The original Race Driver: GRID was a ferocious racing game when it launched to critical praise back in 2008. For the first time players got a real sense what it was like being a real race driver, where each and every sense of being in a race could be felt through your experience. It set a sort of benchmark at the time. It’s time to find out where the latest entry lines up on the grid.
From the get-go it’s really obvious that Codemasters wants you to get to the most important bits in the game, the racing. Everything about the presentation is simplistic. Unlike most other racing games these days there are no pages to flip through to access the various modes and menus. You have the option to jump into the career, multiplayer, edit your profile, check the options and compare your times to the global leaderboard. It’s a no-frills, no-fuss approach that is in a sense a fresh breath of air in this day and age of information overload.
Start your engines!
Career hosts all the meat on this particular bone. Your task is simple – complete the various challenges in each race format to unlock a showdown. Win the showdown and you unlock the main GRID World Series to compete in. Getting there isn’t as straight-forward as you’ll have several vehicle categories to get accustomed to. GRID has a very pure focus on the racing itself. Each race brings with it something unique. Seeing as GRID is, in essence, an extension of the long-forgotten Toca series, you can expect Touring, Stock, Tuner, GT and Invitational events to test your knowledge of each vehicle group. Within each category, you’ll get to drive vehicles from predetermined classes, so at no point will you obliterate the opposition. You have to fight for each place you gain.
Teamwork has always been the focus in the series and it’s not about to end here. The problem is that due to the default difficulty being a bit too easy there is no need to take advantage of your team options. I highly recommend that you change the difficulty to hard (it’s on medium by default) and increase the damage level to full (from visual only). Make those two changes and suddenly GRID comes alive. You now can’t just bash into the corner to force a position in your favour and the AI gets real nasty. Suddenly your team mate becomes a very important factor. Asking him to attack or defend to help you gain or maintain a position changes into a game of chess. It’s all very strategic. Believe me, you are going to need his help as the AI is a force to be reckoned with.
Nothing artificial here
The AI in GRID is exceptionally intelligent. They’ll block your path for an overtake and, should you bump into them one too many times, they could turn into a nemesis where they are out for your blood on the road. In other words – keep your eye on your rear view mirror, as they’ll quite literally drive you off the road at every opportunity they get. This doesn’t just go for your rivals. Bump or frustrate your team mate too often and he’ll turn into a nemesis too, which could be detrimental to you winning an event. He’ll be gunning for you and, to top it, he will ignore any orders you request via your team radio. I had my one team mate turning off the radio altogether in his hate for me. It’s, therefore, a good idea to purchase a team mate with high loyalty stats to ensure he has your back in tough circumstances. The drivers drive with emotion in this game.
As with the original game, GRID is a combination of simulation and arcade. This time there is more of a focus on the latter. When it comes to the open-top cars you’ll find that they stick to the road like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but muscle cars also just about powerslide around corners. It’s got a very specific handling style to the cars that is unlike anything else out there. It often reminded me of Project Gotham Racing, where it feels like some sort of hybrid between sim and arcade. Each race will grant you XP that opens up events, based on your speed, technique and bravery, but you’ll also earn in-game credits to purchase vehicles. Your decision on what vehicle you buy is based on just two stats – power and weight. It’s these simple elements that can make it seem a little too bare-bones at times. Cars can be tuned too, but even here its the minimum. Gear ratio, springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and brake bias can be tampered with and that is as involved as you’ll get with the setup of the car. Don’t expect any modding of any kind, other than changing up the livery to your liking.
The drivers drive with emotion in this game.
Where GRID does impress is with its graphics. The cars are exceptionally well detailed and the damage model is highly impressive. You’ll see pieces of plastic missing from the bodywork and mid-race you’ll often see big panels of plastic shooting up into the air as the bodywork falls off in all the turmoil. I even saw a wheel coming loose and randomly dislodging from the axle of a rival’s car. I once randomly saw a car on its roof as I drove by it. The races feel very real and you’ll often see rivals just randomly spinning out and losing control of their vehicles. It’s hard work out there, man. The time of day and weather also plays a huge part in making it an engaging experience, but unfortunately, there is no dynamic weather or time of day cycle to be found anywhere. It either rains or it doesn’t, which is a shame.
Steer back to a controller
When it comes to racing games that work with steering wheels then the rule of thumb is generally quite simple – arcade racing games are not much fun with a steering wheel setup. Unfortunately, that rule still applies to GRID. I tested both the Logitech G920 and the Thrustmaster 458 Italia Edition and neither wheel felt responsive. The steering is very loose and you’re constantly over correcting yourself by over-steering into most corners. The wheels are fully customisable in the game, and I spent some time fine-tuning each wheel, but it was a fruitless exercise. The force feedback from both the terrain and rival vehicles just weren’t that great. If you were thinking of buying this game to play with a wheel setup then it’s most definitely not the game to consider for that. The only good point comes in the dashboard camera that makes it feel like you’re really holding the wheel, but that’s about it.
Where GRID does let itself down is with the tracks on offer. There simply isn’t enough to keep your interest. In total there are 13 tracks with several variations of the track. It’s amazing to see the original 2009 Silverstone race circuit and the city tracks like Shanghai, Barcelona, Havana and San Francisco bring a real sense of speed and chaos, but it does get quite repetitive after 20 hours of the same circuit. This simple approach extends further into the game. Once you’re done with career, which will last you just over 30 hours, you only have the option to play the online multiplayer or free play modes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online games at the time of writing, but the single-player experience feels over a bit too soon. There are objectives that you’ll unlock after each race, but it feels tacked on and pointless.
GRID isn’t quite up there with the Codemasters greats of our time. If you are willing to tamper with the options to make it a competitive racing game then you are going to have an enormous amount of fun. Fail to that and this lines up with the rest of the midfield on the grid, behind Fernando Alonso.