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GRID Review – Barebones But Fun

What the hell is it with companies and their confusing naming systems? We kicked off back in 2008 with Racer Driver: Grid, then the Race Driver part was cut out for GRID 2, then came GRID: Autosport and now finally after a six-year hiatus we have GRID. Just GRID, all capitals like someone is yelling it you. Confusingly this is also technically the 10th game in the long-running TOCA franchise. On top of that, GRID (2019) is a reboot for the GRID series, not that you can really tell. Yeesh. But weird naming conventions aside, it’s good to series the GRID series back again and I’m delighted to say that this latest entry is a solid racing game, albeit with a few key issues.

And before we kick off the review in full, I know this is coming a few days later than everyone else. I did get access to the game a couple of days before launch, but the multiplayer meet-ups that occured didn’t really let me get a feel for racing online so I delayed the review in order to get some time in with competitive multiplayer, by which I mean get my ass handed to me by people who are instantly good at racing.

Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Reviewed: Xbox One X
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters

Review code provided by Codemasters

Given that Codemasters put out some pretty meaty career modes in their racing games it’s a bit of a let-down to find that GRID has a much more…er, barebones approach. When you fire up the career you’re greeted by a bunch of events separated into categories based on car type – touring, GT, stock cars, tuners and a series of exhibition’s featuring classic machinery. Plus there’s also the special Fernando Alonso category that includes open-wheel racing with the man himself competing alongside you. Complete ten events in a category and you can compete in the showdown. Finish four of those and you get to advance to the GRID World Championship.

Along the way you earn some cash that can be spent to buy new cars. You can also hire and fire team-mates, although for some reason this feature is buried away in the Profile menu. Genuinely, I didn’t even realize I could swap my team-mate until a few hours into the game. It’s like they put it into GRID and then just forgot about it.

There’s nothing really wrong with the career mode as such. It works, it’s fun to play through. It just lacks any real depth or fun sense of progression compared to other racing games on the market. I would have loved to see an upgrade system perhaps so that I could take a rusted old banger and turn it into a beast.

In fact, there’s a bit of trend within GRID of everything outside the on-track action feeling a little thin. Specifically I’m talking about the circuit count which comes in at just 12 with a mixture of real-world and fantasy locations. Codemasters attempt to combat this small selection of locations through track variations which bring the count up to 80 or so, plus weather and time can help mix things up to. But despite these variations it’s hard not to become a little bored with the circuits, especially because each race is typically only a few laps long, so you’ll speed through events and leap into something else only to find the same track popping back up again.

However, and this is important, the tracks themselves are superb. I love that we get a mixture of real places like Brands Hatch, Silverstone and even Sydney Motorsport Park in Australia, and a bunch of purely fictional circuits that let us blast through the streets of San Francisco in mega-cars. There’s a great blend of fast and flowing, and tight and technical. I loved driving them all and just want more to play with. GRID needed a greater selection of circuits at launch, but now all we can hope for is that more tracks are going to arrive via DLC.

So let’s get down to the actual driving in GRID, and I’ll open by making it clear that the handling is emphatically arcadey, even with all the assists turned off. Cars in GRID can be hurled into turns, sliding as they go yet somehow also feeling incredibly grippy. They can be unforgiving, too, easily spinning the wheels and sending you into an inescapable slide if you apply a bit too much throttle. But what I love is that there’s just enough sense of weight behind the cars to make them feel connected to the track and believable.

Quite simply, the cars feel awesome to drive. The way handling works kind of gently shoves you toward an aggressive style, and the game welcomes it with open arms – yeah, sure, there are penalties for cutting corners and stuff, but slamming into other cars is fine. It has to be. The action is tight, the corners typically packed with five cars all trying to muscle their way through. Trading paint isn’t an avoidable accident, it’s more like deliberate malice, and with every race in career averaging just 3 laps you have to be willing to make some big moves.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the way the cars handle it’s that they feel like they’re steering from the rear. It’s a little strange at first but you get used to it quickly. You can notice it most if you use the 3rd person camera.

Meanwhile the tuning options are super basic compared to a lot of other games on the market – this isn’t Project Cars or something where you can spend a few hours just tinkering with your setup. All you get in GRID is brake bias, gear ratio and a few other things, but the important thing is that each change makes a big difference to the handling, which I love.

As much as I love the deeper sim games we’ve been missing some good closed-circuit arcade racers this generation and GRID fits into that slot fantastically well, be it with a controller or a wheel. I played with a standard Xbox controller and my Logitech G920 wheel and had an absolute blast. I did have to turn the feedback up to max to get the most out of the wheel, but aside from that the way the cars handle, the differences between them all and the tracks all create a superb driving experience that’s up there with the likes of Forza Horizon 4 when it comes to arcade fun.

The selection of machinery brings a smile to my face, too. It’s not the most expansive roster but all the cars have personality, from the insane grip levels of the prototype machines to the planted, solid feel of the GT3 beasts. There’s a bunch of vintage stuff thrown in as well, plus Fernando Alonso’s Renault R26 F1 car which helped him win the 2006 F1 Championship.

Almost as important as the handling when it comes to GRID’s insanely fun racing are the A.I drivers who are battling with you. GRID’s roster of nutters are an aggressive bunch that will willingly trade paint and attempt to fuck up your life, but never quite to the point where they feel unfair to fight against. They’ll hold their lines, try to scrap up your inside, give you a gentle bump and basically just give you a hard time. With so many cars on the track and the A.I so willing to fight winning a race is less about speed and more about trying to find a damn gap in the wall of metal in front of you.

Unfortunately the A.I can be a weirdly inconsistent bunch. First, you’ll need to stick the A.I on at least hard because easy and medium are laughably simple to utterly destroy. But even on hard and very hard they are prone to braking hard and early in numerous corners which continously caught me out, sending me sailing into the rear end of an Audi like a fucking lunatic that just learned the bar was closing in a minute. When it comes to qualifying they are either gods that require absolutely precision to beat or utterly useless retards who can’t figure out which pedal is the one that makes them go. The same applies on track; they’re good at fighting, but typically not so good at outright pace so if you can get out front it’s usually very easy to stay ahead.

One thing that is often lacking in racing titles is a sense of personality within the A.I., something which GRID aims to combat via the introduction of a new mechanic. The Nemesis system immediately gave me flashbacks to angry Orcs in the Shadow of Mordor games magically surviving being beheaded and coming back to haunt me. In truth the Nemesis system kind of has the same basic principle in GRID but without the whole beheading thing, at least none that I ever saw. The idea is that if you bash into an opponent too many times they’ll become your Nemesis, as indicated by a little red icon. This means they’ll be much more willing to crash into you, even going out of their way to do so. On top of that they get a speed and skill boost.

It’s an awesome idea in principle, bringing a light narrative touch to the racing by creating rivalries on the fly. In practice it’s a system that still needs some work, largely because I found that outside of Very Hard difficulty it struggled to make its presence known. On the lower difficulties you’re not around your Nemesis long enough to properly notice the difference. On Very Hard though, where the racing becomes extremely tight, it’s possible to get tangled up with a Nemesis for a while which is when the whole idea shines. During one race I made a Nemesis for myself by slamming into an opponent, sending them off the track. I got to the front of the pack and opened up a second or two gap. As I glanced up at the mini-map though, I noticed the glowing red dot of my Nemesis was suddenly making its way through the pack. This angry bastard was carving through the others and coming for me. As I watched he dispatched of 4th, 3rd and finally second before closing down the gap to me. A few corners later he slammed into my side and took 1st. It was awesome.

That was the exception to the rule, however. Things like that only happened occasionally, although it has to be said that even if it rarely happens it’s still cooler than other racing games. It’s a shame that Nemesis’ don’t carry over through events, though. It would have been pretty cool to have a few rivals gunning for my exhaust pipes across several races in a single event, but sadly they reset after every race which I feel is a missed opportunity. Maybe Codemaster’s were worried that we’d just piss off the entire grid?

I’ve got high hopes for the whole Nemesis idea in GRID. With some more work it could be a great new feature that makes the faceless A.I. feel more real and fun to race against. I always found it odd that after Shadow of Mordor introduced the idea it was never more widely adopted. Who could have guessed a racing game would pick up the baton and drive with it?

I briefly mentioned that you have a team-mate earlier who takes part in the races as well. GRID adds another wrinkle to the action in the form of team orders. Don’t worry: you won’t have to angrily cede a position to your faster team-mate or anything like that, but with a tap of the D-pad you can request that your team-mate either attacks for a higher position or defends his current one. It’s a fun idea, but one that turns out to be almost completely forgettable. On the hardest settings I occasionally found it useful to order my team-mate to defend second place but that was about it.

Oh, and I did discover that you can make a Nemesis of your own team-mate, which turned out to be a hilarious way of improving their performance. Just nudge ’em a few times, get them good and riled up and then watch as they chase you through the pack.

Outside of the main career mode GRID offers up a pretty standard package, starting with Freeplay. As you’d expect in Freeplay you get to pick a track, grab any of the game’s cars and just go nuts. Unlike the career mode you can opt for longer races too, instead of the short sprints that the game uses by default. The menu system could be a bit clearer mind you, because the first time I jumped in it made it look like you could only pick from preset events, tracks were randomized and so were cars. That’s not the case.

Likewise the multiplayer is almost exactly what you’d imagine to be, and like the singleplayer it can be a rough zone with the penalty system of other racers ditched. You’ve got to be willing to accept that people just bombing straight into you is a commonplace experience. Still, it’s a lot of fun and I had very few issues with connectivity.

However, outside of quick match and private play there’s absolutely no way of filter anything in multiplayer, so if you want to race a specific car type or perhaps do a single race rather than a whole event you can’t. Quick match chucks you into something and that’s it. Hopefully Codemaster’s will patch in some more options, such as starting your own session where you can choose tracks, cars etc.

GRID is a looker, too, going with a more vibrant color palette than we often see, making use of it through fireworks and pyro. Cars models are the most impressive for obvious reasons and look great as they glint in the exceptionally bright sunlight that GRID so often loves to throw at your eyeballs. Rain looks amazing, especially in the cockpit camera where trying to see through the rain, spray and massive chunks of metal becomes nearly impossible. All of this runs at 60FPS on the Xbox One X with nary a dropped frame in sight.

It doesn’t quite hold up in terms of damage modelling though. There were plenty of times where I’d smash into a wall or something and then notice that the damage was on the wrong side of the car. Other times I’d take a heavy impact and yet the car would seem fine, while a minor shunt would result in a bunch of scrapes and dents. But on a more positive not the way that bits of cars would often rip free and bounce along the track is fantastic. Seeing a bonnet go bouncing over your head makes the race so much more entertaining.

As for the audio it doesn’t do as well as the visuals. The music is generic, crashes sound too muffled and tame and cars lack the low-down bass that you expect, especially when using the interior views.

Y’know, I wasn’t that hyped about GRID as it neared launch, but now that I’ve sat down and put lap after lap into I have to say it’s damn good. It has however, launched as a barebones package and I would certainly have liked to have seen a more robust career mode, wider range of tracks and a bit more multiplayer functionality. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense arcade racer with a more aggressive side then GRID is for you, especially if you just want something you can jump into.

3.5 out of 5

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