Scotch Corner – Racing a World Champion

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 20th October.

 

The One and Only…

RACING legend Fernando Alonso reckons Grid can make you a proper driver.  The two-time F1 world champ has been very hands-on with the new game and has pushed for the “real” experience.  But we have found that Fernando telling you how it is done and you doing it with any great success are two different things.  Even more so when Fernando does and you are happy just to watch.  There is a reason why Fernando is one of the best.  He is quick in anything that he drives and has the confidence of a world champion when he walks into the room.  We got to experience the full Alonso aura in Madrid, where he revealed how Codemasters pulled off such a coup.  The Spaniard has fully embraced gaming — even setting up his own eSports team.  He said:

“It was a decision that was straightforward for me as I’ve been a big fan of the series for many years and it’s probably the only game on the market where you can combine the feel of arcade racing with pro sim racing.  That access to different people and gamers was very attractive to me and was the main reason I joined the project.”

Codemasters made sure they got as much from the partnership as they could, but, typically, he reckons he was the winner.  He said:

“I think I put most pressure on the level of difficulty of the other racers you’ll face in the game.  “Even if you start last you’ll need to find a way to use a different style of driving and approach — which is what we find when we drive the real thing.  Normally, in the games, you have a group of cars in a line and braking at the same points.  After a few races with the game you learn that, on that corner, they will brake there so you start to overtake them all at the same point.  That’s something we wanted to avoid in Grid so there are over 400 different named drivers and all 400 have their own skill levels and different levels when it comes to overtaking and overall factors when it comes to driving.  Some will be good on high-speed corners or good on braking.  That was probably the main input I had.  I gave the team examples of how real racers would race.”

The development team responded by building a digital Fernando for the ultimate test.  Fernando admitted:

“I have raced against myself and digital me does some things that I would never do on track, but we have tried to up the difficulty to a level where when you challenge me in the game it will be a real challenge for the player.”

He also wants to use the game to boost his eSports plans with FA Racing Esports alongside his karting school — combining real-life experiences with gaming.  He said:

“eSports is very interesting at the moment and the possibilities are still unknown.  Every year it’s growing. I think it really needs to keep growing and, in a few more years, establish in a place it hasn’t really found just yet.  But to be part of it and to be able to draw on the experience of different drivers and compete across a number of games is really my target just now.  Together with my karting school and other things I do in racing, my intentions in the near future are to combine everything and maybe some drivers can compete for FA across all the disciplines.”

That multi-discipline attitude mirrors Fernando’s own career as he’s also won the Le Mans 24 Hours, is a World Endurance Champion and is after the treble crown of Le Mans, the Monaco F1 Grand Prix and the Indy 500.  He admitted:

“The Triple Crown is definitely still one of my main focuses right now but this year I was at the 24hr race in Daytona and the Endurance World Championship so there are things that are not part of the treble crown but they are very beneficial to my career and I’m very proud of.”

The brutal Dakar Rally may also be on the horizon.  He added:

“It may be a one-off goal and all those different disciplines can have value to my overall career but the Treble Crown is the ultimate goal for me as they are the three most-important races in motorsport.”

However, the Spaniard admits his cojones may not be big enough for one motorsport discipline — MotoGP.  He laughed:

“I did try once in Motegi when I was with Honda and I got to ride Dani Pedrosa’s Honda along with Marc Marquez.  I did about four laps and after that I understood I wasn’t good at bikes.  It is truly scary.  You need the special talents you only get by growing up in that environment.  For me to start now, at the age I am, there is no way.  I am crazy but not that crazy.”

Racing In Your Dreams

SENIOR designer Mike Moreton was one of the driving forces in bringing Grid back to the . . . err . . .  grid.  The Codemasters ace admits he was a mega fan right back to the early TOCA days on the PS1.  And he couldn’t wait to get started once the lights went out on the comeback after a five-year gap from Grid Autosport.  He said:

“We think it was the right time as Grid has been away for quite a long period of time now.  It’s a series we are all very passionate about at Codemasters as we all love motorsport and we love the variety that Grid can offer.  We just felt now is the right time to bring it back because we have the ability to give it the kick-start that we really want to.”

Codemasters are known for being the racing game kings, and Mike reckons Grid is the perfect tribute to the sport.  He added:

“For us Grid is really a love letter to motorsport.  Each member of the team has a favourite but they are broadly categorised into areas like Stock, Tuner and Tourer.  Then we also have Fernando Alonso involved so we have taken his multi-discipline career and keep that in the game.  It takes strands of the career and works them together and we have the real esoterica — or specialised — events that we have kept as invitational events.  They are races that don’t quite fit into the categories and are more standalone.”

Mike revealed the whole process was like letting a kid loose in a sweet shop — especially when it came to nailing down the cars.  He said:

“I think we have done really well with the spread of manufacturers as we have Ferrari, Porsche and Ford.  We also have more purpose-built race cars like the Formula Jedi and the prototype cars.  Instead of going down the Le Mans prototype route, we went for Daytona Prototypes with Acura and Cadillac.  Everyone has a favourite car so we have tried to represent as many as we can.”

Now that the main development work is done, Mike reckons the biggest role is to support a community that will decide the game’s legacy.
He is proud of the efforts the team has put into Grid’s post-launch support.  He said:

“Something really important to me is that I don’t want split multiplayer communities because it’s not good for me to play something my friend doesn’t have.  So all the tracks that will be added to the game will be free.  We want to give players content so they will add car packs and careers to the game.  By the end of the planned DLC the career will have doubled in size.  We have based it on actual things we want players to do instead of separate items.”

The online side could also be key to growing numbers getting behind the wheel.  Mike added:

“The race craft system is a key feature online.  We wanted you to earn XP whether you play on or offline and didn’t want to lock anything that was important to use behind just one aspect of the game.  We also have an anti-grief system because we understand that not everyone is a clean racer.  We have introduced ghosting methods that should hopefully catch the worst offenders online.”

Given the explosion in eSports, it is perhaps surprising that Codemasters didn’t think that was a priority during development.  They preferred to concentrate on getting the core game right.  Mike said:

“It’s something that we are really looking now and working out how we want to progress with eSports.  We are really keen on it and want to be part of the eSports landscape, but we wanted to focus on the core racing side of things and get that nailed down before we started growing other areas.  Now we are pretty proud of the racing we are starting to look at the other areas for the future.”

But race fan Mike is also keen to get back to his TOCA roots in a move that could delight touring car fans.  He admitted:

“TOCA is the game that got me into Codemasters as a kid, so getting to work there it was a dream come true.  We have some classic TOCA cars in Grid like the 155 and that sort of car.  Again never say never as, at Codemasters, we all love our heritage in games.  I think the TOCA series holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts.”

GRID (Xbox One, PS4 & PC, £49.99)

CODEMASTERS have been living life in the fast lane in 2019 — with the brutally hard DiRT 2.0 and the rock-solid F1 2019 revving up hearts across the globe.  Now the Brits are back with an eagerly-awaited return for GRID.  The original announcement was greeted with a sense of foreboding that another tough cookie was on the way.  But Codemasters have gone down a more arcade route and provided a really welcome change of pace.  If you’re a series fan then you’ll welcome the first instalment for five years.  No doubt you also tried your hand at it when it started life as the TOCA series on the PS1 before a few name changes stopped at GRID.  But Codemasters aren’t known as the masters of racers for nothing.

The firm have given this reboot their full attention as they have created a fast and frantic racer that will hook you in and keep hold of you.  Right out the box Grid has a simple philosophy — you have career mode and online.  That’s it.  Well, it is unless you unleash the free play where you can just race your own custom racers for fun.  Career mode has a tale that is wafer thin — and that’s being nice.  If you are expecting an automotive drama between racers — a la F1 2019 — then you will be disappointed.  The tale sees you trying to break into the World Series and then win it.  But, beyond a bit of pre-race chat between the commentators that you can skip and a cut scene at the beginning and the end, that’s your story, folks.

However, what the career does is throw you the keys to a true selection box of horsepower-fuelled racing machines broken up into classes such as Tuner, Tourer and Stock and each offers different types of racing.  One minute you can be rubbing the wall in a stock car and the next you are hitting the apex in an open-top pocket rocket.  It’s that variety that brings Grid to life.  You’re never bogged down by having to grind races in a set class to move forward.  And when it comes to the cars there is a beefy garage on show — from the likes of the Ford Focus and VW GTI to Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs all the way up to prototype racers.  So, race fans, there will be something to float your boat.  But while the options for races and cars are healthy and plentiful, the track choices are a bit of a missed opportunity.  There is only a handful of locations — 13 that are then cut into 80 layouts.  You’ll burn them through in no time and soon know them like the back of your hand.  Codemasters insist more are on the way and that they will be FREE.

Another big element is the racing craft system.  Put simply, the way you drive affects the racers around you.  If you race dirty then you’ll make a nemesis.  You can have up to five gunning for you in one race if the red mist descends and they are pretty ruthless.  They’ll nudge, barge and ram you every chance they get.  That is a great idea because it does encourage you to race clean, but it is unfortunate that the nemesis resets after each event.  It would have been fun for a rival to be hounding you for a whole championship — especially if that rivalry was created by you.  But you’re not alone.  You have an AI teammate who tries his best but never really has much impact.  You might want to hire a new one to freshen things up.

The online side is well-handled and is mostly a smooth affair as you can race your mates or the world’s best.  Codemasters have served up a visual treat, especially when you are going full-blast through a rain-soaked Shanghai bathed in a neon glow from the buildings as the night sky bursts into colour with fireworks.  But a dull, dreich day at Silverstone is just dull. We loved the change of pace in Grid.  It is fun and carries the arcade vibe.  Strap yourself in, it’s a hell of a drive.

Score: 4.5/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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