The Switch game library is large and diverse, expanding at a rapid rate, but there's one genre that has barely been explored - the more simulation-orientated driving experience. And that's why Codemasters' Grid Autosport is almost by default a recommended release: there's very little like it on Switch and the quality of the game itself is excellent. There are plenty of embellishments beyond prior console versions too. From HD rumble support to gyro controls to three performance modes and an optional 1.4GB high resolution texture pack, there's the sense that developer Feral Interactive has really pushed the boat out here - and best of all, it gives us the choice of how to play it.
First up, let's clear up any confusion on what this game is. PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC get a full series reboot, simply called Grid. It uses the latest build of Ego engine, every track is sculpted from the ground up and the lighting model is vastly improved. While there's an overlap in circuits with the Switch release, it's fundamentally an entirely different game. Codemasters' strategy for owners of the Nintendo console is to translate and enhance Grid Autosport, a vintage 2014 PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 release. Feature complete and beyond, the Switch game is bolstered by new modes and a fully updated track list.
Technically speaking, I think it's good pairing for the GPU power of Nintendo's hybrid, elevating a past success to greater heights, rather than struggling to hit the mark with the reboot. While the original console releases topped out at 720p with some performance problems, the docked Switch experience delivers a full 1080p instead, only dropping to 720p to provide a 1:1 pixel match for mobile play. In an era where so many Switch ports deliver blurry and indistinct visuals, this is a welcome change. Sadly, we're missing online and local multiplayer at launch - a bit of a shame given last-gen at least had local split-screen. Codemasters says that these features will be released in a free update further on down the line.
What we have today happens to hold up rather well. Handling is spot-on, drifting feels satisfying, and the HD rumble is properly tailored to recreate the friction of tyres gripping the track. Even car collision physics are well worked into the game, while the older Ego engine's feature set is fully represented here, with velocity-based motion blur, and screen-space effects like water splashes, lens flare, chromatic aberration all making the cut.
Stacking up PS3 and Switch, the two are very close in terms of geometric detail. Buildings, cars, and everything in between seem to jump right across. Shadows are improved on Switch though, and texturing on far-away objects benefits from the HD texture pack with clearer signs. Playability is also improved thanks to a more solid performance level, the adaptive sync screen-tearing of the older release is completely gone. Meanwhile, docked play really does look so much better thanks to the 2.25x increase in resolution to full 1080p.
All things considered, this is impressive stuff - yes, it's a last-gen port, but it's also a conversion of an Ego engine game that saw Codemasters push the tech as far as it would go on last-gen hardware, and it really looks a treat. The transition to Swtich delivers the best home console version of the game - and better yet, there are a few different ways to play. The docked mode offers two options: the graphics mode gives you a 30fps experience with the works in post effects. However, if you want to shoot for 60fps, a performance mode has you covered with an unlocked frame-rate that gets you most of the way there.
For performance mode to stand a chance of hitting 60fps, a lot gets stripped out. Many of the post-process effects - notably motion blur - are removed, leaving the image looking a lot clearer, but also sharper. It's still 1080p either way, but post treatment of edges is lower quality, breaking up sub-pixel detail on fences more obviously, while car shadows are also removed. In fact, the dynamic shadow from sunlight is cut away entirely in performance mode - something that sticks out like a sore thumb. All things considered, a lot of the game's visual refinement is gone, and the frame-rate isn't as consistent as the 30fps graphics mode (it's between 50 and 60fps), but it's great to have the choice.
Handheld mode sees the Switch drop resolution to 720p, but the graphics/performance modes remain. They act just the same, and play just the same with very similar frame-rates. However, a third option is added to the mix: energy saver. This is simple enough: the game's capped at 720p and 30fps and all settings are dragged down pretty much as low as they can go. It's everything you could feasibly do to ease load on the GPU, besides drop the res lower than 720p. The idea is simple, since the graphics core soaks up the most battery power. Reducing the burden there allows you to game for longer.
All of this in combination with the solid gameplay puts this title in pole position for Switch owners looking for a quality racing simulation game. It's absolutely robust in its mechanics, with a huge roster of cars, and you can play it in so many ways. I do think multiplayer modes should have gone in at launch and I would have liked to have seen the performance mode produce a better lock to 60 frames per second - unless you're at the front of the pack, you're more likely to be playing between 50fps to 60fps instead. It's smooth enough, I guess, but the judder is noticeable.
However, on the whole, the package here is crammed with content and value, with seemingly more to come. While it's not quite perfect, what I really like about this is that it's not a quick porting exercise, but a careful adaptation. Feral Interactive has ticked the boxes in including everything it possibly can. Between a 1080p resolution boost, optional HD textures, improved frame-rates and various performance modes it feels complete.it's clear the developer was given the time to properly bolster a last-gen release - and transfor it into an impressive Switch title that holds up in docked and mobile play.
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