Pacific Drive is a Darker Take on the Road Trip Subgenre

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Introduced at Sony’s PlayStation State of Play, Pacific Drive takes players on a highly supernatural road trip across the Pacific Northwest.

Revealed at the September 2022 Sony State of PlayPacific Drive is an upcoming survival game being developed by Ironwood Studios with a planned 2023 release. Taking a darker spin on the classic road trip subgenre, supernatural and environmental hazards abound in this first-person survival driving game.

Founded in 2019, Ironwood Studios comprises a team of developers that have worked on various well-known titles such as the Call of Duty franchise, Sly CooperBioShock Infinite, and more. Pacific Drive is the Seattle based studio’s first game release, and having it announced at a widely-viewed Sony event is great exposure for the development team.

The Various Uses of the Road Trip Subgenre in Gaming

Road trips have been a tool to help drive story narratives and themes for multiple generations of games and game consoles. An early example of this is the 1995 LucasArts game Full Throttle, a third-person point-and-click adventure game. The road trip aspect was utilized as a means of transporting the main character, Ben, a leader of a motorcycle gang called the Polecats, from point A to point B. However, it also furthered the narrative of the game by having the player pursue the antagonist Adrian Ripburger (voiced by Mark Hamill) to clear the Polecats’ name after they were framed in the murder of Ripburger’s boss.

Another prominent example was 2007’s Half-Life 2: Episode Two, with large sections of the game featuring a vehicle used to transport Alyx and Gordon to the base of the Black Mesa team, White Forest. While it is a linear style game just like its predecessor, Episode Two‘s inclusion of the vehicle allowed players to feel like they had much more of a choice in deciding whether to stop and explore the vast landscape, and the sequences in the vehicle provided more emotion to the story.

A more recent game that utilized the road trip is Final Fantasy 15Noctis and his three friends ride in a shiny convertible between destinations in an immersive and grandiose landscape, all while allowing the player to witness the growing brotherhood between the characters. Various adventures from riding Chocobos together, or fishing in lakes, to camping with friends, or playing the Justice Monsters Five pinball machines together, a cross-country road trip with Noctis’ closest friends was one of the most inviting examples of the subgenre.

Pacific Drive’s Unique Twist on the Road Trip

In this new Sony gameThe Olympic Peninsula was a test site for the United States military to experiment with new utopian like technologies. Instead, a dystopia full of severe radiation, environmental collapse, and supernatural horrors were all produced, leading to the creation of the Olympic Exclusion Zone, an area shrouded in secrecy. The main character decides to explore the perimeter of the Olympic Exclusion Zone, only to find themselves trapped within it and the only way out is through. Stumbling upon a station wagon, the character uses it to get to an abandoned auto shop in the Zone, establishing it as a base of operations. This auto shop is used to upgrade and repair your station wagon in between runs investigating and surviving the Zone.

The game is described as a “road-like” with each trip from the garage unique from the previous journey. Various dangers lurk in every shadow of the forest the player is trapped in. While Pacific Drive‘s journey throughout the Olympic Exclusion Zone is typical of the genre, it is the reliance on the player’s station wagon as a companion and lifeline that brings a creative twist to the road trip subgenre. The car is one of the few things keeping the player alive while trying to unravel the mystery of the ever-evolving Zone. It will be interesting to see how Pacific Drive’s take on a less than ideal road trip and the importance of your vehicle as a means of survival in the game.

Pacific Drive is scheduled to release in 2023 on PC and PS5.

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