GRID also goes beyond its main competitor - and many others - by modelling vehicle damage extensively, and allowing broken bits of car to remain on the track presenting a hazard. Totalling your car takes more than spinning into a tyre wall or misjudging the first corner, but damage does influence your car's behaviour - dragging you to the left, for instance - and if you're using the excellent in-car view, you'll pay for it in other ways: a wing mirror cracked into a spider-web of useless pieces, or even a smashed windscreen. There's also debris from other smashes, which often needs to be dodged, heightening the tension. The notes that came with our preview build point out that "Driving over debris on track surface may cause car to jump in air", and that this is a known issue and/or bug, but Codies says it will still have some effect on your car when the final release comes around.
We'll also have to wait until then to experience the Career mode fully, although we were able to preview its layout. Disciplines like muscle car racing, pre-tuned face-offs and drift challenges are spread across the three continents, and until you get your own set of competent wheels you work for racing teams on a freelance basis building up cash reserves and enhancing your reputation, which ultimately unlocks additional racing tiers in each area.
Each race you take on also has a reputation total attached to it, and you can increase the amount of reputation points you receive by increasing the difficulty level, turning off driving assists and perhaps opting for Pro Mode, which removes your ability to pause the game and restart the track you're on. A brave move in a game that, while it won't punish you like Gran Turismo, does a good job of holding you up if you spin your car or end up in a tyre-wall. You can also earn more money by completing bonus objectives, like beating a certain competitor or using fewer Flashbacks.
Of course, the concept of increasing the challenge to increase your potential reward calls to mind another prominent arcade racing series (no prizes for guessing), and that one also had Drift Challenges in it. GRID's put you head-to-head with another racer, asking you to navigate - in Yokohama Docks' case - tight networks of corners and improvised box and trailer chicanery. Building a combo involves performing a drift by braking, turning in heavily and then steering against it, and then initiating another one before a combo timer in the middle of the screen clicks down. You can also keep an eye on your angles thanks to a car icon at the bottom of the screen, while you apply familiar skills: over-braking, over-powering and e-braking to flirt with traction. We liked this before; we see nothing here to suggest we won't like it again, and we also see adjustments and tweaks that might be interesting to investigate.
Overall, GRID is fast (really, face-smashingly, F-Zero fast at times, actually), it looks and sounds as good if not better than the next-best thing (the smoke effects, in particular), and is varied enough to keep the spirit of TOCA Race Driver alive, even if Codemasters is keen to sex things up for the Americans. And helpfully for a game called GRID, the actual grid is very slick: as you arrive at the track via load-screens announcing your stats (this many podiums, that many laps), names and grid positions line up in punchy block capitals next to your car, as though they're sitting on the track spoiling for a fight.
If all the good things we've seen are backed up by sensible skill curves, well-tuned corners with a touch of PGR4's "racification" about them, and a healthy online element, this could be 2008's next great racer. See whether it is when the full thing comes out in the summer.
Race Driver: GRID is due out on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this summer. A DS spin-off is also in development.