Cars are inanimate objects, but if you drive one, you've undoubtedly formed a relationship with it. Perhaps you've named your vehicle after the way it looks; maybe you'd be more concerned if it didn't have that indiscernible rattle; it could be falling to pieces, but you've never known a more dependable companion. Cars feel as though they have a soul, and Pacific Drive knows it. This survival game's special sauce is in perfectly capturing the bond between car and driver.

The game takes place in North America's Olympic Peninsula in 1998, decades after the government established the Olympic Exclusion Zone. Walled off from the world, it was once home to breakthrough science, but experiments spiralled out of control, filling the entire region with radiation and other, much stranger, threats. It's this ever-changing, uninhabitable place in which you find yourself, and the only thing around you that can provide a modicum of protection is a mysterious old station wagon.

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Handily, within a pocket of stability is a garage, once belonging to Oppy, a brilliant but jaded scientist begrudgingly helping you over the radio. It's here where you're able to fix up the car, craft upgrades, and plot your next excursion into the zone. This is the game's core loop; with a splash of roguelike randomness, you go out on drives through a series of junctions, warp back to the safety of the garage, and use your gathered resources to improve the car and explore further next time.

It works very well indeed. Maintaining and improving the vehicle in particular provides a great sense of progression. Every door, panel, wheel, and even the engine can be replaced, or superseded by something better, but that may not always be possible. Depending on what resources you were able to bring back with you, repairing existing parts may have to suffice. The game settles into a knife-edge balance — you probably won't have enough materials for everything, so you'll have to simply make do with what's available. Fortunately, a friendly dumpster will offer you some helpful supplies in a pinch, and the garage always has a wrecked car you can chop up for some basic resources.

When you're ready, you'll use a map of the randomly generated zone to plot a course. Out on a drive, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times — not only to look out for buildings containing precious materials, but also to spot anomalies that'll hinder, and potentially jeopardise, your journey. Anomalies come in various forms. Tourists are creepy mannequins that sometimes move when you're not looking, and explode when you touch them. The Can Opener is a buzzsaw that cuts through the ground and can wreck your car's tyres. If an Abductor spots your wagon, it'll latch onto it and drag it all over the place, steering you into rocks or other anomalies. The zone has a thick, eerie atmosphere, and its unpredictability lends it a real sense of danger as you seek out supplies.

Things only get more treacherous as you probe deeper into the zone, but of course, steadily unlocked upgrades mean you'll just about be equipped to handle it. Wherever you end up, your ticket back to safety is finding Anchors. These contain the energy required to summon a portal back to the garage, but doing so also calls in a raging storm you'll need to outpace as you dash for the exit. It behooves you to grab more Anchors than you need, because it's this energy that's vital for unlocking essential upgrades. Expanded storage, better vehicle parts, new survival tools, car expansions onto which you can bolt yet more equipment — there are lots of ways to make your life easier. However, you'll need certain materials, Anchor energy, and possibly to have scanned particular anomalies before you can have them.

In fact, the game's granular nature sometimes stalls the fun. On one hand, turning the car piece by piece from a ramshackle rambler to a Mad Max-looking monster, and gradually unlocking valuable upgrades is a deeply gratifying process. On the other hand, scanning every anomaly and object you find, being unsure where to find certain resources, and navigating lots of very dense menus isn't. Pacific Drive is a complex and layered survival game that can take dozens of hours to play — not inherently a bad thing, especially with a story offering some intriguing context that'll keep you going. However, with its ambitious detail and systems, it can occasionally get in its own way.

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The UI in general is quite complicated (and full of tiny text). On PS5 using a pad, getting through the menus and inventories is one thing, but even just highlighting one item presents you with numerous interactions. For example, looking at the driver door, you can press R1 to get in the driver seat; hold R1 to simply open or shut the door; hold Triangle to remove the door from the car (and hold R2 to install it); press L1 to get a rundown of its condition; and hold the touchpad to see a logbook entry. Basically everything has these fiddly controls to some degree, and it takes some getting used to. Even driving the car, you need to turn the ignition key, then put the shifter in drive before setting off, and with these actions being so close together, you'll likely fumble this process. It all helps with immersion, and all the diegetic UI when you're behind the wheel is great, but broadly, the controls can feel cumbersome.

The only other thing going against Pacific Drive is its technical performance. We rather like the game's stylised, softly textured look, but on PS5 the frame rate struggles. At times it hits what feels like 60 frames-per-second, but more often than not it's noticeably below that. There are also load screens as you move between locations; while not too long, they're conspicuous on a system known for speedy loading. It's far from unplayable, but not the smoothest ride either.

Despite its flaws, though, the game — much like the car — will grow on you. As you become accustomed to its quirks and intricacies, what you're left with is a tough but engrossing survival action title packed with personality. Cobbling together a vehicle that'll more or less hold together as you delve into a deadly environment proves to be a highly compelling hook, and you'll come away from the experience feeling like you and that bodged-together station wagon can overcome anything.


Pacific Drive is an ambitious and rewarding debut from Ironwood Studios. It's an unusual combination of factors that all coalesce; roguelike exploration, deep and challenging survival mechanics, an interesting narrative to follow, and a central vehicle that brings everything together. Fiddly controls and complex UI mean it's not free from annoyances, but the pleasure found in incrementally upgrading the car and throwing it into the unknown trumps the setbacks. It might be an arduous journey at times, but it's definitely worth the trip.