Race Driver: GRID

Qualifying session.

Ever since early man discovered sticks and fire and the wheel and Nurburgring Nordschleife, we've been hitting pause and restarting the track to make up for some terrible error. Whether it's letting a wheel slip beyond the rumble strips into a sandpit of doom, or screwing up the apex on a crucial hairpin, we've all been there, and it's always annoying, and it's always on the final lap, and we always shout, and unfortunately we can't all run away into the hills and blame it on Dietrich. So thank goodness for Race Driver: GRID, which has something called Flashback that you can use to undo catastrophic errors. In the 80-percent-complete preview build we've been pootling around for the last few days, it's exactly the sort of lifesaver you'd expect.

Of course, being able to undo mistakes in an instant is a threat to any game's difficulty curve, but in GRID's case it seems to be used sensibly - just a few times per race, depending on the skill setting. In our build it was necessary to pause, visit the Instant Replay screen and press "X" at the point before the crash that we wanted to reassume control, but Codemasters says the final game will make it even simpler. And while it might sound like a generous, if not game-breaking introduction, presumably it won't work in competitive multiplayer, and in any case if you were going to redo an event until you got it right, why not cut out the repetition? Or more specifically the swearing and repetition.

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Rather than having tyre marks, a little red light flashes on the mini-map when you should be braking.

Anyway, it's not as though GRID isn't offering a challenge. Not unlike the TOCA Race Driver games that preceded it - to an increasingly high standard - GRID is home to a vast single-player campaign spread across three continents and numerous racing disciplines, some of which we got to sample. In the US, we threw nippy Zondas and a hefty Mustang GT-R Concept around Washington and San Francisco Grand Prix courses, while Europe's Spanish Jarama GP circuit and Italian Circuito di Milano hosted our BMW 320i and Aston Martin DBR9, and Japan took us to Shibuya and a Yokohama Docks course that tackles Project Gotham Racing's Drift Challenges head on, asking you to build up drift combos in tight conditions, a bit like The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, a film we hoped never to admit having seen. Twice.

PGR4 was the V8 elephant in the room when we last played GRID, with Codemasters' offering situated at a similar point on the scale between arcade and sim, but early comparisons are favourable, particularly in the visual and track design areas. The graphics in the screenshots and trailers are not fibbing; GRID really does send you roaring down old Italian streets under the shadow of a cathedral before plunging you into cloistered darkness, sharp turns and an extremely long crescent left-hander flatout across the start/finish line, and it really has managed to steal all the bloom effect from all the other games ever, giving boiling hot summer tracks like San Francisco a scorched-earth look to match the roaring muscle cars you're trying to out-brake and manoeuvre. Playing PGR4 again last night, it looked older than its six months.

The Jarama GP circuit first-corner pile-up is a proper in-at-the-deep-end moment.

Back to GRID, and each of the six tracks we've played has its own personality: Jarama's densely arranged turns and hairpins, and narrowness (which eventually lost it the Spanish F1 GP), are dangerous fodder for Touring Cars, and the San Francisco track's start/finish along the side of the bay, followed by wide 90-degree turns, is treacherous enough before the route ascends bumpily into the city's famous hills and throws in a few disguised doglegs as you clank back down towards the sea. The latter course also best demonstrates the audio, and not just the grinding and whining of powerful engines, but all the crunching collisions between cars, and car and track: the sound of the Mustang GT-R Concept reconnecting with the road as it bounces down hills in San Francisco is gaming's best attempt yet at capturing that particular worrying clank.

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