You'll be fast, but definitely not furious
At the start of this current console generation every racing fan who jumped into the world of the PlayStation 4 was waiting patiently for Driveclub. Evolution Studios and Sony’s ode to arcade racing of old, it eventually arrived — with all manner of problems to start with — and proved itself over time to be an absolutely stunning game with oodles of content, the most impressive visuals and weather effects and downright fun racing action. Since then, arcade racers have been few and far between, especially when compared to the days of old with Ridge Racers and Burnouts all over the shop. We’ve had a few, including Need for Speed, Onrush (by the Driveclub developers) and a remaster of the open world Burnout Paradise. Aside from the decade-old remake none quite matched the quality and feel of the race or of the drive — until now. With GRID — a reboot from the race game developer extraordinaire, Codemasters — we have a goodbye to the generation which bookends things with aplomb.
It’s all about the racing. GRID has seen three titles previously, focused on you the player building a team, growing your cash reserves by competing in all manners of race types, and trying to become the biggest and best driver out there. Here, whilst all of that remains, it sits behind the driving in support, leaving the game to live or die based on the races themselves. And boy, does it deliver. From the first moment when you boot the game up and you take charge of three cars in three races in three disciplines before starting the game proper, the full throttle effect of the on-the-edge racing you’re privy to is mesmerising. Intense is a good way to describe it, even when you’re way out in front. You can push each and every car to its limits; you’ll want to do so and by doing so you have to be focused and you have to feel the race and the racing. Consequently you’re emotionally invested and you must take that corner in that way, beat that driver and get past those cars. You must. And you will.
Once you’re through the introductory races and suitably wowed by everything from the near photorealistic graphics, the stunning weather — rain is exemplary — and the seat-of-your-pants driving action, you get to the main screen and the chance to look around and plan your career out. The dashboard has a variety of tiles on it, from which you can check out your profile, your garage, your race options and so on. A little clunky and not entirely intuitive, it is functionable. Going into the garage allows you to see what cars you have and buy others if funds allow, whilst the profile section gives data about your earnings to date and other basic details, whilst you can also check on your team and hire new drivers if needed (to earn more cash) from the central dashboard. You’ll not spend much time here as there’s no real compulsion to do so, as well as the fact that you’ll constantly have the itch to get back onto the racetrack.
There are a number of tracks to display your skills on. From classics like Brands Hatch to the city streets of Havana, the variety on display is further augmented by the weather and the time of day. Night races are particularly fun, as is anything in that glorious rain I can’t stop thinking about. When you’re racing, the game has a couple of mechanics to help you out, should you need them. One is that the racing line is displayed in the lead up to, and then through, corners. This is managed by a series of blocks which are deeper and redder when you’re too fast and shallower and greener when you’re at the perfect speed. Simplistic and brilliantly easy to read and react to in-game, without being overpowered due to their absence on the bulk of the track. If you mess up and spin out, or just lose your perfect lap chance, you can instigate a flashback. Pressing Triangle rewinds time up to a finite period, or when you choose to start going forwards again. The amount of uses per race can be manually adjusted but is set initially according to the game’s difficulty. Your use of these will be down to preference of course, but when you have a Nemesis AI getting at you the desire to try that bit again will be strong.
The AI is good and varied. The reason Codies will have focused on this is two-fold. Firstly, a strong AI is important to avoid accusations of rubber-banding and imbalance between gamer and difficulty whatever combination of the two is in place. Secondly, because the Nemesis system is in play. Throughout your career you’ll encounter other racers who become your Nemesis. If you beat somebody too many times, or overtake them recklessly on the hairpin, they’ll take note and come after you, doubling down their efforts to beat you and win at all costs. The AI is strong enough to make this fun and it adds another element to the game which compels you to keep playing, and winning.
At heart though the racing is why you’ll be driven to play. Whichever car you choose, whether it’s a muscle car where drifting is essential, or a powerful GT with pure speed the aim, the feel of the car will be everything. Each vehicle handles with a solid weighty feel, and realistically too. This allied with the environment and the speed adds up to become a wonderful whole whether you’re qualifying, or racing against nineteen others from the back of the Grid. Yes you earn XP and money by placing in a race, or following the racing line or drifting for a longer period of time, but this all comes as a bonus — and is displayed at the end of each race, thankfully, as otherwise it would all pass you by — to the thrill of beating out all the other competitors and taking over from your Nemesis come the end of an event. Keep doing it in one race event and you’ll get to face off against the final challenge, which in one case sees you up against Fernando Alonso, who acted as a consultant for the game to make sure it felt as it does. Win four final challenges (out of six) and you’ll progress to the World Series and the endgame, at least until the season pass content drops.
Ultimately all that matters if that with GRID we have a truly brilliant arcade racer to take us over the line towards the next generation. It isn’t new and innovative, and the user experience is merely passable, but none of that matters once you get the green light, put your pedal to the metal and get racing. GRID is a proper racing game and one anyone with a passing interest in the genre should get hold of.
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