Racing games aren’t exactly rare, so it’s nice to see one break the mold a little bit. GRID, the latest game in the Race Driver series by Codemasters, is the spiritual successor to DiRT, the gorgeous rally racing game that wowed audiences last year. Built on similar framework, GRID provides a balance between hardcore simulation and Burnout style silliness that ends up being both challenging and addictive. While it isn’t as deep as other racers on the market, GRID‘s exciting facade makes it much more interesting than much of its competition.
“When DiRT received complaints about a short list of singleplayer levels, Codemasters apparently listened – GRID has such an abundance of races to participate in it’s difficult to fathom playing every single one.”Similarly to DiRT, GRID provides different racing classes for players to progress in. Muscle car racing, drift tournaments, and demolition derbies are just some of the events that wannabe drivers can enlist in, and all of them are different enough that the game remains fresh – if you decide to actually play every single event, that is. When DiRT received complaints about a short list of singleplayer levels, Codemasters apparently listened – GRID has such an abundance of races to participate in it’s difficult to fathom playing every single one. All of these main races are driven in your own car, which at the start of the game, is a pretty lowly racer. By earning credits during races, you can buy new vehicles for different classes of driving, but if you’re really itching to drive unbelievable supercars, dive into the Driver Offers. In-game teams looking for a driver post wanted ads of sorts, meaning you can race in expensive cars and earn yourself extra moolah to buy your own. It’s a good way of making the game feel like less of a grind, since unlocking cars is a fairly slow process. Doing well in these races also gets the attention of sponsors – slap loads of ads on your car and earn even more money when you do well. These features give GRID a great personality, a nice break from the often clinical atmosphere of racing games.
The most important factor, of course, is the actual racing. GRID‘s handling is far from realistic, but the controls are well tuned and feel great in practice. Why are they unrealistic, you may ask? Well, similar to DiRT, the center of gravity of every car is dead center – meaning that some cars can be thrown around corners in ways they really shouldn’t. It’s a bit bizarre at first to see how tightly most cars can weave around bends, but it suits the fast-paced gameplay, and it’s not as if differences of handling have been ignored – Muscle cars are still appropriately weighty, etc. – but it’s noticeably different from simulators like Forza Motorsport.
What GRID does that other games don’t is make the driving experience feel like a life-and-death situation. The sense of speed in most cars is so overpowering that it’s difficult to take everything in at once – just like driving at 100 miles an hour should feel. The camera shakes, the engine roars, and the world whips by at such an alarming pace it’s a wonder the cars don’t take off! It’s far more intense than the average racer, and adrenaline junkies should get a kick out of the sheer in-your-face attitude of the game. GRID‘s multiplayer is vastly improved from DiRT‘s disappointing one-person-at-a-time trials, too, allowing drivers to compete on the same track at the same time. It’s fast, but still methodical – a perfect blend between the fantastic and the grounded.
It helps that GRID is absolutely gorgeous, too. The color palette is a slightly muted sepia tone, but everything is bathed in detailed lighting that sets the sparse colors off in a beautiful glow. Cars are rendered lovingly, including every interior, and the tracks are equally pretty – impressive, considering the varying locales GRID takes drivers. Japan, Italy, and America are all represented, as well as other cities in countries around the globe. The sound design is equally grand, featuring loud engines and sound effects. The best part of the presentation by far is the crashing – damage is modeled well not only visually, but aurally, with crunching impact effects that are wince-worthy. Of course, you could always rewind the replay backwards and start at a point before the crash – another new feature – but pile-ups still carry a lot of weight to them.
“Don’t spray champagne all over your TV when you win.”GRID isn’t a hugely deep game, but it has an impressive array of small features and presentation pieces that serve to make it feel bigger than it really is. By amping up the excitement level of virtual racing, GRID‘s driving serves as a great benchmark for how to do racing properly – intense, with a proper feeling of danger. Unfortunately, the quirky handling and lack of tuning options strip it of pole position somewhat – it’s hard to imagine the hardcore elite racing fans leaving Forza or Gran Turismo for it – but as a pick-up-and-play racer, GRID earns its podium finish. Just don’t spray champagne all over your TV when you win.