PAX East 2023: Pacific Drive Preview

Published: March 29, 2023 12:00 PM /


pacific drive car sitting looking at spooky view

I don’t know about you, but I’ve played a wide variety of survival games. From surviving in the deep arctic to the burning desert, I’ve faced horrific creatures both real and imaginary and faced off against enemies using the strangest of makeshift supplies and weapons. I have not, however, played a survival game where the aim was to keep your car in good health, rather than yourself. At least, I hadn’t, until I tried out the Pacific Drive preview demo from Ironwood Studios at PAX East.

Taking place in the fictional Olympic Exclusion Zone of the Pacific Northwest (hence the name), based on the very real Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Drive sees the protagonist flung into a bizarre, alternate-universe version of the world, one where giant sawblades come shooting out of the ground, random localized lightning storms can kill you, and where you are the only survivor. Accompanied by your trusted and dilapidated “woody” style car, you attempt to survive and unravel the mysteries of the Olympic Exclusion Zone and hopefully get free from it. Of course, surviving is even harder than it looks.


Instead of making sure your protagonist stays in fighting shape, Pacific Drive requires you to maintain your car instead. It’s your only mode of transport through the zone, offers some protection from the atmospheric anomalies, and basically, if it croaks, you’re screwed. Luckily, even during my short time playing the demo, I could see there were plenty of other dilapidated cars and scrap metal that you can turn into parts and use to craft and repair your car to keep going, albeit in a situation vaguely reminiscent of Wall-e.

pacific drive view of inside of car and controls and lightning anomaly

As a run-based survival adventure, every time you die (only once, thank you very much) you get booted back up but lose some of your items and supplies to the mysterious void. Normally, I’m not a fan of this type of gameplay, as I find it harder to gather information and advance the story with the constant risk. However, you gain the advantage in Pacific Drive by knowing what anomalies you’ll have to face, knowing if your particular strategy did or didn’t work out for surviving them, and by having a better idea of the area that you’re in and what your goals are to accomplish.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of driving games. I’m terrible at steering virtual cars, and automotives are just not a personal interest of mine in particular. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I found myself really enjoying Pacific Drive despite my reservations. Your car is more like a tool and a mobile base of operations than just a transport vehicle, and there wasn’t any really fancy driving required to avoid anomalies. The involved car mechanics were also a lot of fun.


While I definitely enjoyed the little Tardigrade bobblehead with a hat on the dashboard, it was more fun to have to physically do the things to get the car to move. Instead of pressing X, for example, you have to actually turn the key to start the car and highlight the parking brake or windshield wipers to use them. It’s more manual than automatic, though thankfully not a stick shift, which made the interactivity much more enjoyable.

Even from just a quick PAX demo, it’s obvious that Pacific Drive brings a fresh perspective to the survival genre, placing you behind the wheel for your adventure. The creepy setting, weird anomalies, and intriguing premise are the details on a great body, and I can’t wait to head back to the Pacific Northwest when Pacific Drive releases sometime in 2023.

Pacific Drive was previewed on an early build at PAX East 2023.


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