I’ve been a gamer for a long time and over the years have seen many games come and many games go, with many great ones often taking with them a classic experience that’s never seen again, leaving developers to change their approach and try to keep up with shifting trends. One such game that many will remember as an iconic experience was Rollcage; a racer that allowed its players to utilise the walls and ceilings within each track as they fought for a place on the podium. Since that point however, few games have returned to the popular idea, until now. Thanks to the developers behind the latest racer, GRIP: Combat Racing, it seems a spiritual successor to Rollcage is back in fashion.
If you’re not old enough to remember Rollcage, then the closest comparison you’ll find to GRIP is that of the rather enjoyable Trackmania Turbo. The game puts players into cars that are highly similar to that of those glorious 1990’s doubled sided R/C cars, before sending you off around numerous tracks that cater to their quirky designs, introducing various ramps and jumps and turning the ceilings and walls into drive-able surfaces. Finally, just to keep the action hot, a number of deadly weapons have been included to ensure the battle for first place remains competitive.
There’s no story to GRIP as such, and if it wasn’t for an unpromoted explanation within the game’s manual section, you’d have very little understanding as to why you’re taking part in weaponized racing besides bragging rights and levelling up. As it goes though, GRIP’s origins began in the illegal street racing scene before expanding over time into something far deadlier and far more popular – a testosterone fuelled death race that even the government and military were powerless to put a stop to.
Even if you didn’t know that backstory though, competition is competition, but before you can go pedal to metal, you’ll first need to choose which game mode you’ll be competing in. There are multiple options that include Campaign – the place you’ll spend the most time with GRIP – Single Player which allows the chance to jump into any of the various game modes with no strings attached, Online and Split Screen.
Campaign is the obvious first choice and after a brief tutorial that explains the basics to racing and how to use weapons – LB and RB firing the left and right stored powerups from your vehicle – you’ll be off, taking part in the first Tournament of many as you look to progress through 11 tiers of increasingly harder Tournaments and races.
Throughout these there are six different tracks you’ll be racing on, all of which can be mirrored to bring a little extra variation to what is otherwise a rather limited selection. Whilst the tracks don’t exactly look like all too far future-esque, the game is styled as a futuristic racer and the key to winning is speed, of which there is certainly plenty here with cars often reaching speeds of 500kmh within each race.
When racing with lots of speed though, one thing that’s a necessity is plenty of control and if you can’t get your vehicle to turn to match the speeds you’re doing, then chances are you’re going to crash. And you will. Time and time again. That’s one of the biggest issues with GRIP, as whilst the natural speed of the car along with the numerous boost pads and powerups aid in reaching speeds fast enough to grab that top spot, it only takes one corner or slightly misplaced boost to throw you off, struggling to keep control of the tank-like turning of each vehicle.
What’s more is should you catch the edge of a rock, a slight bump, another competitor or any of the track assets just slightly, you’ll either find your car hurtling through the air before landing on its side or facing the wrong way as all the other cars overtake, spinning out of control, or coming to a complete halt and completely ruining the momentum of the race. There is a quick reset button for this situation and should you have a spare boost powerup saved, then you’ll have a chance of getting back into the action quickly, but we shouldn’t need to be saving back a boost just to ensure we can remain competitive. On occasion, you may land in a perfect position to carry on racing, and when that happens, you immediately appreciate the double-sided nature of the cars, but more often than not, you’ll have at least one thing that brings you to a complete halt in each race. When you’re progressing through the higher tiers of Campaign mode, playing on the harder difficulties, or racing against others online, that’s as good as a race over.
There is also an option to control your vehicle in the air if you let go of the accelerator as you are left flying through the air, but with the controls often failing to match the speeds of the cars, it’s rarely an option to save you from a collision or an awkward landing. This is a big issue that could simply be remedied by introducing a more fluid or sensitive steering control.
If you look past the handling/collision issue though then you’ll see plenty of promise with GRIP: Combat Racing. Each race sees players duking it out around fast-paced tracks, reaching breakneck speeds in their own mildly customised vehicles, all whilst utilising classic powerups. When you mix all that with racing on ceilings and walls, you start to see something of a different beast when compared to other racers on the market.
The issues with GRIP however all stem from things not being quite as polished or varied as they should be. With just a handful of tracks to race on, brief differences between cars besides stat changes and a repetitive nature to things, and it’s a real shame that GRIP fails slightly; it is the sort of game that is missing from the racing genre.
Even the powerups are hardly original with a missile that targets the race leader, speed boosts that give… well… temporary speed boosts, and a shield to briefly protect you from incoming fire amongst others. There are none that really showcase any fresh ideas though, which would have been nice to see.
It’s not all doom and gloom however and should you jump into the single player or Online section, you can find multiple different modes to get stuck into with various race types available. Classic Race is all about the finishing position, whilst the Ultimate Race awards points for kills that factor into final positions. Elimination does what you would expect – last place is eliminated every 30 seconds – and the Speed Demon removes weapons and allows for a clean racing experience. There is also a Time Trial mode and arena based options such as Deathmatch in which GRIP meets destruction derby for a last man standing, Steal The Cash (essentially a capture the flag-based mode with loot), and Time Bomb which comes across as another variation of a last man standing event. Unfortunately, none of them bring anything really new to the table.
There is one mode however that does provide something a bit different, and that is Carkour. That’s right, Parkour… with cars… around obstacle courses that require nimble precision. The goal here is to pick-up all of the collectibles as quickly as possible whilst navigating the twists, turns, loops and jumps that accompany the levels. With handling not proving the best in GRIP, this isn’t quite as magical as it could be, but it is nice to see something a little less intense whilst retaining the focus of being able to drive on all surfaces.
As for the online side of things, and the gameplay in GRIP feels no different to the single-player modes and with A.I available to fill in the gaps of vacant online players, there is a chance for an active player base even if the game doesn’t fill with popularity. Unfortunately it doesn’t help that setting up any game is a confusing affair, one that sees options blanked out and it all being a bit of a struggle to tailor races to a more preferred set-up. Should they be ironed out, then the online racing certainly has plenty of options to create an enjoyable experience.
The only other thing to mention is the audio and visual side of things, and even though there may be issues with the gameplay, both the visuals and the audio certainly stand out. The game brings a pulsing soundtrack that sets the futuristic tone perfectly and whilst the visuals may not be ground-breaking, they are definitely nice to look at, bringing out a true feeling that our demise could be just around the corner.
There are still several issues that need to be ironed out but GRIP: Combat Racing isn’t a terrible game. In fact, with a few necessary fixes, it could definitely become something rather special thanks to filling the gap left in the genre and providing something a bit different to most other racers. At present though, it’s going to take a bit more variety and polish for this to be a racer we’ll be remembering fondly, and with repetitive races making up the bulk of the game, there isn’t much that will keep many attached to this evolved street racer.