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Some thoughts on Gravel from Milestone, the 'ultimate off-road experience' tested

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The second racer from Milestone officially arrived on Linux recently with Gravel, shortly after MXGP3. Both ports from Virtual Programming so let's take a look.

First impressions are everything and frankly I was disappointed very quickly with it. Much like the Linux port of MXGP3, even the intro videos stuttered. The cutscenes stutter and even the menus stutter to the point that they don't always pickup your input. Honestly, it feels like you're fighting all the in-game menus for control constantly and that's terrible.

Now, if the actual racing was good, I would be willing to look past that. There's a but coming…but the racing experience isn't much better. The first time you race on a track, it stutters. Even when going through the same track, for a third time there was some noticeable stutter. The first time was truly awful though, to the point of the car being uncontrollable at times due to the stuttering.

Oddly, it didn't seem to detect the Steam Controller until I ran it through Steam Big Picture once. After that, it was fine without it but it seems to need this each time I load it fresh. I also tried out my Logitech G29 Wheel and Pedals, which according to the official list is supported but it didn't work at all in the Linux version which is a big disappointment.

I would have done a comparison with it on Steam Play, but in this case Steam Play gives a "Fatal error" and doesn't run with it.

Here's a quick look at one track in the Linux version on the "High" preset (it can go quite a lot higher), you will notice the stutter a few times. Tested on Ubuntu 18.10 64bit, Intel i7 5960x, NVIDIA 980ti. Keep in mind, this was a third-run of this track:

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For comparison and to really show you what I've been talking about with the performance, below is a video on how bad it is when you go through a track for the first time.

Notice the second jump at about 44 seconds in the race time, it almost looks like a slide-show as it drops hard down to around 24FPS. That's simply not an acceptable level of performance, especially for a racing game where you're battling to control your car.

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I get that game development and porting can be a complicated thing, a lot of games need to build up some sort of cache to make them faster to load and run smoother. Still, if you're bringing out a game where smooth performance is essential and you're forced to run through tracks entirely first before getting a reasonable experience it's just not a fun time.

While those performance issues are quite profound, it has other problems too. The price without a sale is £29.99 and it has DLC (which shows up in-game with lock icons) to unlock more. So if you want the full experience, you're looking at around £53.64 which is pretty ridiculous and makes it quite a bit more expensive than comparable (and much better) racers.

The ultimate off-road experience? Not even close. It's an arcade-style racing game, with performance that's really not good. I'm especially sad about this because I can see the promise in it, if it performed better it might actually be quite fun.

You can find Gravel on Humble Store and Steam.

With thanks to Enverex for my copy, as Milestone did not reply to me.

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16 comments
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hardpenguin 24 January 2019 at 12:37 pm UTC
A racing game on Linux is still a rare species so I am definitely interested in it.
gojul 24 January 2019 at 12:48 pm UTC
Given the poor reviews on Windows I'm not even surprised...
Avehicle7887 24 January 2019 at 12:51 pm UTC
I wonder how does this compare With DXVK (If it runs).

More Linux games is a good thing but if it performs poorly, chances are it will not be very worth it to the devs.

VP needs to up their tech and move to Vulkan.
dubigrasu 24 January 2019 at 1:47 pm UTC
What ever happened with VP lately? They used to do great ports.
Edit: Actually, now after reading some (Windows) users reports on Steam, looks like the game itself is a bit bugged by freezes and stutter. So can't be sure where is the line between a bad port or just an un-optimized game to begin with.


Last edited by dubigrasu at 24 January 2019 at 1:58 pm UTC
dpanter 24 January 2019 at 2:22 pm UTC
It does look okayish, could maybe pass as a fun arcade racer? I see plenty Steam reviews sort of agreeing there. Still, it would have to be a really good deal before I'd consider purchasing.

Also would really like to see a test run with Proton, if that's possible. I'm not buying another questionable port from these guys...

Fun detail. Minimum req RAM on Steam: Win 8GB - Linux 4GB.
psycho_driver 24 January 2019 at 2:43 pm UTC
Hmm. I purchased it and played for a little bit and I didn't run into any kind of stuttering/performance issue until the Alaska map, which was just consistently down in the mid 20s framerate-wise. The movies and menus were definitely smooth. My PC is lower spec than yours by a fair bit as well (i7-2600 w/ 3gb gtx 1060). I actually do like the gameplay. The controls feel a lot better to me than the codemaster titles.

I'll fire it up on my wife's PC tonight and see what happens. She's running a different distro (Deepin vs. Gentoo) but with nearly identical hardware.
mirv 24 January 2019 at 2:57 pm UTC
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dubigrasuWhat ever happened with VP lately? They used to do great ports.
Edit: Actually, now after reading some (Windows) users reports on Steam, looks like the game itself is a bit bugged by freezes and stutter. So can't be sure where is the line between a bad port or just an un-optimized game to begin with.

Unfortunately, this is something that should be considered more: bad port, or bad game to begin with? Many GNU/Linux users will probably automatically assume it's the fault of the port, but the Windows version can be itself something cobbled together from a console version, or otherwise just really badly done.

I'm not saying one way or another in this case, just that both cases are worth considering.
That there can be problems to the customer doesn't get to be excused of course, but at least the, uh, feedback can be better informed.
liamdawe 24 January 2019 at 3:01 pm UTC
I've seen numerous gamers on Windows mentioning stutter too, so I don't think it's specifically to do with the port. The game just doesn't perform well for quite a number of people.
YoRHa-2B 24 January 2019 at 4:30 pm UTC
Then again, not getting anywhere near 60 FPS on your kind of hardware isn't exactly excusable either.

Let's hope that VP gets to port a decent game for a change, soon, and do a better job than they apparently did with MXGP3 and this.
liamdawe 24 January 2019 at 5:18 pm UTC
YoRHa-2BThen again, not getting anywhere near 60 FPS on your kind of hardware isn't exactly excusable either.

Let's hope that VP gets to port a decent game for a change, soon, and do a better job than they apparently did with MXGP3 and this.
Agreed and I was only on the "High" preset, graphically it's not even that pretty a game or doing a whole lot so yeah, i did expect at least 60+ and smooth.

Feral's racer ports on the other hand are lush and very smooth.
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