GRID PC Review

It has been over 11 years since the innovative rewind system was introduced into racing games by Codemasters and their spin-off TOCA racing IP, Race Driver: GRID. The game was well received and had enough support to gain two sequels, GRID 2, which did not go down as well as the original, and GRID Autosport, a sequel that attempted to get back closer to the original, in turn, making it a better game, but still not quite gaining the love that GRID was drenched in. It has been five years since GRID Autosport appeared on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and recently on Switch, releasing just a few weeks ago (September 2019), an unusual event for a company like Codemasters, who likes to keep the racing genre flowing with their yearly F1 releases and biennial Dirt releases.

Codemasters is keen to make note that GRID is a reboot for the series, hence the game’s title simply being those four letters, but that does not mean that the original design has been lost. GRID in 2019 is still a game that brings arcade blistering racing covered in realistic visual splendour, it still has street circuits and official racetracks, and it still has a mixture of different racing disciplines. This is all good stuff, plus, this is Codemasters, a team that stand out at getting that one key aspect part of a racing game, the actual racing, right, and with GRID, the driving feels fantastic, but there are some shortcomings in other departments that degrade some of its fresh tyres.

From the initial start up, the game throws the player into a sort of teaser trailer for the action that lies ahead, as an advert for the GRID World Series demonstrates some of the events featured within the season. Players get to participate in these previews by racing for a few moments before whisked out into another and then dumped into the main bulk of GRID‘s content, its career mode. There is no story here, gone are the days of Toca Race Driver games, rather, this is a simple progression career mode that tasks you to get through all the events and win the GRID World Series.

Career is straightforward and rather plain in its design. A wall of event squares slotted into six categories – Touring, Stock, Tuner, GT, Fernando Alonso and Invitational – makes up the front end of career mode. A few from each are unlocked at the start, and as progression is made through each of the events, more squares open up across the width of that career discipline until their last event has been finished, which then adds to one of the four required completions to unlock the final events of the career, the GRID World Series. This less restricted design in the game’s career allows for a diverse approach, offering up a constant change of vehicle categories, the cars featured in those categories and the tracks themselves.

In the beginning, GRID seems to be doing everything well as all its fresh content is cycled to you across its selection of interesting racing types. There are vehicles included that cover the spectrum of TC-1 Specials cars, Pro Trucks, Super Modified tuner cars, GT Group 1 cars, Heritage Super Tourers and even Fernando Alonso’s Renault R26 F1 racing car. There are over 20 car types and 69 vehicles available – no customisation though, apart from car skins, and the cars here are never their stock versions. Codemasters has made sure that each car has that distinct feeling of its class. Jumping from a tuned up Subaru Impreza into a muscle beast of the Ford Mustang MK1 or one of the Australian V8 monsters demonstrates that control of the car has to be adapted or expect to feel the dangers of over-steering, more so when switching from Pad to Wheel where this stuff becomes even more apparent in GRID, but it is never on the scale of some of the games that aim for more simulation.

Issues begin to arise in the career mode after spending about eight or so hours with it, as one thing becomes apparent is that the locations seem to be repeating, and this is because there is only 13 locations in the game. To put that in to perspective, Race Driver:GRID had two more at 15, which just goes to show how barebones the location selection this seems to be. A mixture of real circuits and cities make up the list, with circuits like Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Indianapolis and the cities of Havana, Shangai and Okutama in the selection, and all these look fantastic and feel exciting to drive, but there is clearly some big names absent here, with Spa-Francorchamps, Mount Panorama and Nurburgring missing just to name some. With one to four races featured in each event, and there being around 100 events, it is understandable that 13 locations, no matter if in total this adds to over 80 layouts or a mixture of night and wet weather to offer a different driving style on the location, it still brings too much sense of deja vu no matter how brilliant they visually look- Shanghai being one of my favourites in the game.

Another factor that becomes clear is the value of money and how it can hinder the open progression of the game. To participate in these different vehicle specialisms, you need to own a car that fits into that category. Cars cost money, and some aren’t cheap – money comes from good results in races, but the problem lies with having to either limit spend to be able to afford a car for each of the car groups, pick some of the available events and reuse the same cars or rerun some races already completed to be able to earn and drop down hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars to purchase a specific car to be able to take part. Some of these should be a bit cheaper, and to make matters worse, I was playing with VIP status, which gives 10% more cash, so it’s slightly worse for anyone who isn’t splashing the cash at £64.99 – an extra £20 over the base game – for the Ultimate Edition on PC.

On track is a different story from the design of career mode, because the racing element of GRID is superb. It might be on the arcade side of the spectrum with tight, grippy controls, but there are enough options here through the assists to make it easy for newcomers who just want to race or for the more experienced drivers, who like taking assist off and adapting to the car and how it shifts its momentum and weight through corners, controlling the throttle to not wheelspin or cause too much oversteer.

Racing against other cars is totally on the side of arcade, since GRID does not follow the laws of racing, in sense that people should watch out for each other and try not cause harm. GRID kicks that agreement out the door, since the game promotes hard driving to the point cars are having bonnets and bumpers flying off during a race – it’s not true to life, but it makes for an exciting spectacle. Also, if  you are worse off in a collision, there is always the option to use the flashback rewind system, five per race as standard in the option, to bring yourself back to life. If, you are like me, though, you might end up using a few on taking the same corner, entering too fast and sliding into a barrier, rewinding and do the same thing again…Does anyone else do that?

The big thing advertised for GRID‘s return is the AI and the Nemesis system. Codemasters state that there are around 400 AI personalities built into the game that give each name on the starting GRID a combination of statistics that covers things like aggression, consistency and how risky they are. It is suppose to make each race feel slightly different and unpredictable, more so when the more risky driver AIs are featured, since they crash out or drive off the track under pressure from yourself or other drivers. Fernando Alonso also has an AI featured that has maximum skills, making him the one to beat in his section of the career. The new Nemesis system plays into the AI, since if you keep hitting an opponent, they become angry and see red, now they will try their best to make sure they get payback, or at least stop you from beating them to the finishing line first. I would not class this as revolutionary, but it is a fun inclusion, and the action on the track is made more hectic because of it.

Team management is more of an afterthought this time around. I did not even notice that it was possible to change a team mate until about 4 hours into the career, as it is tucked away in the gamer’s profile menu. Each teammate has ratings and percentage fees that are deducted from race winnings. During a race these team mates can be instructed to move up and down the pack and help with defending your position, but that really all there is to the team mate aspect. It could easily be stripped out and it would not be missed.

Outside of the career is quite minimal – there is a free race mode to do custom races, but the rest falls into the multiplayer, which is also rather limited. Multiplayer takes the cars owned in career and enables them in online racing. If you do not happen to own a car in the group that is currently active, then the game will loan a car to you for a small charge of the winnings. Options in multiplayer are scarce, with just quick race or private matches available. This means there is no way to setup a lobby for a group of friends or streamers to join together and get their pedal-to-the-metal on. That is not the only problem, since quick race also does not let you pick the car category, it’s literally a lucky pick of the available options in the game. I know the game is aimed at a more casual audience than Codemasters other titles, but taking out the ability to let players pick their race types seems too restricting, and it sucks when stuck with a race type you might not enjoy.

This is an exceptionally beautiful game, giving more life through detail and the discovered colour, something the previous GRID games seem to lack, preferring a more dull, muted aesthetic. City tracks have more atmosphere, as it feels more closer to the location, racing between giant buildings as the spectators go wild at each passing car. That is not to say the track-based locations are poor, it’s just harder to make them any more interesting than they already are without adding fantasy elements to them. Sound is also top notch, with cars sounding loud, especially when sat in the cockpit. I would not know if the sounds are truly authentic to the cars, but damn, they sound good nonetheless.

GRID is a strange one to evaluate, since the important parts of a racing game, the racing itself, is great. Dropping the less simulation of Dirt Rally 2.0 and F1 2019 to return to a more arcade approach helps the manic action on track. Add amazing visuals, the hectic, fun racing against the decent AI pack and there are some parts of a game to truly love. Problems arise with the shallow online features and bare bone track selection, where the bulk of the game’s content, the career, suffers because of the repetition and grind. Three seasons of content are planned for the future – this comes in the Ultimate Edition – and in that are new tracks, which Codemasters have mentioned will be free to everyone, so that will no doubt help booster the game for better in the future, but in reality, it should have been there from the start. GRID, as it stands then, is Codemasters delivering what it does best, exciting and superb racing that anyone can pickup and play, but spoiled by shortcomings to its content and online.

7 out of 10