Kickstarter isn’t the only way to get a passion project off the ground you know. Tracking down the man who made your favourite game half way around the world and asking him to get involved in developing a spiritual successor that you’re funding is a unique yet perfectly viable way of getting a game to market. Bizarre as it might sound (and definitely shortened for the sake of space), this is pretty much how GRIP has come into existence. Inspired by Rollcage and its sequels from 1999 onwards, what’s been produced by Caged Element is an evolution of combat racing, though still with its roots firmly in the 32-bit era playstyle. It’s fast, frenetic and fun, but will it ultimately have limited appeal?
It’s been in early access for a while having it’s mechanics shaped and honed through community feedback, but now GRIP is here with a full release, and across all platforms too. Set at some point in the future where humans have colonised new worlds and the street racing scene has evolved into something much more brutal than having some neon side skirt lighting and a bass cannon in the boot; this is a racer not simply about getting to the finish line the fastest. It’s about battling, surviving and annihilating the opposition. It’s also about staying planted to the whatever surface happens to be under the wheels and maintaining adhesion in the most unlikely of places. Anyone can follow a racing line, but here they’re asked to take that line up the wall and across the ceiling.
Taking part in tournaments across the galaxy, rocket powered cars designed to produce immense levels of downforce fight it out on circuits carved out of inhospitable terrain, each peppered with multiple routes. Race events start simply enough with teaching the basics of how to control the vehicles and manage the boost, as well as encouraging getting sideways up walls, but soon it throws weapons, different race types and arena brawls into the mix and GRIP shows what it’s really all about – chasing down some poor sucker and firing a rocket up their ass. It isn’t a subtle game, that’s obvious from the rugged, utilitarian look of the cars and the pounding drum n’ bass at every turn. Get behind the wheel and it’s quick and easy to get into, as well as being satisfying. Dig a little deeper and there’s nuance in way it plays that delights, though can frustrate too.
Speed and momentum are what define the handling model. Go quickly enough and any surface – including energy barriers – can be ridden along. Drop speed or lose contact and it’s time to watch the opposition fly past in a blur. With speed pads dotted around and permanently replenishing boost, when it all comes together it’s like a puzzle to be solved in how to chain all the velocity increasing pieces together Leaping from ramp to ceiling to wall then sliding 90 degrees is impressive… though it can be hard to work out which way is up or down until floor is needed, but at least the car can be rotated in the air so it hits the ground running. Speed Demon events are perfect for demonstrating what GRIP can do because even with AI on the track, there are no offensive weapons so it’s pure flat out racing. Lines can be experimented with and alternate routes tried out – who knows, with a correctly timed jump that overhanging rock might turn out to be a shortcut. Move to a Classic Race and all the weapons get put into the mix and it’s more about getting to the end as high up the pack as possible whilst chaos ensues.
Ultimate Race is like the others but scores are racked up for doing stunts, jumps and damaging anyone else on the track, as well as a bonus for the number of laps completed. Then there’s the Combat Arena’s which are straightforward challenges to cause as much carnage in an enclosed space as possible within the time limit. And another few things: Elimination, Time Trial, Duels and Carkour (yes, that’s a thing in GRIP) – they all add to the variety in the events. Each event type features in the tiered structure of the campaign mode where tournaments are completed to rise through the ranks and access higher level vehicles, tracks and even weapons. It’s a format that works quite well, and in the early stages it blasts along. Get higher up the tiers and the races get faster, the enemies tougher and the length of the events longer. Becoming the champion is no mean feat and will take some luck alongside excellent reflexes.
Physics obviously plays a big part and around three quarters of the time it all works well. At full tilt everything has weight and inertia which need factoring in to what manoeuvre is coming up, and being aware of that leads to responsive handling and eye-of-the-needle precision driving. The other quarter of the time is like trying to ride a bucking bronco covered in butter – no matter what speed it’s going, you’re going to get thrown off. Sometimes it won’t even be in a physically possible direction. The only option is to reset to the track and get back up to speed, possibly resigned to the fact that a decent finishing place is now out of reach. With an element of rubberbanding that seems to favour the AI, making a mistake can be very costly, and it’s quite easy to make them with the protrusions in scenery and aggressive use of weapons from all sides. Getting blasted by the lead seeking missile and going from first to tenth can be annoying, but really that’s the game; getting bounced off into oblivion because of a small hump in the road ends up being a tad annoying.
With a decent variety of tracks over multiple worlds, lots of different cars with the ability to customise the looks, and multiple race types there’s a lot going for GRIP. Keeping to the 90’s nostalgia vibe, it feels like Destruction Derby meets WipEout, and even has a bit of kart racer in its DNA. There’s not much to say about the multiplayer at the moment (other than there’s splitscreen) because the servers were largely empty pre-release, so thoughts on that will come later on, but it’s not a necessary component for enjoying what’s on hand. Campaign is going to keep people occupied for some time, and the variability in each environment as well as the results of the racing will keep things fresh for a while. It’s bold, brash, a bit rough round the edges and doggedly aimed at a certain market, but I’m shopping in there already, browsing and haggling for something different in my racers.
A PS4 review copy of GRIP was provided by the Caged Element PR team, and the game is available from the 6th November on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch.