
Pacific Drive is easily one of the best survival games out there now; with so much to love, explore, and probably die from, there’s never a dull moment and always something to discover.