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Preview: Sci-fi Adventure Pacific Drive Could Be One of 2024’s Biggest Hits

Pacific Drive
Image: Ironwood Studios/Kepler Interactive

The government’s been up to something shady in Pacific Drive. It’s not that shocking: when is the government not up to something shady? But in this strange sci-fi survival adventure, it seems some experiments have gone wrong and, rather than fix the problems it’s caused, the government has simply tried to cover up its mistakes. As a result, the Olympic Exclusion Zone has been created, a fenced-off region of the Pacific Northwest.

And, by a turn of fate, you end up trapped inside the Olympic Exclusion Zone after driving too close to its boundaries. Inside, electrical currents bounce around, creating dangerous pockets. Radiation levels are high, too, so you’re going to have to watch your back and keep yourself protected. Nothing is as it seems inside the zone, and getting out isn’t going to be easy. A voice on your car’s radio, however, might just be your saviour: you’re guided towards a car garage – a place that becomes your safe base of operations. It’s from here that the core gameplay loop of Pacific Drive truly begins.

Your car is the star of Pacific Drive. It allows you to explore different areas of the Olympic Exclusion Zone, and it also acts as a protective forcefield, shielding you from the dangerous radiation that permeates the zone. Well, as long as you look after it, that is. Your time in Pacific Drive is going to be spent upgrading your car, gathering materials to make it stronger, keeping it in good repair and generally cherishing it like your best friend.

Pacific Drive
Image: Ironwood Studios/Kepler Interactive

It’s a bit of a jalopy to begin with, you see. It’s missing some panels, its tyres aren’t in the best condition and its doors need some work. But your garage provides everything you need to fix it up into a stable condition. And, over time, you’ll be able to upgrade it, making its bodywork stronger and hardier against the harsh conditions of the Olympic Exclusion Zone.

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You’ll need to head out there regularly, you see, using your car’s modified navigation system to explore different regions of the zone. You’ll find abandoned cars, old gas stations and buildings, all offering various types of resources. You’ll need scrap metal, plastics, components and other bits and pieces to keep working on your car, and getting everything means putting yourself in danger. You’re not going to find yourself pursued by enemies in Pacific Drive: rather, the environment itself is your enemy. Stepping outside of your car is necessary to scavenge, but you’ll need to do so cautiously, avoiding taking too much damage.

Pacific Drive
Image: Ironwood Studios/Kepler Interactive

Success in Pacific Drive, then, means preparing for each expedition. You’ll need to make sure your car is in tip-top condition, and having the tools to repair on the road may mean the difference between life and death. You’ll also want first aid kits, or at the very least some food items to ensure you can keep yourself in good health too. If you do die? It’s not the end of the world: you’ll just find yourself back at your garage. But you may be short of resources and your car’s going to need some serious repairs.

You’ll quickly become attached to your vehicle in Pacific Drive. It’s not simply a means to quickly get from A to B like a car might be in other games. It’s your livelihood, your whole reason for being. It’s fitting, then, that controlling your car is a little more involved that simply getting in and pushing your right trigger to accelerate. You’ll need to get into the habit of turning on the engine and switching the car from park to drive, and vice-versa when you want to stop. Forget to put the car in park and don’t be surprised if it rolls down the road once you’ve got out.

Pacific Drive
Image: Ironwood Studios/Kepler Interactive

Looking after your car is rewarding, but learning about the world of Pacific Drive is equally fascinating. Developer Ironwood Studios has crafted a truly interesting sci-fi world here, and you’ll instantly want to know more about the Olympic Exclusion Zone. Exactly what went on here? What is causing the strange phenomenon? Who are the people talking to you over the radio? It feels like story takes a back seat, honestly, but it’s drip-fed to you just enough to keep you hooked. As dangerous as it can be, it pays to explore: you’ll find recordings dotted around, and interacting with items will give you more context to them.

We’ve only scratched the surface of Pacific Drive, with the preview build giving us access to the first couple of story missions. But it’s left us seriously hungry for more. Surviving the Olympic Exclusion Zone is tough but it’s rewarding, and every new upgrade to your vehicle feels like a personal achievement. We can’t wait to find out more about what’s gone on in the game’s world, uncovering more of its dark secrets 2 and we’re sure there are going to be plenty. Unique and unlike anything else we’ve played, Pacific Drive is looking to be a strong start to 2024, and if you’re a fan of sci-fi, scavenging and adventure, this really needs to be on your radar.

Pacific Drive is set to release on 22nd February and will be available on PS5 and PC.

Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.