Pacific Drive Offers A Spooky Twist On The Roguelite Genre, And Takes Place Mostly In Your Car

Pacific Drive Offers A Spooky Twist On The Roguelite Genre, And Takes Place Mostly In Your Car

Pacific Drive first caught my attention in 2022 during September’s PlayStation State of Play presentation thanks to its intriguing concept. The debut title of Ironwood Studios, Pacific Drive is a run-based, first-person survival game in which you explore an anomaly-filled reimagining of the Pacific Northwest (called the Olympic Exclusion Zone) from behind the wheel of a car you discovered in a rundown garage. I attended a preview event for the game where I got to see a scripted build of Pacific Drive and toss out questions to Ironwood Studios founder and creative director Alex Dracott and lead gameplay designer Seth Rosen. Based on my time spent with the game, Pacific Drive looks like an enjoyably tense game to play.

In Pacific Drive, you find yourself trapped on the wrong side of the Olympic Exclusion Zone, a place beholden to a strange supernatural weather phenomenon and filled with government secrets, bizarre geography, and terrifying monsters. Stumbling upon an abandoned garage, you make it your home base and plot your escape. Your only way of navigating the Zone is via the station wagon you find in the garage. As you venture out into the Zone, you’ll find that the environmental hazards and enemies shift and change with each run, meaning you’ll have to adapt on the fly even if you explore a part of the Zone you’ve already visited. As you explore, you can find resources to repair the damage done to your car as well as scrap that can be taken back to the garage to permanently upgrade your home base and unlock new add-ons for your vehicle.

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Now Playing: Pacific Drive – State of Play Sep 2022 Reveal Trailer

The Zone possesses some form of intellect and will do its best to push you out upon noticing your presence. This makes revisiting areas of the Zone you’ve just traveled to incredibly dangerous, encouraging you to constantly branch out and slowly explore in a wide net of directions instead of pushing straight for your goal on a single road. And when you want to return to the garage, the signal you put out to mark your path back alerts the Zone. To stop you, the Zone will create a dangerous storm of glowing red energy that slowly encloses around you–much like the ring in a battle royale. You can’t die in the Zone, but if you or your car take enough damage, the car’s emergency protocol activates and teleports the two of you back to the garage, a process that burns through most of the resources you recovered on that particular run.

To the surprise of likely no one, my narrative-loving butt immediately jumped at asking about Pacific Drive’s story. My favorite roguelike and roguelite games are the ones that use the looping but random nature of the gameplay to inform both story progression and world design–like Hades, Returnal, and Inscryption–and Pacific Drive sounds like it could fall into that camp. Alas, the team is being vague on story progression for now.

“We’re not quite ready to talk details about the story,” Dracott told GameSpot. “But it eventually becomes an option that you can pursue via the route-planning map. As the game progresses there’ll be certain things that you can go and tackle to help further that narrative along.”

“And you will meet other characters in the game–it’s not a completely solitary experience,” Rosen added. “You may not meet them face to face, but there are some people offscreen helping you out and helping you to figure out how to escape the Zone, which is your main goal. And then, when we first get back to the garage, there is also a found narrative. There will be some notes and audio logs and things along those lines that give you a little bit of the general history of the Zone, though not as connected to the main story of you making your way back out.”

This is a spooky-looking game.

But it’s not the other characters that you’ll forge the strongest relationship with, it’s the car you’re driving. For your car to protect you from the dangers of the Zone, you’ll have to protect it, and that means more than keeping an eye on that gas gauge. Each tire can be ripped up, forcing you to perform a change in the field or ride around on a busted wheel. The individual panels of the car all have their own health pools, too, which you can track from a panel attached to the dashboard. In fact, you experience most of the world from inside your car, becoming intimate with its various parts and systems.

“We really wanted players to develop a relationship with their car and have it develop into a symbiotic relationship where you’re taking care of it and it’s taking care of you,” Rosen said during the demo. “And that’s both in terms of keeping it running and making sure you have the resources to keep it repaired, but it’s also in terms of where the information appears in the world and the fact that you don’t have an easy way to check on your car without actually going up to it and physically being next to it.”

Pacific Drive can only be played in first-person, meaning you have to use your side-view and rear-view mirrors to see what’s around you while driving and fully turn your head and stop watching the road to look at your map. Without playing myself, I couldn’t tell how seamless it feels to play, but it stressed me out a bit just watching the gameplay–the necessary steps to start your car, drive it, and park it look as involved as driving a car in real life. Driving a car is already pressing enough without worrying about robotic-looking enemies trying to rip off pieces of your car or swerving through a dense forest as the earth erupts around you.

Frankly, it looks like there’s almost too much to keep track of–perhaps even to a frustrating degree. When I asked about it, Rosen said that approachability and accessibility are both important to the team. “I don’t want to promise any particular features here, but it’s something that we’re spending a lot of time on and trying to make sure that we have lots of really flexible options available to the players and the options menu,” he said. “As an example, if you don’t want to have to ever deal with fueling your car, there will be an infinite fuel option–that’s one [option] I think we can commit to. There are some aspects of the driving experience that aren’t quite as easy to sand the edges down and make them a little bit more accessible. But we’re going to do our best to allow people to have as challenging or as low-key and narrative-focused an experience as they want.”

If you take care of your car, it will take care of you.

Of course, no game with a car in it is complete without a working radio. If I can’t listen to some tunes while cruising through your world, then what’s the point? Ironwood Studios wasn’t able to give me specific examples of what kind of music you’ll be able to listen to in Pacific Drive, but they assured me that your radio will play music.

“If you’ve heard the music in the first trailer, you’re starting to get a bit of an idea,” Dracott told GameSpot. “We have some more ’70s-era rock, we’ve got a bit of indie folk music. It kind of fits the tone and the vibe of the game itself. This is kind of a tangent, and I apologize, but when we started working on the game there was a very, very specific mood and tone that I was hoping to nail pretty consistently. But with that growth of letting players go on these adventures and experiencing what they end up experiencing with their car and forming those memories, we ended up loosening up a little bit on which genres we were including with the game.”

He continued: “It still feels air appropriate, it still feels like the kind of music that you would expect to listen to on a bit of a road trip in an old station wagon, but it’s certainly a bit more open than I initially thought it would be. Because we just don’t know what’s going down to the player. They may be turning into a radio and a song may sound amazing during the storm but for some players, they may also want that song while they’re working on their car in the garage. And music is one of those things that you can actually find individual tracks when you’re out in the Zone and then bring them back if you manage to get out successfully and then you can cue that up. And so if you happen to find the one song that you really like, you can absolutely keep playing that song.”

We don’t have a firm idea of how much longer we’ll have to wait to play Pacific Drive in full, but I’d say this is one to look out for. A first-person driving game is an interesting direction to take for the roguelite genre and Ironwood Studios seems to have used that setup to create something that looks delightfully tense. Set to release for PS5 and PC, Pacific Drive is scheduled to launch in 2023.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors.
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