Since its founding in 2019, Ironwood Studios has generated curiosity and further anticipation for its debut title Pacific Drive, a first-person driving survival game. One of its key inspirations is the team’s love for adventurous road trips, where each highway-bound ride fosters a unique experience for its passengers. Thus, Ironwood Studios cleverly utilizes rogue-lite concepts to capture that unpredictable road trip experience for the player. Each drive out into the unknown alters slightly. Locations move and your car behaves differently each time, such as the hood inconveniently popping open.
While it’s undoubtedly beautiful, this reimagined Pacific Northwest landscape carries a quiet eerieness that ties to a former government operation. The details were never disclosed to the public. Gradually unearth its mysteries and secrets by braving the Olympic Exclusion Zone with your trusted station wagon and survive. With your vehicle acting as your literal ride-or-die companion, players will quickly learn how much you’ll need each other.
As a means of survival, players engage in a gameplay loop that involves scavenging resources to craft new equipment. Resources prove substantial to how players manage in the game’s unpredictable storms, radioactive fields, and other peculiar anomalies. Essential tools like the Scrapper dismantle objects for resources, such as scrap metal that is a component for a new car panel. On the road, you and your car take damage from the environment or weather conditions.
This means crashing into a tree because your wheels skid on the terrain degrades that car part on impact. The more damage your vehicle takes, the less shelter it can provide. While this is punishing, repairing damage or maintenance can be done out on a ride or back at the workshop, if you have the resources.
Players always loop back to an abandoned workshop. It’s home base: where players craft equipment for the base, conduct car maintenance, and procure essential tools needed for the next ride. Exiting a zone requires a specific energy source to unlock a gate, prompting your return to the workshop. Extracting this source, however, triggers an environmental disturbance that causes more hostile events.
Monoliths sprouting from the pavement or an illuminated, splitting earth launching you and your car make for a challenging ride. Ride fast and hard to escape safely with any resources scavenged. Should players fail to exit safely, they will return to the workshop regardless, but at the cost of losing all materials and most likely a very battered vehicle.
Whether it’s an objective point that will progress the storyline or a random pitstop to salvage parts, players will find themselves wanting to make sure their car is in prime condition for every journey ahead. For one of my runs, I quickly learned the importance of having a Light Replacement Kit for a busted headlight as the night approached.
Too dark to drive safely and survey nearby areas, I chose to sit in the dark until daybreak came—alone, with just my vehicle. Every salvage mission becomes a narrative that you and your vehicle endure together. It is a visceral connection formed between the player and the vehicle that begins to feel personal. The feeling caught me off guard as I sat in complete darkness, the radio keeping me company and the car sheltering me from the rain.
Pacific Drive is more than just a need for routine maintenance. Your vehicle is a companion that will champion you through the mystery humming beneath the hood as you explore the Olympic Exclusion Zone. It’s scavenging and crafting done in an immersive and relatable way in the pursuit of both survival and connection.
Pacific Drive is available on February 22, 2024 on PlayStation 5, Steam, and Epic Game Store.