Given the crowded field of racing games, those in the genre truly require stand-out qualities in order to be worth your time. Codemasters is not unfamiliar to this world, with their Colin McRae and Race Driver series that have kept many racing fans happy for years. In 2007, they managed to really impress with the most recent Colin McRae, DiRT. Now the newest Race Driver game has finally hit, but like DiRT, sacrifices its well-known moniker for the title: GRID. If last year's Codemasters title didnít do it for you, GRID most certainly will.
GRID takes a lot of what made DiRT so great and blends it with the proven formula used for their past Race Driver games. There are a few different game modes available in the game. The simple stuff is Race Day, which lets you set up your own custom events and just get out there and race. There are also multiplayer options that will be covered later in this review. However, the real meat of the game takes place in GRID World. Racing games typically donít have stories attached to them. GRID is really no different on paper, but one of the things that makes the GRID World mode so intriguing is that as you progress through it, you feel as if your are writing your own story.
You're prompted at the start to enter your full name, which already makes it feel like you're truly starting your own racing career. The first little pleasant surprise also pops up, the spoken name list. GRID has sound clips containing many common names, which the game uses to directly speak to you. Itís a bit weird for a game to refer to you by name, but also pretty damn cool at the same time. Your initial goal is to compete in an event and simply finish, earning your first racing licenseÖnot too much of a challenge. Afterwards your career begins. Race events span three different regions: Asia, America, and Europe. Each is home to different event styles. Youíre presented with one event from every region to take part in while racing for various teams. Events change after each race you complete.
If GRID were this and nothing else, you can bet the quality wouldn't be where it actually is. In fact, there's a much bigger picture. Once you earn enough cash racing for other teams, you fix up your first car and personally start one. Pick your name, colors, car paint pattern, and racing numberóthere's a lot of customize. You still take on races for other teams, but the sense of accomplishment just isnít as sweet as racing under your own banner. Even further down the road, you can expand your garage and even hire a teammate. Winning helps you accumulate sponsors that pay you additional money for meeting their objectivesÖwhich range from finishing first to finishing with no damage, and so forth.
Really, it feels like youíre writing your own story from scratch. One could go so far as to say it may be the closest concept to a racing RPG. You recognize rival drivers on numerous occasions as you work your way to the top. Hiring or firing teammatesÖand working together with them is a fun and unique mechanic. Even earning sponsors and picking which are on your car can be exciting.
Progression is fairly simple, you just need to win. In order to earn a race series trophy, you must finish as the points leader. Wins also earn reputation, gained by racing for yours or another team, which is used to score new licenses. However, the payout is much higher when racing for your own team. Use money to purchase more cars for your garage. Some races require certain cars for you to be able to compete, so sticking to a few favorites won't work. Unfortunately, vehicles come as-is with no tuning options available. While the overall list is very respectable, it would've nice if it'd been longer. At a bit under 50 cars, itís somewhat meager by most standards when rivals like Forza 2 and PGR4 boast rosters into the hundreds. Still, GRID does a good job of making due with what it has.
GRID also has the great variety of possible events to enjoy going for it. Like the TOCA games of last generation, there are several different disciplines to master. Most of the races are standard affairs though, so donít be too spooked. Races take place on both real tracks and city streets. Some of the disciplines to tackle include: drift races, Japanese Touge races, Le Mans, and even demolition derbies. Having a nice, diverse set of races really helps the game stay interesting.
GRID is great fun, going for a blend of arcade and simulation racing. The driving may take a bit of becoming used to at first since the cars tend to feel a bit floaty like they did in DiRT. You'll definitely pull off maneuvers that obviously couldn't happen in real life, but not so far out to be completely unreasonable. The AI is also excellent; it proves to be quite a challenge at times. The fact that your opponents behave so humanly is what makes the AI stand-out from other racers. Certain drivers display recurring tendencies, which is most noticeable in the traits graph when hiring prospective teammates. They donít all follow the racing line perfectly and sometimes make mistakes. They also react well in real-time to you, other AI drivers, and changing race conditions.
Races are exciting and fast-paced. Even with lower level cars, they can feel quite intense. With fields of up to 20 cars, surprises are bound to happen. No race is ever the same twice. Things also become quite dangerous out, meaning accidents will occur. However, Codemasters implemented a new mechanic for racers as a whole: the flashback. If youíre ever involved in a wreck, take a turn poorly, or even total your car, simply reverse time up to ten seconds and play from that point. This can be a lifesaver when oftentimes one mistake can mean victory or defeat. Rather than frustratingly restarting a race, just use a flashback and continue. Itís a great feature given the unpredictability of races. Even rewinding for the heck of it can yield a different outcome. The number of flashbacks you have is determined by the difficulty setting currently chosen. Purists can even turn them off altogether, but itís a great concept.
Graphically the game is gorgeous. While you may see some blurry textures (mainly on the tracks) during flashbacks or replays, most of the time the game is moving so fast you wonít notice. Most objects look fantastic, with lots of detail and a full 3D crowd cheering you on. Using a more advanced version of the DiRT engine, itís hard for GRID not to look great. Even at blistering speeds, the framerate virtually never slows. Just like DiRT, there's some excellent real-time damage modeling that allows your car to deform and even lose parts or body panels. Be careful though, because damage can also affect your ride's performance. Every now and then you may see bent body panels clipping through your car, but this is a minor issue. Aside from that, every vehicle even has a full dash view for extra realism. Topping it all off is some excellent lighting and terrific car models.
Sound is quite good, but doesnít quite fill out as the visuals do. The voice work is quality most of the time. The developer did a great job of using clips that flow together nicely and sound fairly natural. You hear radio chatter from your team manager and teammate throughout races, oftentimes with helpful info like your standing, so you can concentrate on driving. Then again, if the voices prove to be too much of a distraction, they can be turned off. The only major improvement the voice work could use is a longer list of spoken names. Of note, the list of female names is quite pitiful. At least if yours isnít available, there's a list of nicknames to choose from.
Otherwise, crashes and collisions sound realistic. Although most of the engine effects aren't very unique from car to car, what is provided is of excellent quality. Unfortunately GRID also lacks a good deal of music, like DiRT. For some, the roar of the engines may be music enough, but during races, there's no soundtrack except for some occasional dramatic music during special challenges like Le Mans. Thereís some great material for the menus and some great pulse-pounding tracks for replays, it's just strange to not have the option to throw some of these in during races.
Last are the multiplayer options. While better than DiRT, your options are still a bit restrictive. The game supports up to 12 players via Xbox Live, PSN or system link. Sadly there's no split-screen racing to speak of. On Xbox Live/PSN, you can jump in to a quick match or host your own. However, playing online is more or less limited to the same events that are available in GRID World. The only time you can customize the options is when hosting a private match. Though sometimes a bit laggy, and the occurrence of a few random glitches may prematurely end a race, it works well.
GRID is an excellent racer that is fast, exciting, and tons of fun. Though there's some room for improvement, itís pretty safe to say that Codemasters really nailed the experience this time. Taking what they learned from DiRT, they managed to produce something fantastic. With their pedigree towards racing games, itís hard not to expect it. If you love racing, then GRID is a game for you.