- The Olympic Exclusion Zone is a dangerous area with reality-warping phenomena, but staying outside the walls is safe.
- Pacific Drive is a survival adventure game that combines first-person exploration and driving in a beautifully rendered Pacific Northwest setting.
- Scavenging for resources, maintaining the car, and navigating through hazardous zones are key elements of the game.
Sometimes things just break, whether that be a smaller item like a bottle or a bigger one like a car. The break may only be to a small part of the overall structure, but it’s more than enough to take the whole thing with it, and whether it can be fixed or not depends on the level of specialized knowledge available. A good mechanic can fix up a car easily enough, but what happens when it’s the whole of reality thrown out of whack in an area hundreds of miles across?
Back in the 1950s ARDA, the Advanced Resonance Development Agency, was conducting research on exciting new technologies when things went a little sideways, and while not all of the anomalies weren’t instantly fatal they were certainly harmful. The unearthly effects slowly expanded, giving ARDA’s researchers plenty to investigate while the residents were squeezed out of their homes in an ever-growing circle that became known as the Olympic Exclusion Zone. Eventually it became too dangerous for even ARDA to work there, and in the mid-80s the entire area was closed off with a 300-meter-high wall. In the years since, the Olympic Exclusion Zone has been left mostly untouched by human hands, with nature starting to reclaim the towns and roads while energy and gravitational weirdness plus the occasional radiation storm devastates anyone unlucky enough to be caught up in it. Fortunately the instability is constricted within the walls, and if people keep their distance, it’s perfectly safe. There’s no way a delivery driver could be caught up in an anomaly on one side of the wall and wake up on the other and therefore Pacific Drive can’t possibly exist and there’s no game to preview.
And if that was true the poor nameless driver would be feeling a lot safer right now, but as it turns out a huge wall isn’t all that effective against weird, reality-warping phenomena. They’re trapped inside the Zone now, and while their car was destroyed, another one was waiting just a bit down the path. The old station wagon is a total beater, missing a tire and in incredibly poor shape, but the engine still turns over and it beats walking. A spare tire leaning against the wall fixes the the major problem, and siphoning gas from a nearby wreck gives it enough juice to put a few more miles on the odometer. Just as importantly, the radio picks up friendly voices, so there’s guidance on where to go. A garage found in a stable area down the road has everything a lost, nameless, voiceless protagonist would need to turn the station wagon into beast capable of surviving the journey.
Pacific Drive is a survival adventure game that’s a combination of first-person exploration and driving. Starting from the safety of home base, where you can fix up and customize the station wagon, the story directs you to different zones but doesn’t force the matter if a little exploration seems like a better idea at the moment. It’s not open-world but close, with each zone being its own large, self-contained area marked with points of interest. There are houses and research stations to loot, energy storms rolling through, a network of roads connecting everything, and either exits to the next zone or a spot on the map that can be activated for escape, assuming you’ve got the energy cores to activate it and can survive the race as the zone blows up around you.
Most of the exploration will be done behind the wheel of the car, with you sitting in the driver’s seat the whole time. Unlike a lot of driving games, the player character doesn’t change from being a person to a car once they enter the vehicle, but rather keeps you locked in first-person mode the entire time. Starting the car involves looking at the key and activating it, holding the button for a second while the car starts, then looking at the shifter and hitting the button again to move from Park to Drive. When stopping you’ll reverse the process, or at least put it in Park so the car doesn’t start rolling when you get out to explore. Tending to the station wagon’s needs is a big part of the adventure, and you’ll be keeping track of gas, battery charge and damage to the various doors, panels, bumpers and lights. The dashboard takes care of the bulk of the data, same as any other car on the planet, while a couple of screens off to the side monitors the car’s health and shows the area map. It sounds like a lot to keep track of, but a quick glance tells you everything you need to know.
A lot of the time, though, you’ll be ignoring the warnings and hoping the car can hold on until the next safe spot. While Pacific Drive isn’t fast-paced, with most of its actions designed to take a second and make you slow down to a more deliberate pace, that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous out there. Electric arcs, rising and falling pillars, zones of floating rocks, and plenty more are all waiting to do terrible damage to both you and the car, and while death just means returning to base, it’s without any of the loot scavenged along the way. Like most survival games, a large part is scavenging anything not nailed down, from bits of metal to plastic and chemicals, electronic parts, and a host of other bits and pieces. Back at home base these are used to craft new items or repair and improve the car for its next run, while the energy anchors found on the map supply the power to research new tech. The trick, of course, is to not get too greedy and be focused, but those rare parts aren’t going to scavenge themselves.
All this running and driving around is done in a beautifully idealized representation of the Pacific northwest, with misty pine forests hiding shacks nestled aside dirt roads, steel-girder bridges running over streams and ravines, railroad lines cutting across the landscape, and a huge number of other touches to bring the world to life. Granted, it tends to be overrun with spots of corruption or weird statues that change when you’re not looking at them, and the environments are only home to the desolate, abandoned ruins of a broken land, but it’s a scenic place to explore. Pacific Drive is a strange journey through a hostile, unsettling landscape, where your best ally is a hunk of machinery that’s clearly got another set of mysteries hiding in its gears, but with some advice from outside the wall and a whole lot of driving, the pair might be able to figure out what’s happened and maybe even use it to escape.