Race Driver: GRID Review

Geoff White

The engine's purring at 6,000 RPM. You can feel the heat coming off the worn-out tires, desperately hoping they can take this last bend and then the final straight. You look around and see the sunlight glistening off your rival's paint-job in your rear-view mirror. You run slightly wide on the last bend, giving him the chance of a sneaky pass down the inside. It's now a straight drag race, man against man, machine against machine. If they could bottle this experience it would be 100 times more expensive than oil. It's a situation we all dream of being in, yet very few will ever experience for real. That is why there will always be a home in every male's heart for racing games.

The holiday traffic was a nightmare.

The first Codemasters racing game we were introduced to on the Xbox 360 was Colin McRae: DIRT. The game was visually stunning, and Codemasters had tweaked every drop of performance they could get from the NEON engine gaining great feedback from critics and gamers alike. Building on their success of this game, they decided that they would evolve the NEON engine, adding some major enhancements to the damage code, allowing persistent damage environments. They called the new engine, EGO, and they used it to bring back one of Codemasters most popular series, TOCA Touring Cars. TOCA has always been known for its high attention to detail, and it has built an incredibly large global fan-base around this. Will GRID be able to keep these fans happy, as well as the next-gen 'arcade' racers? Let's have a closer look.

When playing GRID, the first thing that you will be asked to do is create your Driver Profile. As well as entering your details, you will be asked to choose a nickname. These are from a set list of the most common first names, as well as some 'common' nicknames, such as Stud and Maverick. This name will be used throughout the game, from being welcomed back when loading a game, to telling you how much of a lead you have in a race. It really is a nice touch and makes the game feel more interactive and personal. Plus, being called Maverick as you're taking bends at high speeds puts a huge grin on the face, and makes you want to drive even faster down the 'Highway to the Dangerzone'.

The main feature of GRID's single player aspect of the game is the World Tour. As soon as you start this, you are thrown in at the deep end with a 12 car race to get your 'rookie' license. All you need to do is to complete the race. Easy, you might think. This isn't always the case. This is the first time you will encounter the opposition AI. Other cars will take the defensive line through the corners if you're close to them, or they will take the racing line if the track is clear. They will hold their position, and if you try a move that you shouldn't, you will be off the track. This adds such realism to the game, that you will be concentrating the whole way round the track. It's not until you finish the race and have your 'rookie' license that you can sit back and take a breather. That's when you take in what you have just witnessed. The sound of the engines roaring, the realism of the cars, the detailed environments, the spectators cheering or gasping and the powerful combination of them altogether. And then you breathe out and say 'blimey'. Codemasters have certainly brought their 'A' game with this.

Interesting insurance claim.

Once you have done that, it's time to get stuck into the game. You have now unlocked the 3 different styles of racing that you will need to master in order to rise to the top of the rankings and become the ultimate driver. You will be lighting up the tracks in Europe, Japan and the USA. Each one has a very different style of driving and a different range of cars to go with it. The European events are mainly traditional circuit races, while the USA events are street races with muscle cars. Take a trip over to Japan and you will be entering the drift world- probably the hardest to master. Each of the three styles of racing has 3 different tiers to unlock, which is done by achieving reputation points within that class. Within each of these tiers is 9 different events for you to tackle. These never seem to get boring due to the different circuits and the different cars you will race in, as well as the various different styles of racing. The usual lap races are present, as are drifting events, and a new favourite known as Pro Togue. This is where two cars compete in two races head to head. Lowest overall time gets the win. In one race, you start ahead of your opponent, and the other race they start ahead of you. If you touch the other car when overtaking, a time penalty is added. This can make for some very challenging overtaking, and some very tactical races. This is a great addition to spice up the racing genre. As is the next, and probably biggest, addition to the genre....

Now, I want to take you on a little journey. It's 23 hours into the most famous race in the world, the Le Mans 24 hour race. The hard work of the night drive is done and it should be plain sailing from here on in. However, this is racing. You forget about the chicanes coming down the Mulsanne Straight, and you end up bouncing off the wall. It's not enough to end your race, but it will cause enough damage that the 10 second lead you have will be wiped out. This is generally the point that you stand up and scream, whilst slam dunking the controller into the bin like you're Kobe Bryant. Luckily for you, the good folks at Codemasters have included Flashback. This new feature allows you to rewind the last 10 seconds of a race, pick any point within those 10 seconds, and carry on racing as if nothing had happened. This means that no longer will the outstanding driving you've done for 98% of the race be wasted due to crashing on the last bend. For the experienced gamer, it means that you can have a much more aggressive drive, safe in the knowledge that you can fix a mistake or two. For the beginner, it means that you can still make progress through the game quickly without having to replay an entire race. The purists of the racing world (yes I mean you TOCA fanboys) will probably cringe and moan about how the feature is cheating, but at the end of the day, us gamers like an easy life. The feature is surprisingly quick to load, works like a charm, and will improve the game for a good 95% of us.

I told you that 10 second lead would go.

Whilst the Flashback feature will allow you to escape some damage, you will never be able to escape it entirely. Well, not unless you drive a perfect race, but odds are slim. In DIRT, Codemasters got to grips with the way that damage would limit the car, up to the point that the car would fail and your race would be over. In GRID, the bar has been raised to a staggering level. Simply glancing a metal barrier or a brick wall on a straight may well scratch your paintwork and that will be just about all it does, but do the same into a tire wall, and you're looking at a lot more damage to the car. And when the car looks damaged, it is damaged. I have had opponent cars bump me so hard on my rear drivers side, that the suspension has gone with one hit and that changes the car completely. It can get to the point that the car will basically not turn in one direction. Now this may sound like a nightmare but it brings in such a level of realism that it will make you enjoy the game more. Whilst still predominately an arcade racer, this isn't like Project Gotham Racing, where the quickest way to break from 200mph is into a wall. That will end your race in GRID. Whilst that may make it harder for the racing novices, it will allow the experienced gamers to benefit and to have a much better racing experience.

The multiplayer is another aspect that has been increased from the 'genre norm'. Instead of having the standard 8-way races online, GRID has upped this to 12 players. This makes online races incredibly challenging, as the odds of picking up damage on the first corner are sky high. The downside is that some people will drive like a 'PGR driver', and 'T-bone' you. Annoyingly, this seems to leave you worse off on a regular basis, but that's life. The plus side is that the online looks and feels just like the single player campaign. The spectacular graphics and sounds are all present, as well as the damage system. This will give you some huge testosterone-fuelled races with your friends, and it is truly a great online experience.

This is why parents don't loan the car to the kids

GRID has a relatively simple achievement list, including a lot of generic driving genre favourites such as 'Drive 500 miles' and 'Race at every track'. A large percentage of the achievements will be achieved by simply playing thought the World Tour mode. There are only 5 On-Line Achievements, although they will take some time to complete. Anyone looking for a quick 1000 points is looking in the wrong place, although most people should be able to knock out a respectable 700 or so points within one play through of the game. Overall, the achievement list is solid enough. There aren't any on the list that will make you do 'just one more race', but the game has so many features you will be doing that last race for at least more twenty races!!

Overall, GRID is a game that will leave your inner petrol head fully satisfied. The gameplay is refreshing in a genre that hasn't really been pushed too far in recent years. The improved AI will make you feel you are playing against other humans at times, and the damage engine adds a whole new dimension to race strategy. All of this, coupled with thrilling visuals and sounds, make this game a unique bundle of brilliance that the next gen consoles have literally been shrieking for. Luckily, Codemasters have now provided us with the solution. Now, gentlemen, start your engines.

The engines sound amazing, and the crowd reactions are a nice touch. The music in the menus is pleasant enough, and the commentators saying your name is the cherry on top.

GRID pushes the visuals boundary to the edge. It is clearly the most advanced racing game in terms of graphics, and certainly has a place in the Top 10 360 games overall.

It will take some people a while to get used to the style of gameplay, and the inability to crash into walls in an arcade racer. However, once you get used to this, the challenge that the game offers will keep you coming back for more.

Codemasters used the same system that they did in DIRT, so those familiar that will feel right at home. Newcomers can pick it up instantly and be able to hit the ground running.

A fairly easy 700 plus points will be available quickly, while getting the full 1000 will take a lot of time especially on the multiplayer. The list isn't groundbreaking, but does exactly what it needs to.

This is the premium driving title out on the 360 at the moment, and a must own for any fans of the racing genre. When buying a car in real life, it isn't about the miles per gallon, but about the smiles per mile. This game will definitely make you smile. Codemasters have certainly put themselves at the top of the pile, and it's going to be a major challenge for anyone to come close, let alone knock them off.

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