Like no other?
GRID (2019) is the reimagining of the original Race Driver: Grid which released some 11 years ago! Just let that sink in. And whilst the 10th entry in the TOCA series is a reimaging of an older game, it’s far more than that but then it’s kind of not.
First, let’s deal with the facts. GRID is split up into three main game modes; Career, Free Play and Multiplayer. Free Play, as you’d guess, let’s you play any race mode, in any vehicle, on one of GRIDs 81 tracks (some of which are variants or reversed). Full disclosure – I’ve yet to play multiplayer – but it too allows you to set up a private free-play match for up to 15 friends. This sits alongside a public, quick-match mode.
Career is where you’ll likely be spending the majority of your time, racing through 104 events across a handful of racing categories; GT, Touring, Tuners, Invitational Stock. There’s also the sixth category – Fernando Alonso – which pits you against tougher rivals in more exotic vehicles. Within each category there are several events for you to complete, ultimately leading to the showdown. Complete 4 showdowns and you can take on the GRID World Series and become the ultimate racer.
So far, so standard, but in a slight twist on the genre, all of these categories are open from the get-go. That means you can focus on just one career category should you choose, or mix and match. It’s ultimately up to you how you progress through the career and you do so by completing events. But in another twist, most events don’t require you to place first to get the coveted gold medal. Most require a 3rd placing or better, at least in the beginning but as you progress further, the completion criteria naturally becomes more difficult. Opening the career like this adds to the accessibility of the game, something which I’ll come onto later.
Whilst the career is fairly standard, it does introduce itself with incredible confidence, style and flair, showcasing the different types of races you’ll be taking part in throughout your time with GRID. The bulk of your racing will take place on tracks or closed-streets but the odd curveball is thrown now and then with Tokyo Drift style mountain races and the Indy 500.
You’ll need cars to compete in events and you’ll need to earn cash to purchase them. This aspect of buying and selling cars, whilst seen in many different racing games, feels refreshingly old-school and reminds me of the bygone era of Gran Turismo and Project Gotham. There’s a nice number of cars to purchase – 69 to be precise – and these are grouped by the categories from career mode. You’ll be getting behind the wheel of many different cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Nissan, Volkswagen Aston Martin – to name a few. These are spread across several different classes from prototype racers through to the Volvo 850 Estate… ask Ben how this one handles.
Vehicle customisation is fairly robust with a number of unlockable rarity-tiered liveries available for all vehicles. Once you’ve unlocked one, it’s available for all cars. There’s a decent variety of liveries from stylish to quite-frankly garish but each can be tweaked to match your preferred colour preference by picking colours for each group of elements from a palette. Branded decals can also be toggled on and off. Liveries are unlocked by levelling up and completing events and objectives.
Objectives are additional completion goals which you can unlock during races. Some are linked to events and may require you to get the fastest lap, for example. Others are global objectives, tracking things such as the total number of undertakes or drifts. Completing these will not only unlock liveries but also styles for your in-game player card – a card which showcases your rank and accolades to be shown off during multiplayer sessions.
But none of this matters if the racing isn’t up to par and it’s really up to you how you want GRID to play. As I mentioned before, GRID is incredibly well-equipped when it comes to accessibility and this carries over to the gameplay. Like many racing games, GRID allows you to tweak its settings to help you enjoy the gameplay.
There’s full difficulty adjustment including the tweaking and toggling of ABS, traction control, stability control, racing lines, AI difficulty and the damage model. The game starts you on medium difficulty but this can be changed as and when you please. You can make use of the preset difficulties or tweak each setting to your liking. It’s here where you can pretty much decide whether GRID plays like an arcade racer or a simulation one. Not only that but the HUD (OSD) can be customised, allowing you to toggle individual elements or hide it completely. Throw on top of that the ability to fully remap your controls and even tweak the amount of feedback your controller receives per category (suspension, tyre slip, engine, and collision with the player (to name a few)) and you’ve got an impressive number of options to tinker with. It’ll take you a few races and tweaking of these options to get it right but once you have, the game really begins to shine.
Full vehicle tuning is also available across the board and can be accessed through the garage or at the start of the race. Gear ratio, springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and, brake bias can all be tweaked and gearheads will likely make use of the pre-race set up to tweak their vehicles for a specific track. Another nice addition is the option to race a ‘hot-lap qualifier’ to determine your position on the starting grid. This is completely optional but a successful lap will jump you straight into pole position rather than the default back of the pack.
Racing games are very much about the gameplay but this comes part and parcel with visuals and I’m happy to report that GRID is largely a good-looking game. A lot of attention has been paid to the car models, including fully-modelled racing interiors, and it shows. The new damage model also opens up for some impressive destruction as car body parts detach and bumpers crumple. The visuals are only really let down by some nasty texture pop-in (on the base PS4), lesser polished racing environments and incredibly low-quality reflections. These rarely detract from the racing experience but I’ve found myself getting distracted by the low-fps reflections in the rearview mirror, for example.
Those aside, GRID truly comes into its own when playing in cockpit view. It’s here where the visuals and audio meet to create an incredibly immersive experience. Audio becomes muffled with the overtone of your tyres rumbling over the track taking front and centre. The closed-in viewpoint triggers a mild case of claustrophobia but makes you feel a part of the race. It amplifies the excitement and if it was up to me, the cockpit view should be made mandatory. GRID excels in cockpit view.
Whilst GRID is largely a success across the… grid, there are a few areas where it falls slightly in its presentation. Cars don’t always load when selecting them from the menu, visuals outside of the car models lack a bit of polish and the overall gameplay is fairly run-of-the-mill. There is a nemesis system which should have its own section of the review dedicated to it but it honestly felt unnecessary. It doesn’t detract from the experience but it also doesn’t add anything to it either. These are fairly small issues when isolated but combined they result in a slightly mid-budget racer especially when compared to first-party racing games on the market. That said, GRID has to be praised for the number of accessibility and gameplay options on offer and despite the bugbears, it is a competent and enjoyable game. Just don’t expect it to be anything more than a good racing game.