It seems like only yesterday when I was invited over to Codemasters’ HQ to go hands on with their new racer. GRID impressed me in many ways early on, but now with the game’s full release occuring it’s time for a more demanding road test. Fasten your seat belts, it’s shaping up to be one hell of a ride.
I’m sure many of you were as excited as me when it was announced a new racing game was in development by Codemasters. They are, after all, specialists in the genre and responsible for the highly thought of TOCA, DiRT, F1 and Grid series’ amongst others. As the name change suggests, this is somewhat of a reboot of the GRID series, which has resulted in a game stripped back to deliver what players want most from a racer; a solid, deep and enjoyable experience.
As with so many games these days, you can get the Standard or Ultimate Edition of the game. This latter one allows you to play earlier than general release, and includes a whole raft of extras through the season pass bundled with it. These include new circuits, cars, liveries and more to be released in the near future. It adds to the cost, but it is worth considering nonetheless.
GRID makes its intentions clear from the off. You’re thrown straight into the action with what works as a tutorial segment, but it all feels much more fluid. You’ll dip in and out of races which track your qualification for the GRID World Series. This game is about racing, and making that accessible to as many players as possible. In fact, before I went hands on the first time I was told GRID focuses on delivering three things when you play: choice and accessibility, unpredictable motor stories, and glory & prestige. Throughout this review, I will explain how it nails every single one.
The main way to play GRID is by getting stuck in to the Career Mode. There are six event “strings” that all culminate in a showdown at the end. Once you’ve completed four of these events, you’re into the final of the GRID World Series. Each string of events has its own distinct theme. You’ll be racing in all sorts of vehicles from GT to Stock cars, amongst others. You can choose which event string you play through and when, so you don’t have to complete every single race to get to the showdown. You’ll unlock events as you complete them, but you’ll be able to choose which to play and in what order, dictating your own path through the racing calendar.
It’s no secret that legendary F1 racer Fernando Alonso has been working closely with team GRID as Race Consultant. He has been advising on the handling in the game and has his own string of events which lead to a showdown against the man himself. Not only that, but his esports team also feature in the game, making up a part of the 400 strong AI players. His events are particularly enjoyable, one personal highlight being where you get the opportunity to hit the streets in F1-styled cars. It’s fast, dangerous and lots of fun. It’s another nod to just how much work has been put in to perfect the gameplay, making it feel truly authentic.
Before you begin each race you can choose to run a hot lap for qualifying, or jump straight into the race proper, mid-position in the pack. You can also tune settings such as springs, dampers and anti-roll bars before you begin. If you have no idea what any of that means, it’s fine, leaving the settings at default won’t put you at a disadvantage.
Nemesis’ are made during a race depending on how aggressive you are towards other drivers. If you bash into another car so many times, you’ll create a nemesis who will purposely target you throughout the remainder of the race. It’s a cool feature which dials up the drama, and in the tight street circuits you can easily rack up four or five of these foes per race.
You’ll also be racing with teammates and against rivals in most events. The D-Pad can be used to check on them during a race, as well as asking your teammate to assist you by attacking or defending. This includes manoeuvres such as blocking overtakes, which can really benefit you in a close run race. Each racer has unique stats and if you’re not careful your teammate can also become your nemesis during a race. New teammates can be signed up as you level up and earn more cash, each having unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses.
In GRID the AI is sophisticated, meaning races are challenging, and you certainly won’t be romping home in 1st place every time. Every now and then you may see a car flip, or you may make contact in such a way you spin out. GRID’s AI is built to incorporate unpredictability and variety into the gameplay, which stops races from feeling formulaic and repetitive. It happens with just the right frequency to feel like a freak accident too, as opposed to you spinning the roulette wheel everytime you race and hoping for the best.
As is now pretty standard in a racer, you can “flashback” by hitting Y mid race, rewinding what’s just happened by a good few seconds. You can only trigger this a limited number of times however, so you will want to use your flashbacks wisely. It’s a great little feature, especially if you lose a vital lead thanks to a nemesis executing some well timed revenge. Yes, it could be thought that it gives you an advantage, but at no point does utilising this system ever feels like cheating, mainly thanks to the challenging AI.
As you race, you’ll earn cash and XP depending on how well you place, and which objectives you achieve on the way round the track. There are many to unlock, and you can check on your progress via the player profile menu. You can then buy new cars, which will allow you to participate in a wider variety of events. You’ll also earn XP depending how you race, ie for drifting and showing off other moves. You can even display accolades you’ve earned which other racers will be able to see when playing online so you can earn bragging rights amongst your friends, or flaunt it to players worldwide. There are plenty to unlock as you level up too, including new car liveries, teammates for hire and player card art. GRID provides a good amount of player profile and customisation options which together is all used to build yourself a proper player profile.
I suppose the only criticism I can level at GRID is that after playing for a good few hours it can feel restricted in terms of variety. It would have been nice to see more cars, different tracks and a variety of locations available. The season pass will surely address this in time, but of course that comes at an extra cost. I can’t punish GRID too harshly though, as the gameplay is so incredibly tight and fun; no two races are ever the same. Also, as a result of offering choice to the player, instead of forcing you to play through every event, it naturally cuts the length of the career mode. Some may be expecting more for the price, but GRID quite possibly offers the most enthralling gameplay of any racer out there at present.
GRID also offers online multiplayer through 16 player matchmaking. Here you can race others from around the world in randomly built events. You can also set up private games to race against your friends, speeding around and bashing up other players in a “lobby” area whilst waiting for others to join. If you can’t get 16 players together then you need not worry, as the remaining spaces will be filled with CPU opponents. Thanks to the sophisticated AI, this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment one bit. You can still hit Y to “flashback” if you run into trouble, however it’s more of a reset due to the live nature of the racing, meaning you’re likely to lose a couple of places if you do. The online multiplayer of GRID may be simple, but it’s slick and still lots of fun.
GRID also works in conjunction with RaceNet, Codemasters’ racing community that will keep you updated with what’s going on at all times, providing access to limited time seasonal challenges and rewards. It’s worth joining, as it’s free, especially if you plan to race online.
Away from the Career and Multiplayer options and should you fancy some good old fashioned customised racing, Free Play is where to head. Here you can choose all the variables and set up the race you want to run. The only downside is the lack of local multiplayer here; that side of things is all dealt with online. It’s perfect if you want a quick hit of racing action in certain conditions of your choosing.
GRID looks great and runs smoothly. Your car will take damage in real time, and this will be detailed as you race with a pleasing attention to detail. Each location is really well realised, and you can go from racing around an English circuit to cruising through the streets of Barcelona, with each place feeling real and authentic. You’ll also be racing in several adverse weather conditions which not only affect the handling, but your visibility. When you’re whipping around the track in a GT car in the pouring rain, you’ll be grappling just to keep yourself on the track. When there’s a low hanging sun impeding your visibility as you’re jostling with the pack for pole position, you’ll have to be careful not to be rammed off. Simply put, it looks stunning. The fact that the excellent sound effects are uninterrupted by the absence of music as you race makes for an absorbing experience. There’s something incredibly joyful about hearing the full roar of your engine echoing as you rip through a tunnel.
GRID on Xbox One is indeed all about the experience of putting the player in the driving seat as literally as is possible in a video game. It’s also about choice, depending on how you like to play. Sure you can do some tuning, but you can also just dive in and race, with GRID catering for those casual arcade players as well as the more serious sim racers. The way GRID plays is akin to an arcade racer, but also has sim elements such as time penalties imposed by race stewards if you cut too many corners. You also get commentary on the action, from someone who sounds uncannily like Pete Postlethwaite from The Usual Suspects, but not at every corner like you would in an ultra realistic sim racer. It’s a hugely impressive balance that has been struck here, which results in a hugely accessible game.
GRID, I can happily say, is a triumph. It can be forgiven for a career mode that on some fronts lacks variety, due to how well realised the gameplay is, as it’s deep, authentic and above all else, a huge amount of fun. You’ll struggle to find a racer that plays better than this.