For as long as I could remember, Codemasters has often disappointed me with practically every one of their racing games since the PS2. Pro Race Driver was one of those first disappointments, as the game was hard on the eyes, despite screenshots featuring beaming details. And of course, with a game like Gran Turismo 3 to compete with, Codies had a lot to live up to. More recently, I found myself disappointed with their newest rally entry, DiRT - handling seemed too touchy, and the glare of the sun was annoying. So when GRID was revealed months ago, my expectations were low. Thankfully, GRID doesn't disappoint...but it will frustrate.
Even though Codies are known for releasing simulation titles, GRID is an arcade game more akin to Need for Speed than Gran Turismo. The first thing that's instantly noticeable is just how immense the sense of speed is. You're blasted with this instant assault of momentum, as nearly all the cars offered in the game are all very fast. Once you settle down with the game's pace, you'll also notice that the controls feel better than its rival Need for Speed: ProStreet.
The cars are extremely responsive to your every input, but perhaps much more than they need to be. Flicking the steering can feel too touchy, often causing panicky correction, which can often lead to disaster. There's no denying that the controls will take a lot of time to get used to, and that may turn off a lot of gamers, initially. Some cars are much harder to control than others, so if you found the demo immediately tolerable like I did, don't expect the same with the full game, as each car has its own unique handling qualities. Toying around with the three assists can help the gameplay by making the cars feel more planted, as opposed to being too slick.
Steering wheel support is present in the game; unfortunately the Logitech G25's clutch isn't supported. There is an abundance of customizable slider-based steering configurations for you to toy with. But no matter how much I toyed around with them, I couldn't quite get the feel that I wanted from the wheel with GRID. If you stick with the controls and get over the curve, you will find a fun racing experience with GRID. Once you get a feel for the game, you realize the cars are a ton of fun to throw around.
What's terrific about GRID is how utterly intense its action is. Racing is filled with a lot of drama, as car parts fly around all over you; the opponents here are tough as hell. There's a lot of pushing and nudging, almost making this game feel more like Destruction Derby meets Need for Speed. Racing is a huge blast, and it really feels like Codies has spent a great deal of time working on making sure the experience doesn't feel too unforgiving, by immediately punishing you for damage; or, on the other hand, too easy by letting you crash into everything in sight, and take turns with reckless abandon.
There are a variety of race modes, such as Drift, Touge, Demolition Derby, 24 Hours of Lemans, Tuned, Muscle, Touring, and Open Wheel. Touge, for those of you not familiar with Initial-D, is an uphill race on an intricate course layout where two cars race to reach the top of a course - sometimes you'll do runs in the dark, other times with the sun beaming. The Touge and Open Wheel races are perhaps the most fun you'll have in the game. What I had trouble with is the Drift mode, which takes some time to get used to, as the extra slippery physics make completing turns very hard, especially through narrow points - and having to hit the handbrake all the time doesn't help, either. The 24 Hour Lemans race can be configured to last anywhere from 12 minutes, to the proper 24 hours - so if you've got the balls, the patience, and a nice steering wheel setup, go for it. The Tuned, Muscle, Touring, and Open Wheel races are all standard lap-based events where you'll race a class car against others of the same class.
The core of GRID is the GRID World mode; this is the game's career event where you'll participate in a series of races, earning race points and cash. GRID World rewards you with more race points depending on the difficulty you set for your race, the assists, and how you choose to race. For example, racing on Normal difficulty with the in-case head-cam enabled will net you more points than racing on Basic (easy) without the in-car cam. The career mode isn't drawn out and epic, as you'll simply select races from a list given to you. But the straightforward approach means that the game is more accessible, so you can pick up and play at will.
Additionally, difficulty settings change the amount of rewinds you are given. Rewinds allow you to rewind the game back ten seconds - a helpful tool if you've accidentally wiped out and lost a lead. On the other hand, rewinding is also, well, cheating. I haven't used the feature much, as I'd rather just try and catch up to the pack, which isn't terribly hard to do on Basic or Normal difficulty.
The game offers nearly 50 cars to choose from, with 15 locales to race through. Each track location features a variety of courses within it (some boast as many as seven), so GRID features a huge collection of courses to drive or drift on. Car makes include: Aston Martin, Pagani, Nissan, Lamborghini, Porsche, BMW, Chevrolet, Dodge, Pontiac, Toyota, Ford, Honda, TVR, Saleen, Spyker, Panoz, Audi, and others. While the car offerings aren't exactly Gran Turismo, the track selection is certainly more than gracious.
What bugs me most is that there is no time trial mode or practice mode to hone your skills with, and that only makes adjusting to the game harder. Also, not being able to start with a basic car and upgrading it to your own liking (a'la Need for Speed) takes a bit of fulfillment out of the experience, as well. Still, GRID is a solid foundation for a new racing franchise for Codemasters and even when you finish the career, the game's multiplayer should keep you going, as well.
Finally, and perhaps one of the most crucial aspects, is the game's engine. Running on an enhanced version of the DiRT engine, GRID is one of the smoothest looking racers out there. The framerate is locked at a solid 30 frames per second, while rendering at 720p. Considering that this is a multiplatform game, a smooth framerate is already a big deal. Moreover, if you though that the screenshots looked too good to be true, you're in for a surprise. The entire game looks superb, as the engine makes hearty use of anti-aliasing, greatly minimizing the appearance of jaggies, and the environments are absolutely beautiful to look at, complete with gorgeous lighting that isn't overpowering like it was in DiRT.
Vehicular detail is great too, and even an in-car camera view has been included, as well. But it's the damage that'll impress, as every little nudge, bump, and crash will leave an imprint of some sort, be it minor or huge. Excessive damage will, of course, affect how your car behaves, but I noticed that you'd have to be an extremely lousy driver to total your vehicle. Fallen debris from damage will be left on the track for the remainder of the race, so you'll keep seeing evidence of a past wreckage with every lap. Smoke effects from burnouts are also well done, not quite NFS: ProStreet quality, but well done nonetheless. Overall, GRID is easily the second best looking racer on the market, which says a lot -- the first best obviously being that *other* racing game.
The audio is well done, as cars come to life with roaring engine and exhaust notes. Crashes, minor or severe, boast a range of different sounds for each type of impact, all of which are quite convincing. There is a small in-game soundtrack, which doesn't consist of anything good, but if you're like me, you'll likely turn it down to listen to the cars, anyways. On that note, you'll also hear your manager come through the speakers as he instructs you on what to do, not to do, and gives you status updates of what's going in the race (who's damaged out, who caused a crash, who crashed, your damage status, etc.). Even though there's no in-game soundtrack, that doesn't really hurt GRID's audio for me, seeing as how I turn off soundtracks, anyway.
To conclude, GRID is a solid racing game from Codemasters - certainly my favorite from them, to date. But in order to enjoy it, you will have to endure a rather steep curve in familiarizing yourself with the touchy controls. Frustration will rear its ugly head quite often in the game, but you do have the ability to perform a rewind flashback that'll take you back 10 seconds in gameplay. While the game doesn't feature hundreds of cars, car upgrades, and the career mode can feel a little simplistic, GRID still offers a plethora of tracks, an immense sense of speed, a large variety of race types, gorgeous visuals, and fantastic damage. If you're in the mood for a solid arcade racer, pick up a copy of GRID, but download the demo and get used to the controls in the meantime.