This bodes well. And to keep track of those genuine successes, GRID has a ranking system that keeps track of your performance. Starting as a Junior Rookie, you get points for finishing races online (so don't drop out, eh?), points for winning and points for beating people who have a higher ranking than you. Each rank has three subdivisions (one-, two- and three-star) and those who play long enough and well enough can hope to become Legend. Codemasters obviously uses rankings to assist with matchmaking, and it's a handy badge to wear online; Xbox 360 owners can also expect to unlock certain Achievements and gamer pictures specific to these ranks.
And while Codemasters won't be teaming up with Microsoft or Sony in special Internet Death Squads to hunt down people playing before the street date, it will be collecting your lap-time data for every race completed on a car class basis for every track in the game, and uploading ghost laps for world records so that you can download the best and race against them in Test Drive mode.
Sadly, GRID hasn't had to worry about any of our ghost laps at the time of writing, but some of the most interesting will probably come from the game's drift races. As we reported the very first time we saw GRID, Codemasters is using a drift system similar to the Japanese D1 series, distilled into a pair of disciplines: a score attack mode, recalling PGR4's efforts, and a competitive racing mode that balances your achievements in terms of angle, speed and flair - and combinations of the above - against track position. Having experienced a couple of these, we can see them becoming firm favourites online. Peering into the rear-view mirror and discovering a school of fishtailing opponents at your back as you approach a corner is a palpable sense of pressure.
On a purely technical level, GRID also performs well. The damage is synchronised, as promised, lag is intermittent but more to do with our shonky office Internet connection than anything the game's doing poorly, and there are sensible touches like a user-friendly spectator mode, a system for voting for upcoming events, and host migration so that big groups aren't dumped back to the menus just because one person's cat clawed at the DSL micro-filter out of desperation and neglect.
Fittingly, we finish our multiplayer play-test with a stock car race on a figure-of-eight circuit; 12 cut-down bangers slipping and sliding past and into one another, and colliding in mid-air at the crossroads, which is met on one side by a ramp. It's by far and away not our first upside-down moment of the afternoon, but it does the trick, and leaves us to flick between perspectives of the other racers crashing into one another. We look forward to smashing into you with meaning when the full game comes out on PS3, 360 and PC on 30th May, because damage matters, and on this evidence Codemasters is doing it right.
As mentioned, Race Driver: GRID is due out on 30th May for PS3, 360 and PC, with a DS version "to follow".