Game: Race Driver: GRID
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Nintendo DS (Reviewed on 360)
The current generation of racing games seem to be all about striking a balance between the old-school ethos of mashing down the gas pedal for the duration of the race and the more modern sim-like gameplay mechanics of weight distribution and drafting. Gone are the days of the first generation Need for Speed games with their soldered-down gas pedals. Also a thing of the past are the viciously unforgiving physics of the first Gran Turismo. The new model for racers lies somewhere in between. One of the best examples of the mash-up of new and old school mindsets was the Codemasters-developed rally racer DiRT. Their follow-up to that is the recently released Race Driver: GRID, a game that incorporates the best elements of DiRT, but gets them off off-road. The resulting product, although not ground-breaking or terribly innovative is still one of the most fun racing games I’ve ever played.
The goal in GRID is to get your racing team to be the richest and the most prestigious. You start off as a driver-for-hire for various teams, who provide you with a car to compete in a variety of race classes (classic muscle car, modern muscle car, high speed, etc.). You earn money based on finishing races and bonuses are awarded for meeting certain conditions of the teams that hired you (e.g. finishing higher than 5th or beating all the drivers from a rival racing team). After you have earned enough cash, you can buy your own car and start an independent racing team. After customizing your team’s look, you’ll compete in races to attract sponsors. With sponsors come more money, more cars, and more races in more classes.
Like I said, there is not much about GRID that is original or trend-setting. The success of GRID comes not from trying to reinvent the wheel, but from getting so many gameplay elements spot on. Visually GRID is a triumph. The backgrounds, tracks, cars, crowds and even the menus are gorgeous to look at. The graphics when racing are simply mind-blowing- I had more than one person walk past the screen and comment on how the game really conveyed a sense of speed. The sound design is fantastic, with the different cars in the different classes each having a distinctive tonality. And overall the gameplay and audio-visual features combine to make a game that is quite simply a ton of fun.
Codemasters built an entirely new engine called Ego for GRID, which is an evolved version of the Neon engine created for DiRT. The update allows for extensive damage modeling in each race. This means that any contact will be rendered with an almost excruciating amount of detail. Your instrumentation panel lets you know what parts of the vehicle have been damaged, and if you have too many areas in the red, you will crash out. One of the highlights of the new damage system is the persistence of the cars’ parts throughout the race. If someone loses their rear bumper on turn #2 in the first lap, that bumper will be there for the ensuing laps, unless it gets pushed off to the side. In all honesty, I don’t know that I would have missed this feature if it wasn’t there, but it is just another example of how GRID gets all the little things right.
Although GRID won’t be praised for its novelty, Codemasters didn’t completely abandon innovation. The instant replay incorporates a system called “Flashback” which allows you to undo bad turns, crashes, or any other driving mistakes. When something happens in a race that needs to be fixed, just rewind the instant replay (you can rewind up to 10 seconds) to before the incident, and hit the “X” button. The race then flashes back to that exact moment, allowing you to adjust for the error you made the first time around. There are only a set number of Flashbacks meted out per race, and you will earn more money the fewer you use.
There is a fully integrated online system, allowing up to 12 drivers per race to go head-to-11-heads with their customized garages. The damage system works just as well online as in single player, although flashbacks are disabled. Experience points are earned for myriad achievements, like events won or beating higher ranked opponents. GRID incorporates an online ranking system that allows players to track each others’ progress as they advance in skill level.
The only real drawback to GRID is the low number of available cars. Compared to games like Forza, which shipped with over 300 cars, GRID’s offering of 65 vehicles seems almost criminally small. But again, since the gameplay is so much fun, it takes a long time to get sick of the available cars.
All in all, GRID is an immensely satisfying and infinitely fun racing title. Combining the best of all racing worlds, Codemasters has given us a game that I’m sure to be playing for months.