Race Driver: GRID Review - 24/06/2008

It's part of the Race Driver series, using the engine from Colin McRae: DIRT and Codemasters have managed to produce yet another fantastic racing game. GRID is right up there with the best this generation.

As you'll know if you read our preview, GRID is a determined effort to get the Race Driver series out to the masses, and with beautiful graphics, cars and presentation, you'd have to say that they've succeeded in that department. The initial fear was that it would degenerate into Need for Speed: Underground style street races bathed in babes, neon and rap music. To allay any concerns, GRID is, as the developers have stated since the start, the definitive, visceral racing experience. In fact, it's far more hardcore than most. But how has it got there, and what (if anything) makes it any more fun than the kings of the genre: Gran Turismo, Project Gotham, and Forza?

The game covers a variety of racing disciplines, from Destruction Derby to the Open Wheel and Touring Car high-speed races. There is certainly something for everyone, and while some are much harder than others, the balance is generally quite a good one, and there is a sense of enjoyment for each and every class available. The races are split into the customary regions of the USA, Europe and Japan, with different types available in each. Japan for example enjoys not only the Drift events we feared would plague the area in the game, but also straight racing, and not always at night!

The graphics are immense.

An interesting yet difficult facet of the game to master from this area are the Touge races. These see you racing one-on-one over two-legs. As the player, you begin at the top of a mountain starting in front of the opponent. You then race down to the bottom, aiming to keep the other racer behind you and extend as much of a lead as possible over them. This is made easier by the fact that they cannot make contact with your car or will suffer a heavy penalty -2 seconds for a minor nudge. This means you can play defensive driving, something which few of the other disciplines emphasise. On the reverse, in the second-leg you are forced to start from behind and race up to the top of the same mountain. Trying to overtake your opponent without making contact is a tricky feat to say the least, and compared to the aggressive, rough and tumble gameplay of the other races, it's a welcome departure, though takes a while to get used to initially.

By far the most appealing types of races for the masses are the Muscle and street-orientated events. These take place through some of America's best known cities, such as Washington DC and San Francisco, as well as European and Japanese locations. The focus is on using any means necessary to get to the finish. It's worth noting now that the single player career is split up into three tiers. Each is represented by a licence, and you have to win a certain amount of points in each area to be able to progress to the next grade. As you move through the licences the races get faster and faster, the opposition tougher and tougher, and you'll be striving for a podium rather than expecting first place each race. It is, in fact, a nice change from the norm.

The gameplay is pretty good too!

The game isn't too unforgiving however. You may have heard about the flashback feature which allows you to reverse time by about 15 seconds or so, most useful following crashes or failed overtaking manoeuvres that you want to have another stab at. At first it feels like it takes quite a lot away from the excitement and tension of high-speed racing, something which Codemasters have always said GRID is all about. Once you get a few races in however you really begin to appreciate why it's there. Lewis Hamilton may be able to drive inches from the wall at 150mph at the Canadian Grand-Prix, but the chances are you're not quite as good as him (well, maybe at successfully stopping for red lights), and so will need to use Flashback on more than one occasion in most races. Being able to throw your cars into the corners, centimetres from the tyre barriers, is a thrill that no other game rewards so greatly. It's almost like a retro-platformer game. If you fail at a spectacular overtaking maneuver, you can just press the Back or Select button, rewind to the point you want to play from, then press X or Square to get back in the game, just like a platformer where if you fall down a gap, you're spawned in just before it again for another try – to keep the pace up, while not making it impossible for all but the most dedicated racing fans. It's fairly seamless, and I have personally used every single flashback available to me (four on the normal difficulty) on numerous occasions to perfect certain corners if my first effort left me in the sand-traps.

The controls, such a crucial part of any racing game, take a little while to get used to, but feel great once that happens (about half an hour in). You can tailor the assists to each individual race, receiving a varying amount of cash as a result, and you really do notice when each one is off or on. It's not too hard without any assists and many Forza fans will want to keep them turned off.

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