Race Driver: GRID Reader Review
It�s pretty easy to say that so far this year, Sony�s GT5 Prologue has been king of the race car hill; teasing its loyal fans with its shiny cars, impressive visuals and boasting the PS3�s power to the masses. However, there always seemed to be something missing with the series; while it was undeniably realistic for a console racer, its lack of damage, fairly weak sense of speed made and limited accessibility made it an instant turn off gamers craving for the next action-packed petrol fix.
Cue Race Driver: Grid, from the early stages of development it was hailed as a game that focussed purely on fun, fast, action-packed racing, and to say it simply delivers would be the understatement of the year. Straight from the outset there are plenty of nice (and even creepy) touches before you�ve set a wheel on the track, such as the ability to select a range of real names (male and female) as well as nicknames, which will then be spoken back to your by your manageress and your mechanic. Sadly �Poddy� wasn�t there, but a surprising: "Hello, Mark" is a great example of the polish put into the game; and don�t worry; we are far past the patchy Fifa commentary of the early 2000�s.
Fans of Codemaster�s previous game DiRT will also be happy to see a revamped version of the menu system, albeit with a few refinements. Likewise the EGO engine behind both DiRT and Grid has been renovated to produce some visuals easily rivalling the likes of GT5 Prologue, Burnout Paradise and Project Gotham Racing 4, and that�s no mean feat. One of the best examples of the graphical splendour within the game is the Le Mans 24 hour event, where over the course of 24 hours (or 12 minutes if you so choose) you�ll see the sky change from clear blue to an orangey dusk to eventual blackness with nothing but your headlights and the occasionally lit-up building to guide you round the track. Come morning time you�ll be greeted with bright and clear lighting, highlighting all the dents and bruises on your car (which are somewhat plentiful); it is truly a transformation to behold. Those who were impressed by DiRT�s visuals will anything but underwhelmed this time around, as the beauty of the game is reflected in every nook and cranny of the game, from simple �next-gen� effects like a slight blur on the speedometer as it moves, to the sheer photo-realism of a Nissan Skyline drifting through a narrow, neon lit street circuit in Japan. Even witnessing the soft shadow of your racing machine projected against the Armco as you drive was enough to distract me from an upcoming corner, resulting in a race-ending, yet beautiful crash. Other times plunging into the next corner through blindingly thick smoke billowing out the back of a Nissan Silvia can be a genuinely terrifying experience, and one that�ll have you praying that you emerge unscathed (it�s true, I hit a boat once, don�t ask). While the graphics are certainly not the be all and end all of any game, this one is undeniably beautiful, and provides a picturesque backdrop to the main show: the racing.
The racing itself is suitably matched to the aesthetics, providing some really adrenaline pumping moments in the space of a mere three or four laps, with the game already looking stunning, it�s only wise that the gameplay matches up to graphics. The majority of races see you plonked right into the middle of the pack of up to 20 cars, and from the first green light to the last you�ll be involved in intense, action-packed and fast paced battles, normally right down the final straight too. Whilst it�s obviously your main objective to win the race, you can still have just as much fun in the middle of the pack jostling for position with some occasionally aggressive AI opponents, which is a genuine demonstration of Grid�s ability to capture and heart and soul of racing. There is nothing like hearing the roaring engine of a Chevrolet Camaro chase you through a claustrophobic tunnel, before jumping out along side you and breezing past as you take the next corner. The sheer sense of speed crafted into Grid is also something to behold, transforming even relatively mundane laps into on-the-edge sprints to the finish line with ease; it even makes a Chevrolet Lacetti feel fast, and that is something.
Where you�ll be racing though, is split up into three different regions: Europe, Japan and the US of A. Each region features some very different tracks, cars and competitive styles, ranging from classic 60s Muscle cars to tuned-up Nissan Skylines. Having each region separated into different sections also means that during your career (or in Grid World, as the game likes to call it), you can simply keep racing in the events you like the most. Whilst initially the game offers you a sample of each of region when starting you off as a freelance racer, once you collect enough funds (£40,000/�60,000) and start up your own team, you can choose to race where you want. With 3 licences to each region, there is plenty to keep you busy until you literally run out things to do in that region. There is always the option of racing for another team as a freelancer in pursuit of more cash, but it doesn�t do much to boost your influence or reputation as much as racing for your own team. Sadly, there is not a huge amount of difference between the US and Europe, with practically the only difference being the tracks you race on, whether it�s Long Beach and Detroit in America, or Donnington Park and Istanbul for Europe, more often than not you�ll have the ability to drive your car of choice in either region. Whilst Europe has the Le Mans 24H race up its sleeve, there is no variation in events, with straight-up races being the order of the day across both continents.
Japan is where the real originality lies, in the form of Midnight mountain road chases, to drifting around sunset lit docks stacking up sideways combos, if you ever get bored of regular circuits, or even doing laps, there will usually be something in Japan to quench your thirst. Take Midnight Touge for instance: taking place during the night (probably midnight actually) and simply telling you and one other car to race to the end of the course, oh yeah, and don�t hit any oncoming cars. Drifting is another completely different style of play, with going sideways more encouraged that going round the course as fast as possible; add multiple cars all trying to attempt the same thing, and it can occasionally become pretty disastrous.
Speaking of which, Grid is certainly not shy when it comes to car damage, more veered towards the Hollywood aspect of the thrills and spills on the track. The extent of the damage is fairly remarkable, making it almost impossible to bring that car home un-scratched, even clean laps will probably leave a few scrapes on your bumpers for cutting over a steep kerb or landing heavily after a brief trip through the air. Actually performing a clean lap however, is something probably best left to the developers at Codemasters, with some of the heavier impacts genuinely deforming the shape of your car, with everything from crumpled bonnets, cracked windscreens and even completely losing doors. Thankfully, Grid�s main emphasis on arcade style action makes the majority of the damage fairly harmless to your car�s performance, however if you do really slam your car into a wall or have a nasty first corner collision, serious damage can affect your car�s overall top speed, handling and can even �wreck� you, by taking you out of the race altogether. Some cars are easier to wreck than others, with the fairly fragile Open-Wheel cars subject to wrecks with the mere loss of a wheel, whilst the American Muscle cars can withstand a fair beating before it really becomes too much.
When this does happen (and believe me, it will happen, a lot), there�s no need to panic and fear starting the race all over again, as Codemaster�s will happily let you rewind up to the point of your untimely destruction, and you let try again. Whether it was an unexpected hairpin or an accidental trip into the gravel trap that ruined your chances of victory, a simple selection of the �instant replay� button in the main menu will seamlessly give you the ability to view your (usually race-ending) crash in slow-mo from any angle, and then allows you to start rewinding time before your traumatic incident. Whilst this may be an instant turn-off to some of the more hardcore gamers, after a while using the feature will become second nature and a lot of the frustration is taken out of the gameplay due to the extent of the damage system. The feature can be turned off in �Pro Mode�, which is also the only mode that allows you to post lap times on leader boards online; turning the mode on also seemed to give the AI a kick up the backside, and were considerably faster, so the Pro Mode, really is for the Pro�s. While it�s always exciting to see your terminal crash from several different angles, both in slow-mo and in fast forward, there is a limit to how many times it can be used, with the easier difficulties allowing 3 or 4 uses, which can lower the initially steep learning curve for newcomers to the game or even the racing genre. On a side note, you can use the instant replay feature without turning back the clock, and replays are certainly one feature that is not overlooked.
Again being perfectly intertwined with the sense of speed and adrenaline pumping racing, the replays offer some spectacular angles, with barely any fixed cameras in sight, you will rarely see the same angle for more than 3 seconds before it changes to another dramatic perspective. Sometimes looking more like an action movie than a race, the shaking cameras and close-up shots create a replay just as intense and dramatic as when you were playing. One gripe however, is that the replays cannot be saved, meaning that the only way to capture an epic crash or close race would be to use a recording program such as Fraps, and due to the spectacularly unpredictable crashes, sadly some of the best crashes will never be seen. Replays also flaunt the best graphical aspects of the game, with occasional glances from across the room looking almost photo-realistic, and it quite frankly makes watching real life racing somewhat boring after seeing Grid�s edge of your seat gameplay. Thanks Grid.
Perhaps the main reason the races are as exhilarating as they are is due to the AI. Never afraid to take a few knocks and scrapes themselves, the AI drivers are more than willing to challenge your position with an aggressive but also fair stance. You will rarely find an event where you can simply drive off into the sunset without being chased down by a rampant Lamborghini. Whilst being aggressive, your AI rivals also display some genuine intelligence, giving a sense of awareness around them by slowing down for other cars, avoiding accidents, and even being the cause of them in a Codemaster�s staple of AI, with opponents making mistakes by themselves. Making human-like errors certainly adds another degree of realism, however the mistakes they make are actually quite difficult to perform yourself, and it�s easy to wonder whether it�s simply there as a gimmick to help the player whilst distracting them with a �cool� factor, nevertheless it�s often satisfying to see the leader of the race throwing it all away on the final corner allowing you to breeze past and take the win. Particularly in the early laps of the race, collisions are always bound to occur, and watching the AI try and attempt to squeeze through a tight corner can provide some great crashes with no intervention of your own.
If you have the money though, you can even be lucky enough to see your own AI team-mate racing alongside you, or if he�s good enough, ahead of you taking points for the team. This option is only available after you have your own team up and running for a while and definitely adds another aspect to your team�s success, as your team-mate carries the same sponsors as you, you have the chance to almost double your money per race. You can select a team-mate based on price, attributes (skill, aggression, awareness and consistency) or even how big their cut is from each race, giving a much larger sense of control over your team. Each team-mate has their own speciality, in which if they race in that series they will win more often than not, likewise expecting your team-mate to win in a class that really isn�t their forte is generally a long shot, but finding a team-mate to who is consistent is key to regularly raking in the cash. What really adds a layer of personality though is the radio chatter between you and your team-mate, who will regularly keep you informed as to what position he�s in, with varying levels of enthusiasm depending on his situation. The driver�s nationality gives the general stereotype as you�d expect, with my German team-mate Sebastian Minter constantly acting surprised when beaten in Formula 3000 events, as well as boasting his driving skills after catching me up after a crash. While nationality doesn�t really affect their specialist subject, for your team to be constantly at the top of the standings, you�ll need to be firing and hiring like Alan Sugar to keep your head above the rest, make sure to be careful though, as once you�ve fired a team-mate, you�ll lose him forever and he probably won�t be in the mood to rejoin you in your escapades.
Whilst hearing chatter from your team-mate mid race is a nice touch, even up to the point where you�ll want your team-mate to do well for his own sake, if not for the team. One voice that will really start to grind on you however, is the voice of your mechanic/manager/spotter, who starts off as being relatively helpful and informative, but then almost immediately becomes repetitive and irritating. Seeing as the radio chatter seems to be such a large part of the authenticity of the game, having your spotter repeat the same line 2 or 3 times a race, often inconsistently makes it anything but useful. The actual snippets of help do sound good, and the implementation of real names is very stream-lined, but the 10th time you hear: "Whoa, I think someone�s spun out, it looks like Paul Collins!" it will begin the grind. Perhaps the worst thing about these snippets of advice is that a lot of the time they are very inconsistent, there have even been occasions when my spotter has claimed a driver has spun out, despite the fact that I�ve been actually driving behind that driver the entire race with error. I have also been told to watch out for crashes that are going on behind me, given pretty delayed responses, and flat-out lied to, and whilst the spotter is just as easy to ignore, he becomes nothing more than a distraction by the end of the game.
One place where you (fortunately) won�t find your team is online. Whilst the game�s focus is necessarily on online play, it is certainly a step forward compared to DiRT�s rather pathetic multiplayer features. It wasn�t exactly hard for Codemaster�s to create a better online component than DiRT, but it is still a solid, bug free and occasionally hilarious during the actual races.
The majority of the single player content is available online, as there are no special races or events that can�t be seen and done on your lonesome. Supporting up to 12 players all with a full damage modelling, creates some pretty intense races similar to single player, albeit with slightly less forgiving opponents, and a lot more crashes than you�ll probably see throughout the entire single player career.
The menus themselves are solid and fairly easy to use. Once a simple account has been made, you have access to ranked, unranked and private games (mainly aimed towards friends wanting to play together on passworded servers). While the ranking system doesn�t really encourage much replay value to �level-up�, it is still a feature that can show who means business and who�s just there to have fun. Initially starting as a �Jr. Rookie�, you progress more quickly through the rank by beating drivers with higher ranks than you, and generally finishing races. Rankings extend all the way from Rookies to Superstars, with considerable amounts of experience points needed to get even higher in the rankings.
Sadly, there is little in the way of customisation either, with custom paint jobs being about the extent of it, and even then there is a choice of a primary, secondary and base colour, and a number. There is the option of having your single player team�s colour show on your car in online races, which can provide inspiration for your own car, as well as some very creative designs, such as a pink Aston Martin. Nice.
However there is always one unavoidable problem with any easily-accessible (which is no bad thing) racing game, I for one know that the first thing I did was crash my first car into another car, and the same applies online. �Griefers� or �Wreckers� so they are called are obviously present in any game, the ones who set out simply to annoy their fellow players, however, the punishing aspect of crashing in Grid, means that it only takes one nudge to take you out of commission, especially in a fragile open wheeler. Whilst this obviously annoys all gamers wanting to race seriously, the sheer amount of crashes makes finding a clean, fair race amongst 12 players an experience to behold, and one that shows that there are some quick, fair racers out there. Sadly no friends system has been implemented, so you�d probably better ask for their Xfire name while you still can. Whilst there is the ability to turn the damage off, it actually seems to take away from the appeal, as watching cars bouncing off each other looks pretty disappointing.
Codemaster�s have made some attempts to try and put a stop to the deliberate crashes, with little features that help laggy players as well drivers who like to drive the wrong way around the track. As the cars drive around the track, the driver�s account name and nationality is displayed, when that name tag goes red, it indicates lag and in a Trackmania style twist they become a mere ghost and can be driven through as long as the lag spike dictates. The similar is true with �wreckers�, as more often than not drivers coming head on to you will simply go through you, rather than completely end your race and mangle your car. It�s a simple system that works well, but not all the time; one particular issue (that is supposedly being fixed in a patch) is people reversing off the grid, creating immediate pile ups and instant carnage. I�ll admit I did laugh the first few times it happened, but when your front wheels get knocked off your F3000 car in the first 2 meters of the race, it can be frustrating.
Fortunately, there is one event that caters for all the people craving for high speed crashes, cart wheeling cars and flying tyres - demolition derby. For unrivalled carnage, stress testing or even just stress relief, the derbies can provide some of the most intense crashes in the game, with the great exception being, you won�t care. Featuring figure of eight circuit that beg destruction, it�s one of the hidden gems of the online component, with wanton destruction around every corner. Due to the fairness of the AI in single player, you are normally left to try and cause the incidents yourself, whilst in multiplayer, the incidents will always find you, whether you like it or not, and the fact that you just won�t care makes the demolition derbies the most fun you can probably have in the game, I have never laughed out loud playing a racing game until now.
In closing, Codemaster�s have taken the very basic of the racing genre, then given it a next gen makeover and then slipped it into a fast-paced and exhilarating race suit. The terrifying sense of speed, spectacular crashes and instant accessibility easily make it the best arcade racer since Project Gotham Racing 4. The word �arcade� is used very sincerely in this case, it is safe to say that fans of simulation racers in pursuit of realism probably wont� find sanctuary here, but those looking for a brainless, heart pounding ride, then look no further. Likewise some will not be able to overlook the rather limited amount of cars, with a comparatively meagre 45, which, compared to Gran Tourismo looks fairly weak. However these cars are some of the fastest in the world, so what Grid has sacrificed in numbers, more than makes up for in sheer speed. The game�s overriding sense of style prevails throughout the game, from the opening cut-scene, rivalry-stimulating grid moments, and flawless incorporation of the flashback system; Grid spurs every emotion that should come from racing, excitement, terror, aggression and pure elation.
9 / 10