Race Driver: GRID
All hail Codemasters' fantastic new EGO Engine. The graphics technology powering Race Driver: GRID really is extremely impressive. Taking a leaf out of Project Gotham 4's book, Codemasters' engineers targeted an unwavering 30fps refresh rate, maximising the level of detail and special effects to create one of the most beautiful racing titles of recent times. Just like PGR4, there are motion blur effects designed to make that 30fps look more flowing and fluid, and also just like the Bizarre Creations game, there's 4x multisampling anti-aliasing to round off those edges and make for an even smoother experience... on Xbox 360, at least.
As was the case with Grand Theft Auto IV, it's plainly obvious that owners of Microsoft's console get the better end of the deal technically, but once again, in terms of the overall package and that crucial gameplay experience, there's very little you're missing out on with the PlayStation 3 rendition of the game, as the comparison video demonstrates pretty conclusively.
Gameplay content is basically identical, the game's still excellent fun and - on the face of it - the only differences are minor and technical. That beautiful anti-aliasing on the 360 version is dropped back a touch and the frame-rate isn't as consistent. Shadows and lighting on PS3 appear to be a touch improved, obvious most noticeably on the 3D writing that is a part of GRID's excellent presentational system.
However, the most major difference between the two games is the level of screen tear. Discussion about this aspect of the PlayStation 3 version first kicked off when the playable demo was first unleashed. While Xbox 360 was generally solid, PlayStation 3 owners were slightly perturbed by the lack of v-lock, resulting in some pretty obvious screen tear not seen on the competing platform. Indeed, from our measurements, around 30 to 40 percent of the 60Hz output of the PS3 was torn frames.
Codemasters moved to reassure gamers by saying that the demo code wasn't final and optimisations were being made all the way through to the game's completion. Due to lead times, it's more usually the case that demos are made after the main game has been sent for submission, so this statement struck me as rather odd. And even if the demo was made before the final game was submitted, we're talking about a huge level of optimisation required to make up the extra performance.
As I suspected, the full game (both review code and the final retail product) operates on basically the same level as the demo and the same 30 to 40 percent of torn frames was still measured using our scanner. Here's a vid to show the differences, with the full frame being displayed and run at 25 percent speed. You'll see the 360 clip first, then the equivalent action from the PS3 version of the game.
The difference is pretty dramatic, and while not as impactful when playing the game, at times the effect can be quite off-putting, especially noticeable with fast left-right movement or when passing a large piece of trackside scenery. It's worth pointing that Xbox 360 version isn't completely immune. However, it rarely crops up during gameplay if it does at all, but is occasionally seen in the spectacular race replays and sweeping intro sequences.
Of course, Xbox 360 owners had problems of their own, thanks to the hard disk caching that in some cases completely paralysed performance. Gamers had to transfer their gamertags to memory cards and rip out the hard disk in order to get smooth gameplay. Apparently it's been fixed now with an Xbox Live update (which I couldn't test, as I never had the problem in the first place) but pity the poor sods who don't have online access and are therefore lumbered with a crippled game.
Griping aside, it's clear to see that Codemasters is on to something special with GRID. While opinion is divided about the handling, about the gameplay, the bottom line is that the company can compete with the big boys graphically and I'm expecting great things from the company's F1 title.
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