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A never-ending road trip with Pacific Drive

by Staff

A still from the game. (File Photo)

CHENNAI: I suppose it’s my own fault. I assumed Pacific Drive would be more narrative, like Firewatch. The kind of game where I would begin peacefully driving through the countryside. Maybe, I would then lose my way, only to eventually find myself in the centre of a gripping sci-fi mystery. All alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with nothing but the voices on the radio for company. The game would then take me through a story, tease me with a few jump scares and ultimately give me the satisfaction that ‘I’ cracked the case. The game would be over in about five hours, and I would emerge happy and calm, not to mention proud of both my intelligence and problem-solving genius. Clearly, I didn’t read any of the blurbs.

The story of Pacific Drive largely played out just as I’d assumed. For a start, I spend a lot of time in a car. I do drive in irradiated wastelands, while people talk at me through the radio. Except it’s terrifying. Honestly, it feels like living through a nightmare.

Let me break this down. Like any Roguelite game, you start at the roosting location, your home base. Here, it’s Oppy’s workshop. Oppy, who also goes by Ophelia, is your average mad scientist who has kindly granted you a place to fix your car. This is one of the only safe locations inside the Olympic Exclusion Zone — an area cordoned off because of strange, supernatural activity. But you can’t stay here forever. You need to leave the wasteland. To do this, you need to gather resources, which requires frequent excursions into the depths of the OEZ.

Three hours and eleven excursions in, a sort of tense hopelessness starts to engulf my very soul. I hop into a shed pulsing with radiation. I watch my health bar slowly decrease and my vision get dimmer. The digital sensors I wear beep loudly. The HUD flashes an alert. And yet I keep going, knowing full well that if I don’t find the essential resources I need, my car will break down. And then how would I ever get home?

“As Sisyphus did”, the zone seems to say, “So must you. Drive your car into me. Collect from my earth the little scraps of your known universe. Crash your car while making your way home. To your little hidey hole. But that’s ok. The scraps will help you fix yourself up.” What then? The zone seems to reply, “You come right back in. Gather more little scraps. Go a little further, maybe. This time it will be a bit more dangerous. But you’ll fix yourself up again! With the little scraps!”

Over time, the zone does get worse. Radiation levels go up. Wide spheres of thrumming electricity turn your car into a moving lightning rod. The faceless chatter over the radio gives you increasingly sinister and horrifying facts about the zone. And above that, I begin to worry about the risk of soul bonding with my car, because life without it might be impossible. The whole experience is so terrifying that if there is an ending to the game, if at some point we do leave the zone, I will never ever be able to get there. It’s all just too stressful.

Apart from the confusingly laden menu and inventory system, Pacific Drive is great — if you can handle the anxiety that comes with playing it. You must play this game if you: a) Have always dreamed of playing a hardcore mechanic simulator game but with post-apocalyptic trappings. b) Love survival horror games and think all Resident Evil was missing was more cars in it. c) Love cars so much it’s beginning to worry the people around you.

The game is currently available for the PlayStation and the PC.

Anusha Ganapathi

@quofles

(This economics graduate spends her leisure time preparing for the zombie apocalypse)

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