There’s a long history behind the GRID series, stretching all the way back to its roots in TOCA Touring Car Championship from 1997, and this would actually be the 10th entry in that series… so there’s a lot of pedigree here. It’s been skipping the regular iterative development cycle for a while now though, being 5 years since GRID Autosport released and we last had a fix of Codemasters based multi-discipline racing. It’s back now though and is aiming to bring petrol heads something that’s got variety though isn’t as hardcore as Project CARS, or platform specific like Forza or Gran Turismo. Has it managed to tune the balance between arcade and sim for best performace? Does adding Fernando Alonso’s name to the series bring greater depth? Yes… mostly.
There’s no preamble with GRID, it screams racing for entertainment from the moment it opens into a faux TV show covering the GRID World Series – a mix of global locations featuring a variety of motorsports and a wide selection of cars. As the latest rising star of the autosport world you’re literally thrown into the race seat of several events to give you a flavour of what’s coming up, and to learn a bit about the controls. It’s a fantastic 10 minutes of really selling the action, with scenarios ranging from handling cars in torrential rain and recreating parts of Days of Thunder. This is how to open a racing game – style, substance and slick presentation as it moves from one event to another linked by the enthusiastic TV presenters that will commentate over the entire game. You’re left thrilled and with a sense of anticipation for what’s to come, and most likely a massive grin on your face. It comes as a bit of a letdown then that the next screen (and one you’ll spend most of your time at) is just a grid of events to select. It’s perfunctory and comprehensive, but not exactly a continuation of the bombastic tone that pulls you in at the start.
Slightly disappointing event picking aside, this is really the hub to the whole GRID experience. It’s split into 6 different categories that need mastering – Touring, Stock, Tuner, GT, Fernando Alonso and Invitational. Pick a discipline, buy a car, take part in the events, repeat. It’s a simple premise that will ultimately lead to a showdown with the masters of that particular race series, and that will earn entry into the World Series. It initially doesn’t look and sound like a lot to do, but the depth is hidden in the progression. Heading off into Touring for example sees the racing begin in the likes of nimble Subaru and Focus TC-2’s on short twisty tracks, though this will morph into V8 Supercars, TC-1’s and ultimately Super Tourers by the time the series is conquered. The speed is gradually increased, as is the complexity and race length, and the garage is continually expanded with the need to buy new cars at various points. Some challenges will provide the vehicle if it’s a fixed set of conditions, but most of the time it’s a free choice from the specific class in play, and the cash rewards at the end of events really do become crucial to make headway.
The majority of events are several rounds of competition themed around the locations they take place in, and with 14 events in each (28 for the Invitational), that’s 98 to to win to get to the Holy Grail of the World Series. Mostly it’s circuit based racing with the option of a hot lap qualifying if you want to improve the default starting position. It’s an unobtrusive prompt at the bottom of the screen as it’s doing the track flyby, and depending on skill level it might be one that never gets used, though it does help for winning the events if you start nearer the front. Because progression is split in two – one is the event unlocks, the other the player level – and both aren’t intrinsically linked, it’s a free choice on race approach. Starting further down the field means more XP earned for drafting, overtaking and close proximity battles, being upfront allows closer adherence to the racing line and faster lap times to gain experience; and both these build the player level which unlocks customisation options. The better the finishing position, the more cash is won to spend on cars, and the odds of completing the event criteria and opening the next one up increase.
You’re not alone in the fight either, there’s a teammate in tow across all the race types. They’re on hand to contribute to the overall cash haul and add points in a championship fight. With only one recruited at any given time, there’s a need to make sure they have the right skills for the race series otherwise they’ll languish at the back and contribute nothing. If you’re the type of player that likes to jump around between series (which I am), then it’s either keep swapping them out at a cost, or just live with the fact that in some races they’ll be as much use as a chocolate fireguard. They’ll still take a cut of the winnings, just hope that they’ve earned enough to cover that so you don’t feel too robbed. If their performance isn’t up to scratch during a race then you can request that they attack (or defend), though compliance will depend on their style preference, skill and loyalty to the team. Don’t be surprised if they refuse to make any efforts to get out of 16th place in a Stock car race when they’re a Tuner specialist and you’ve only just recruited them.
The AI works in a similar way to the teammate, though there’s no control over them. There’s a whole host of racing profiles underpinning their logic, and how they react and respond to your driving will shape the way a race unfolds. Aggression and caution are varied and unpredictable and make for some interesting battles. Lining up for an overtake on a straight might have some stick to the racing line and give you space for the move, others will weave to block and force you to give it up. They’re not afraid to take some damage either, so expect some hard fights as the career progresses. The axiom “Rubbing is Racing” is very much in effect in GRID. There’s no denying that it makes for an exciting time when you’re in the middle of the pack desperately clawing positions back after losing out to a rival. Some of these become a nemesis too if you’ve been a little too hard with the contact, or repeatedly block their advances. Caution disappears out of the window for them and they’ll deliberately attack on sight from then on. Fortunately when things get too hairy there’s the returning flashback option so you can rectify mistakes without having to restart the race.
GRID’s handling is largely as expected from a Codemasters game, it feels solid and connected, with vehicle responses all in the right places. Bumps, slides and grip are tangible, especially with the traction control turned down. The assists are all configurable to player taste without halting or slowing progression, so it’s a case of picking the options that suits best. That isn’t to say this is an arcade game though, throbbing away beneath the easy going, easy access frame is an engine that will punish the unwary. Stripping assists back and turning the AI difficulty up adds a challenge level that forces caution and consideration that I won’t lie, is a bit at odds with the urgency of the short races. Finding that balance between action and traction is constantly shifting, and it makes for no two races ever being the same. Add weather and the environment into the mix like wet tracks, night races and low level glare from the sun, and it’s not just the mechanicals forcing you to adapt. At it’s best it’s exhilarating when you skitter on the edge of adherence and make a move stick. At it’s worst it will punish you for not being inch perfect and hit you with a time penalty or spin you into a barrier.
To back up all the intense action is the damage model, and that’s impressive in the level of detail. It’s not just panels that crumple or drop off. Holes get torn in carbon fibre, glass cracks, splitter fixings break and they dangle off. Even avoiding contact throughout a race there’ll be wear on the paintwork (all of which is customisable, though not to the detail of a livery editor). It’s beautiful to look at in replays and even if you’re locked to cockpit view you’ll appreciate the interior stylings and the visuals in play outside. If you’ve an HDR supporting display then this ramps up the effects to something special as it’s all whipping along at a solid framerate. Surface level detail on the 12 locations is spot on, and the difference with city based tracks is felt with pavements, kerbs and tramlines contrasting with the smooth asphalt of bespoke circuits. Audio is well managed too with the roar of the engines surrounding and enveloping you as you race, though the tire squeal is ever present in some of the more tricky cars as they struggle to maintain grip. It might be wise to turn off the commentators as their repeated phrases do wear thin after a while.
If you’ve managed to master the single player racing, then heading into multiplayer adds longevity and is quick and easy to get into… but there’s only quick race at the moment. It’s a lot of fun being chucked into a random set of three races in random classes, but it’s a little unbalanced if you’re looking for parity. At the moment the limits on the match types seem to allow your settings to follow through to the online sessions, so if there’s a hardcore assists off mentality in you then brushing up to Destruction Derby hopefuls might end up being off putting. That’s reinforced early on too as all the lobbies start with a Skirmish mode which is simply ram any other player in the arena until the racing is ready to begin. Don’t worry about limited numbers of players though, the AI will fill up the rest of the grid. Assuming you’ve friends with the game then at least there’s a private session option so you can tweak the rules your hearts content and have it your own way. Compared to some of Codemasters other titles the multiplayer does feel a bit meagre, and the lack of a co-op team option is an own goal seeing as it’s already in the single player. That could have been a really interesting addition, and maybe it’s part of the season content that’s still to come.
Missed opportunities is a bit of a theme in GRID, and whilst there’s a lot to enjoy in this high octane racer, there’s a lack of polish that makes it feel a bit rushed.
- Controls aren’t quite configured to be pick up and play, there’s config needed across the pad and wheels to get them responding well – most unlike the typical offerings from the studio. Vibration is an issue with force feedback wheels like it was at the launch of DiRT Rally 2.0, but it’s also a problem on controllers. The good news is that once set up most players will be able to comfortably use either, and swap between them, without seeing much in the way of impact on their performance.
- Whilst in the menu systems, looping around scrolling sections doesn’t move you back to the top, only to an arbitrary distance further up the list. Likewise in the event screen, the cursor always moves back to the first box rather than the event you’ve just come out of so you have to constantly have to navigate back.
- On screen prompts show the wrong buttons for actions e.g., using a wheel you’re shown triangle to stop a flashback, the button is actually cross.
- Qualifying selection shows the car in a grid position but crash cuts to a flying lap taking you by surprise until you get used to it.
These are all silly, small non-important things that have nothing to do with the racing, but are not the standard you’d expect from the developer.
Foibles aside, GRID is a belter of a racing game. It’s got the right approach to scratch the itch of those who want to race without the need to actually have the mentality of a racing driver. There’s no requirement for hours of practice to learn a tracks braking points and acceleration zones so that you can shave half a tenth off a lap time, it’s just foot down and keep it out of the barriers. Of course there’s an element of progression grind in play, though that’s focused around buying new motors, and if you don’t own one and can’t afford it, you can be loaned them. For me the standout part of this is the short, sharp nature of it. It’s easily possible to get through two or three multi-stage events in about half an hour, something that the more serious racing titles would reserve solely for a practice session on one track. That keeps it all flowing and encourages retrying and replaying. It doesn’t matter if you’re losing positions because you’re having fun drifting around the tight corners of San Francisco in a muscle car, you can jump straight back into it in a few minutes and race for the win instead. GRID has got it’s own personality, it’s own hybrid style, and it’s here to bring action packed realistic-tinged racing to the masses.
A PS4 review copy of GRID was provided by the Codemasters PR team, and the game is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in the form of the Ultimate Edition which contains bonus XP, extra liveries and a 3 season pass; and the standard version is on sale from the 11th October. If you need some controller setup tips, head to our suggestions here.