Developers of racing games have a tough gig: create a product that has enough content to keep the player interested beyond their initial introduction to the game, vary that content so as to avoid early-onset tedium, and allow the player to feel as if they’re actually the one in the driver’s seat.
Codemasters, having previously released 11 titles in their TOCA series (three of which were GRID titles), had a heavy burden placed on their shoulders when the competition are titles such as Forza, Project Cars, and Burnout. While some of their efforts succeed, other aspects of their latest addition fall short, leaving a feeling of emptiness where — perhaps given more time — they wouldn’t feel so trivial.
GRID releases on October 11th, 2019, and was reviewed via a publisher code on PS4.
Drivers, Take Your Positions
As far as the story goes, GRID doesn’t offer much. The player is given five rows of competitions ranging from F1 races to muscle car time trials, with a final competition after clearing at least 10 of the 13 events in each series. Once four of the five final events are completed, the player can then compete in the ultimate goal of racing in the GRID World Championships. No information is given as to the prestige of that supposedly lofty goal other than a looming banner at the top of the race selection screen, showing four blank squares that will fill up as the requirements are met.
There is an additional “Invitational” category with races that unlock as the player achieves certain milestones throughout their races. These range from races in beat-up Mini Coopers to sprints in cars straight out of Le Mans. As progression is made throughout each of the five racing types, cars may have to be purchased, though there was never a point during my playthrough that I was short on cash. Oftentimes the more expensive cars available to purchase weren’t even desirable given the type of event, as a considerably lighter vehicle is far more suited to a track with hair pin turns than a heavier one.
The player is also given access to a teammate, with more becoming available as levels are gained from race experience. Each teammate has a particular race-type preference, along with statistics such as loyalty, skill, and their percentage of the winner’s purse should there be any.
A Well-Oiled Machine
The cars control incredibly well, giving the player the feeling of being the one in the car, most notably so during the F1 series races. I dare someone to keep a steady heartbeat while controlling a bullet that goes from 0 to 120 miles per hour in approximately four seconds. Thankfully, a rewind mechanic has been included so that an embarrassing end-over-end crash just short of the finish line can be completely avoided, though the number that is allotted varies depending on how deep into the series the player is.
New to the series is the nemesis system, which, for something that’s been advertised as a huge addition, doesn’t really add value to the races. Should you draw the ire of a fellow competitor by clipping them while taking advantage of their too-wide skid on a tight turn or even just overtaking them at a crucial point in the race, the player will be alerted that that competitor is now their nemesis, and an icon will appear next to their name on the current leaderboard.
And yet, despite gaining a nemesis in a number of races (I tend to take turns a little more violently than I probably should), I never once was given the impression that they had become any more dangerous than they already were. I was expecting something along the lines of my nemesis throwing any notion of reaching the winners’ podium to the wind and squarely focusing on totaling my car, but that never happened.
Beauty in Simplicity
The races themselves can range from ho-hum to white-knuckle, depending on the event and the cars that are available to the player. Running at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second (and never dropping below that), the temptation to stop and enjoy the scenery is more than palpable.
With locations ranging from the ocean-side roads of Japan to the rusted, weathered tracks of San Francisco, each one is elaborately and endearingly detailed. It’s oftentimes a treat to allow the pre-race overview of each track play in its entirety to do nothing more than take in the scenery.
Car damage is given the same level of detail as the tracks themselves. Scrapes and scratches obtained from a run-in with a competitor or a poorly-taken turn are persistent throughout the series, and particle effects — a headlamp being crushed or a piece of spoiler being broken off — actually fly through the air and whiz past, sometimes even hitting a competitor unfortunate enough to be in the way.
Take It All In
The level of audio detail in GRID is nothing short of astounding. Gears shifting (or grinding), wheels skidding, and fans cheering from the stands as the finish line approaches are all presented in terrific fashion. As your speed increases, close shaves with corners give a bone-chilling indication that a catastrophic accident was just barely avoided.
From time to time, the race advisor will alert you to incidents on the field: a crash, an imminent change in weather, or how your teammate is performing. When the weather is poor for the event, rain will pelt down on the dashboard with impunity, and claps of thunder or strikes of lightning resonate with the same level of accuracy as if one were actually present. No other racing game has provided this level of quality when it comes to auditory accuracy, and especially not with this level of consistency throughout.
Riding on Bare Treads
GRID is a bit of a mixed bag. The races themselves are plenty of fun, and being able to pull out a series win after coming up short in the first race or two is immensely satisfying. That said, there isn’t enough variation to keep things interesting for more than an hour or two at a time, and that’s a shame considering how much love has clearly been given to its presentation.
Announcements have already been made for post-launch support which include more tracks, race types, and multiplayer events, but the core game is still lacking in a few areas. Diehard fans of the racing genre will find plenty to love, but for the rest, there’s a chance that GRID will run out of gas a little too soon.
Review copy provided by Codemasters for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.