The newest game in the TOCA series earns a podium with GRID.
- Developer: Codemasters
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Release date: 11th October 2019
- Genre: Racing
- Platforms: Playstation, Xbox, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
GRID is the latest entry in the long-running series that began with TOCA Touring Car Championship, way back in 1997. The series has undergone many name changes over the years, however, the core gameplay has always remained focussed on wheel to wheel racing across multiple racing disciplines.
With Grid 2 (2013), critics gave favourable reviews, but many fans were disappointed with the way the series seemed to have moved away from realistic racing, with eliminator, checkpoint and drift events becoming prominent, and the handling having been changed to a more arcade-like feel. Grid Autosport (2014) set out to rectify this, with a focus being placed on racing, and significant modifications to the handling model, attempting to remain true to the earlier games in the series which had brought it so much popularity.
Grid as a series has occupied a niche in-between the somewhat sterile, realism focussed Forza Motorsport series, and the more arcadey experience offered by Need for Speed. It has been over five years since the last installment in the series, and Codemasters are under a lot of pressure to meet the expectations resting on their ability to bring us a sequel that will appease their fanbase, whilst still keeping up with modern trends. Fortunately, Codemasters have been in excellent form recently, with their F1 games evolving into a superb racing experience, providing an excellent and popular eSports platform, and ultimately giving us reason to be optimistic for GRID.
The crux of the gameplay in GRID is centered around the career mode. There are 104 events, which will have you racing across multiple disciplines in a variety of vehicles. Complete the events in each discipline and you can enter the showdown to finish that series. Each event gives you a choice of cars which are all competitive with each other, so you are free to choose your favourite rather than being reliant on picking the fastest car in order to be competitive, and it’s all the better for it. Each event is surprisingly short, races rarely take more than ten minutes, often lasting less than half that time. An option to run longer races would have been welcomed.
There are five distinct categories to choose from: The grippy TC-2 cars and Aussie V8s from the Touring cars, the muscle cars and trucks of the Stock category, heavily modified Tuner cars, the excellent GT cars ranging from GT4 to Prototype racers, and the varied selection of the FA (Fernando Alonso) class, which culminates with the Renault R26 F1 car. Supporting these disciplines is the invitational series, which features a rich selection of classic cars ranging from the ‘60s Mini, through to Porsches, Ferraris and LMP race cars.
It’s an impressive roster of cars, and while it’s not the largest variety on offer these days, they compliment each other well, and there is sure to be something for most to enjoy. You are free to start with whichever series you prefer, however, tackling them in order will give you a gradual introduction to the faster cars and allow you to get used to the handling.
If you play with the default settings, ABS, traction control and stability control are set to maximum, and there’s no sugar coating it, having them all turned on makes the handling atrocious. Mid-corner your car will lose power as the car attempts to remove any loss of traction, and it feels awful. Small slides, power oversteer and full on drifts are often necessary to get your car round the track quickly, but with stability control on, it simply isn’t possible.
Turn off stability control, and set traction control to a manageable level for your ability, though, and it transforms into a much more enjoyable experience. You instantly feel more in command, and it allows you to experience what is generally a very good handling model. Careful management of the throttle is required to maintain control over some of the looser vehicles, but it doesn’t take long to get a feel for the amount of input needed. Differences in cars are pronounced, with heavier cars having a noticeable shift in weight during corner transitions, whilst lighter, more powerful cars are snappy and responsive. GRID has managed to find a good balance that, while slightly more towards an arcade feel than pure sim, still has enough complexity to give enthusiasts a challenging experience, as well as allowing casual or less skilled players to be competitive and enjoy the experience.
There are a few vehicles that just aren’t enjoyable to drive though, with some of the trucks suffering from an unpleasant amount of oversteer, and there are some cars that you would expect to handle well, that in fact drive like a bag of turds, but these are more than offset by the quality of the rest. The small, front-wheel drive touring cars are nippy and responsive, while the prototype cars are blisteringly fast, with masses of grip. GT cars are a particular high-point in GRID, offering an excellent balance of grip and power, providing some of the best racing in the game. With the comparatively large variety of cars available within this class, it should prove popular in the multiplayer lobbies.
Damage modelling is decent, and your car picks up scuffs and scrapes quite readily. Go through enough tussles and you will even have your bonnet (hood for our American readers) fly right off. Visually it makes quite a difference, but as far as affecting your handling, you need to sustain significant damage for it to have any major effect. Over the duration of a race, which is generally quite short, you are unlikely to receive enough damage to cause you any real problems. The worst we experienced was damaged steering, which caused our steering to track to the left, and minor engine damage, which made our engine develop a small, stuttering drop in power. In testing, the best we managed was by driving head first into a wall at speed, which resulted in terminal damage and an end to the race, though in practice it’s unlikely you will experience this.
Codemasters have heavily promoted GRID’s AI improvements, and for the most part the gaming experience lives up to the hype. The AIs make unforced errors, jostle for position, perform defensive manoeuvres, and even attempt aggressive overtaking. It’s entertaining being amongst the pack, and you can have a lot of fun racing with them. The problem is they seem to have very little awareness of where your car is. Far too often AI cars will move across the track, putting you into a wall, sandwiching you into a chicane or driving into your rear-end and sending you into a spin. It’s negated somewhat by the welcome return of flashbacks, though this area could have done with more refinement. Despite the AIs’ temperamental nature, it is still better than having cars following each other around the track in a train, and it’s a step closer to genuinely good AI opponents.
Codemasters have designed the game to create racing stories; unscripted events that create unique and memorable moments that happen organically, such as cars suffering mechanical failures, losing control and crashing, or attempting aggressive attacks. A personal highlight of mine was battling with my nemesis around Okutama in the prototype cars, with my AI opponent hounding me lap after lap while the leading pair made ground, embroiled in a battle of their own. I finally broke away, and started gaining, with half a lap to go. Coming up to the final corner, which is a high speed left hander, it was my last chance to make a move. I broke dangerously late and threw my car into the turn, at just the moment the lead pair collided, scrubbing their speed and leaving a gap that was barely a car’s width. With bated breath, I squeezed my car between them and finished the race in a sprint to the line, edging out my opponents by a fender. Absolutely exhilarating! This kind of thing won’t happen every race, but it feels all the more special when it does.
GRID features over 80 track variations, spread over eight circuits, four street tracks and a single point-to-point track. Many tracks have reversed variations, and Silverstone has both the current GP layout and the classic GP layout. All of the tracks can be raced in the rain, and at any time of day or night, which helps to introduce some added variety, and there is enough to keep you satisfied throughout your playthrough of the career. Due to the lack of tracks on offer, though, GRID may struggle to hold players’ attention for any great length of time, especially for multiplayer, and it’s disappointing there aren’t more locations.
Thankfully, the post-release schedule does include more circuits, and a major plus point here is that additional circuits will be provided at no extra cost. DLC is being split into seasons and will be available standalone or included with the Ultimate edition. Each of the three seasons planned will offer four new cars and 30 career events, which will bring the total number of events to a massive 194!
Once you have finished with the career, or simply want to race your favourite car and track combo, you can set up your own series in free play. You can choose up to five tracks to run in your series, with up to sixteen cars on the grid. It’s fun to race combos that don’t normally appear within the main career events, but it’s not a very well fleshed out mode and suffers from over-simplified menus. Free play is also the only way you can run laps if you want to attack the leaderboards, but they haven’t made it very accessible for hotlappers. Leaderboards appear at the end of each event, but to view the leaderboards outside of this, you have to go through your player profile. Every time you view a board and back out of it, the track selector resets, which is very frustrating. If you like to hotlap, the option is there, but the inaccessibility may prove too much for some to persevere with.
Multiplayer is currently available, but as the official release hasn’t occurred yet, we were unable to find a game to join. We did manage to glean from the settings that quick race and self-hosted races are the options here, with races joinable for up to 16 players. Much like free play, more effort could have gone into streamlining the setup experience and options on offer, but it should be a lot of fun racing some of these cars with genuine opponents rather than AI. Several cars from the invitational series, such as classic touring cars and prototype racers, are brilliant to drive, but woefully underused in career. The option to use these cars in events online is a great motivator for getting people into lobbies.
One area where GRID really excels is graphically. The circuits and cities are packed with detail and trackside decorations. Balloons drift across the stands and confetti flutters across the finish line. Night races look especially good; fireworks burst into existence, lighting up the sky, whilst bright neon lighting illuminates the city skyline, and the flash of spectators’ cameras strobe along the stands beside the circuits. Rain soaked tracks are another sight to behold, with the puddles reflecting from the track, and the rain beating down on your car while your wipers sweep the water from your windscreen. It’s not just the scenery either, the cars themselves have been rendered in excellent detail, and in-car views are engrossing, really drawing you into the races. It is truly a visual feast.
If there were anything that was a real negative about the graphics, it’s that the colours are a touch over-saturated, and the sunrise / sunset lighting effects can create a glare that obstructs your view too much, but by and large you would be hard pressed to find anything wrong with the presentation on offer here. You will also be happy to know that on the Xbox One X, GRID maintains a solid sixty frames per second, even during the most intense races.
The audio is generally pretty good. They haven’t shoehorned in loads of music during races, and menu music is quiet and unobtrusive, which makes for a pleasant experience. The commentators before each race can become a little jarring after a while, especially once you have heard the same phrases repeatedly, but they can easily be silenced from the menu. The same can be said of your engineer. It could have been useful if he offered up pertinent information, but aside from letting you know you are halfway through a race, or letting you know which position you are in, it’s largely forgettable.
Engine sounds are suitably crafted. Muscle cars have a raspy growl, while the high pitched turbo-whine of the prototype cars builds to a crescendo of sound. Tyre squeal isn’t overly loud as can often be the case in racing games, and it’s executed well, serving as an additional tool to assist you in determining when you are losing grip. Opponents’ cars engine noise is inaudible when you are using cockpit or bonnet views, which is a shame, given it is a vital audio cue for awareness of other cars whilst racing. It’s unclear whether this is by design or a coding issue, however, we have reached out to Codemasters for confirmation and will update accordingly.
It’s true that GRID does have some shortcomings. Hot-lapping is overly convoluted, career races are too short and there needs to be many more tracks, but it’s not a major problem when everything else works so well. GRID has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that keeps me coming back, and at 35 hours in, I’ve completed every event in the career, and unlocked every achievement, bar the one for driving the distance of the Earth’s circumference, yet I still keep playing.
It looks beautiful, and it’s a pleasure playing a game that runs so well at 4k60 with HDR enabled. GRID has the feel of a game that hasn’t evolved much since its predecessor arrived on the scene over five years ago, but it manages to succeed, regardless. With a solid update schedule planned out that will bring us more tracks, hopefully GRID receives the success it deserves, garnering a sequel that can grow and learn from this release, fulfilling the potential that GRID so clearly shows.