Pacific Drive review: A destination well worth the drive

I've been waiting a very long time for Pacific Drive to come out. It feels like an eternity. But now that's it's finally here I get to actually see if it lives up to what I had in my mind for it.
Pacific Drive screenshot. Courtesy Ironwood Studios.
Pacific Drive screenshot. Courtesy Ironwood Studios. /

Game: Pacific Drive
Developer: Ironwood Studios
: Kepler Interactive
Platform: PlayStation 5 (reviewed on), PC
Release Date: Feb 22, 2024

It's late, you're driving through a long quiet road that stretches through the woods. You swear you see something moving in the trees. Your body tenses up at what sort of cryptozoological nightmare might be coming after you. Then the creature emerges from the's a deer.

Did you surprise yourself with how disappointed you feel at the discovery that there wasn't some weird creature matching pace with you? Don't be, there's a game for you here.

Pacific Drive takes place in a heavily wooded area of the Pacific Northwest in the year 1998. A device that was supposed to provide the world with unlimited energy and change the game for everyone took a turn when a mysterious accident happened which, for the country the experiment took place in, essentially broke reality.

Things became so dangerous that the government evacuated the town and then built massive walls around the effected areas. Which worked until people started to realize the field was spreading slowly past the walls.

No you, a mysterious soul sent within the walls to investigate the strange events within along with the bizarre creatures inside known as remnants. Luckily for you though, one of the remnants have taken a liking to you. A remnant in the form of a beat up station wagon. So you and your mysterious wheeled buddy set off to discover what really happened and what the solution is...if there even is one.

The story is told through the age old atmospheric method of found audio logs and one way radio chats with people you'll never see. It's a constant nod to the fact that the game goes out of its way to let you know that in this world it's just you and your car.

The game almost feels like two different games so I'm going to go ahead and describe them separately.

The gameplay is a bit of a loop with you going out and exploring then teleporting back to your garage and starting over again after fixing and, possibly, upgrading your car.

The exploring part is exactly what I wanted since I saw the first trailer. They go out of their way to make this feel like a regular beat up car. You turn the key and, sometimes, you have to do it a second time to get it going. You shift out of the parking break and you drive. I love these often forgotten steps because there were so many times I'd leave the car running so I could get something real quick and book it only to get in and rev the engine while the car went no wear because I had it in park.

The development team also programmed a slew of different car behaviors in so you can feel it in the controller just like you would a real car when there's something amiss. You can tell when a tire is jacked up, or the rattle of a loose panel. If the car is having a hard time going you can feel it practically coughing to move forward.

As for the places you drive, they're brilliant. Sure, it's all mostly woods but so many different things can happen whilst in these woods. "Can Openers" will occasionally patrol the area, a being that looks sort of like Metal Sonic buzz-sawing back and forth across the street. "Left Rights" are these pretty trails of light the flit through the sky in random patterns and, if you happen to drive to close everything will temporarily go insane with your car. You might steer in the opposite direction, your wipers will start going, your radio will pick up transmissions probably shouldn't play. And, oh boy, the "Tourists".

The Tourists suck. I love them so much and they suck. Imagine test dummies posed in different ways, standing motionless in the landscape. They're ankle deep in the muck. You just turned a corner and there's about 10 of them standing in the woods. You get out to investigate a nearby house. When you come back out, there's still 10 but they're all right outside. Get to close to one and they EXPLODE. They are the awful love child of Minecraft's Creepers and Doctor Who's Weeping Angels. Awful awful things that only move when you're not looking. They won't kill you with your back turned but it is SUPER easy to turn a corner or go 180 and find one of them right in front of you suddenly. I was doing a run and found a line of about 20 of them all lined up and blocking the street and my only thought was "welp, this road is closed forever".

The other part of the game involves the time spent back at the shop. Your poor sweet remnant station wagon will take so much abuse over the course of the game and it is up to you to keep it running by doing regular repairs and upgrades to it.

At first it's just using scrap metal you gathered out in the world to make crude doors and panels to replace the body of your car, but after a few upgrades to your shop and you'll be making them stronger or with special abilities. I currently have a vehicle with a framework around it to protect it from lightning while also using special bumpers that create an EMP field outside my car that knocks off anything clinging to it. And yes, there are several things that will grab your poor sweet car.

This part of the game feels a lot like a House Flipper, Power Washer, or, obviously, a Car Mechanic Simulator game and I am absolutely here for it. I'm not picking upgrades from a menu that magically appear on my car. I'm removing an old door, breaking it into scrap, using those pieces to build a new door which I then carry over to my vehicle and install. It's a level of interaction that makes all of your choices feel more real and important.

And of course, there's also cosmetics you get over the course of the game too. Feel free to paint your beat up car hot pink or add racing stripes. Just remember that cosmetic items run out and when you replace part of your car, the new part is blank so be prepared to have a detailed vehicle with a plain grey door sometimes.

It's fun watching how these two things that feels like completely separate as well. While driving you encounter these power orbs that allow you to have the energy to warp back to base, but collecting an abundance of them, while making things a bit more dangerous, gives you more energy for back at your garage where a fabrication machine can unlock new blueprints. Through this machine you learn to build useful things like flare guns, storage racks, and flashlights and less useful things like a basketball hoop, a fish tank, and a weirdly possessed computer from the late 80's.

Now despite my love for this game I'd regret it if I didn't mention though that this game, while wonderful, is also a great bit broken.

For example, in the beginning of the game it wants you to do things linearly. I found this out the hard way. There's a bit in the beginning where you're supposed to afix a tire to the car you find and drive down the road. I didn't. I ran down the road on foot a good distance only later realizing my folly and turning around. Unfortunately, the game didn't like that and even after I fixed the car and started driving I couldn't leave the tutorial area leaving me no choice but to start the game over from the beginning.

Later I got out of my car during a massive windstorm. The air picked up the backend of my car and the front end...went in the ground. The wind let go and my car dropped with only the roof sticking out of the ground. Fortunately for this, there IS the ability to look at the road and hit L3+R3 to teleport your car but it's a massive battery drain and while I don't mind recharging my battery from the road, I hate having to do it for a fault not my own.

Ultimately though, the good far outweighs the bad and I'm left with an experience that leaves me desperate to play the game every night after my kids go to bed. It's a new type of excitement for gaming I haven't felt in years and if you're into the subtle horror of audio shows like the Left Right Game or Unwell, a Midwestern Gothic or if you like the creepier end of Neil Gaiman's work, you're going to be right at home here. And it feels really good to come home.

Pacific Drive (PS5) Score: 8.5/10

Despite a few technical hiccups, Pacific Drive is a thrilling experience that is unlike anything I've encountered. Beautifully atmospheric with a really well-done story design and more than enough mental stimuli to make your mind terrified of what it doesn't see. Pacific Drive is a game about you and a questionably reliable car, and it is a destination well worth the drive.