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Pacific Drive

Pacific Drive

Written by Jason Dailey on 3/4/2024 for PS5  
More On: Pacific Drive

The Pacific Northwest is a place I’ve only visited in video games, first in Days Gone and now in Pacific Drive. I would like to say it seems like a lovely place, but truthfully, I’m concerned for my fellow Americans. With the proliferation of digital zombies and supernatural entities, it begs the question – is everything okay there?

Things are most certainly not okay in Pacific Drive, a survival driving adventure that is far more than simple genre descriptors. But to give you a sense of what playing it is like, it strikes me as an interesting blend of elements from Dredge and Car Mechanic Simulator. It’s eerie, it’s tactile, and it’s not quite what you expect. Early on, you are warned by one of the game’s mysterious characters that your station wagon will consume you if you let it. Indeed. Indeed, it will.

Pacific Drive takes place within the Olympic Exclusive Zone, a cordoned off scientific research area where things seem to have gone terribly wrong. Once a testbed for experimental technology, it’s now an unstable epicenter for supernatural anomalies. The story hooked me right away, and soon after, so too did my trusty station wagon. There’s a lot going on in the Zone – failed experiments, mass hallucinations, supernatural phenomena, and perhaps some other special visitors. You’re sucked into the Zone while on a seemingly routine delivery, which apparently isn’t the first time the Zone has snatched passersby.

Naturally, your aim is to find a way out of this godforsaken place, with merely a beat-up old car at your disposal. Mysterious strangers begin contacting you over the radio, offering to help get you out, though they clearly have ulterior motives. To do so, you must head for the inner reaches of the Zone, with the story becoming more twisted the further you go down the rabbit hole.

Pacific Drive is roguelike in nature, with a gameplay loop that goes something like this: repair your car, upgrade your car, head out on a run, gather resources, extract back to the garage, and then do it all over. That’s simplifying it, but if you’ve played any other roguelike, you’ll get the idea. Truthfully, I’m usually a hard pass on this type of game, but as I said, Pacific Drive is not quite what you’d expect. Despite its challenge, I couldn’t help but want to go on just “one more run”, even if I perished on the one before. Part of that is because Pacific Drive is a more narrative-focused adventure, and I wanted to know just what exactly is happening in the Zone.

The game has a lot of moving parts – literally – from driving to repairing to gathering resources. Almost everything you do requires manual input. If you don’t enjoy the tactile minutia of simulators, or even something like Death Stranding, then Pacific Drive probably isn’t for you. To open a car door, you look at it and press a button. To start the car, you look at the ignition and hold a button. To put the car in gear, you look at the shifter and hold a button. And that’s just driving the car. Working on it is similar. Need to replace a busted door? Walk over to it, hold a button to remove it, press a button to drop it, go craft a new door, take the door to the car, then hold a button to screw it on. Now repeat that for nearly every part of the vehicle.

It may sound like a lot, and it is a lot, but I absolutely loved it. Part of what makes it so good is the implementation of the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers on PlayStation 5. Quite simply, this game is one of the best use cases of Sony’s controller that I have experienced thus far. Understand that I am a simulator aficionado, but the car mechanics in Pacific Drive are exquisite. Interacting with my wagon in that minute of detail created a bond with it, like what brushing and feeding your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2 did for the relationship between you and your steed, but on steroids. I’m no Jon Bon Jovi, but I was a cowboy on a steel horse, heading deeper and deeper into the Zone, and it wanted to take me – dead or alive.

Life on the road in the Zone is treacherous, with all manner of hazards to watch out for. Saw blades rip across the ground, looking to tear your precious wagon to shreds, potholes are suspended above the road (as opposed to in it), and crash dummy mannequins appear frozen in time, dealing catastrophic damage if struck. Then there are the environmental hazards such as heavy fog or hurricane squalls – yes, hurricane squalls, in the Pacific Northwest – which is only a fraction of the anomalies present in the Zone. Almost every ride is a wild one, and the game never fails to keep you on your toes.

Speaking of being on your toes, stopping off for resources while on a run is a necessity. While the map changes each time, each location is littered with points of interest on the map that contain valuable resources to keep you and your wagon going. You have a variety of tools at your disposal to harvest these resources, including a saw and prybar, all of which require you to leave the protection of your vehicle. Cutting the door off a wrecked car will produce scrap metal, for instance, which is necessary to craft most items. There’s a ton of loot to be had, and you’ll want to grab as much as you can on a run before dashing for the exit. On foot, you can fill your backpack, which can then be transferred to the trunk of your car. Inventory management is a priority in Pacific Drive, with a grid-based inventory system akin to Resident Evil or Dredge.

Driving through the Zone is spooky on its own, but being on foot ups the ante a bit. You’ll hear strange noises in the darkness, or sometimes turn around to find things have moved while you were looking the other way, which thinking about now still gives me goosebumps. The Zone is alive, in a way, and it knows you are too. Which is to say that I never lingered too long outside my car. I grabbed the loot I wanted and sprinted back to the relative safety of my wagon.

When it’s time to go, after completing a story objective or maxing out your resource storage, that’s when the rubber really hits the road. Escaping back to your garage requires you to gather items known as anchors, which are then inserted into a device in your car to open a gateway. Making a run for the exit is when all hell breaks loose as a radioactive storm closes in on you, and the anomalies appear to actively hunt you down. It’s nerve racking, it’s tense, and it can be downright overwhelming. Outrunning the battle royale-esque ring that shrinks the map as seconds tick by will usually force you to cut corners. Whereas before you had time to maneuver around obstacles, or find an alternate route, on the way out you are quite literally running for your life, which can easily lead to costly mistakes.

Extracting is when Pacific Drive is at its best, but also its most challenging. And when it goes wrong, it often goes catastrophically wrong. While trying to extract on my second run, I drove over an anomaly that launched my car in the air, landing on a guardrail and essentially totaling it out. All I could do, or at least all I felt like doing, was sitting, and waiting for the storm to give me sweet release while that meme of Ben Affleck staring off in the distance played in my head.

While your car protects you out on runs, the garage is your only truly safe space in the Zone. As you progress, you will gain access to upgrades for both it and your car, all of which require resources to craft. There are dozens of upgrades, from expanded storage lockers to roof mounted floodlights. Each facility upgrade requires fabric and energy collected from runs, while vehicle upgrades use a variety of resources that you’ll also collect while out and about. I became obsessed with upgrading and customizing my car; The simulator style garage mechanics and the amount of customization options scratched an itch in me. As I said, the game warns you that this could happen, and that line stuck with me throughout my time with Pacific Drive. How could a game know that I would become infatuated with its main character? Let alone a main character that is an automobile.

Aside from all that is good, there are a few bumps in the road for Pacific Drive, albeit minor. Framerate on PS5 is unstable at times, certain audio sources cut in and out, and I did experience one hard crash during a run. In the same way that your station wagon can develop quirks, like a door opening when you turn the headlights on, the game too has a few bugs of its own. Though it’s nothing that can’t be sorted with a future patch.

Pacific Drive is an exhilaratingly wild ride, and that is what makes it great. Like your station wagon, it’s an exceptionally tuned mash-up of elements from other titles like Dredge and Death Stranding. The simulator-style vehicle mechanics connect you to your car in a strangely obsessive way, which is some of the most novel character building I’ve ever seen in a video game. Rather than developing a bond with a human character and their story, you’ll grow attached to a hunk of metal with four tires. It feels like an achievement in game design, the result of which is a ride that you might not want to end.

Pacific Drive is an intriguing blend of science fiction storytelling and simulator gameplay mechanics. If you typically shy away from roguelikes, this might be the one that finally nestles its way into your psyche as you tell yourself “Just one more run”.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

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