British developer Codemasters has affirmed its reputation for making arcade racing sims submerged with realism when compared against other modern titles. The Gran Turismo series tends to offer more options for modding cars, whereas the Forza franchise has more content, such as off-track distractions. However, what GRID offers is the ability to drive cars fast, and Codemasters has always been the go-to for a solid racing game.
Delayed from its original September release date, GRID continues the racing experience from 2014’s GRID Autosport, which was more-or-less a revision of GRID 2. That game caused controversy by removing the in-cockpit view, a move that some GRID purists regarded as a betrayal to the true racing experience. 2019’s GRID returns with the full array of camera angles, from two distances of chase cam to front bumper and in-car.
Codemasters’s spectacularly realistic and consistent handling model is superbly engaging and one of the most enjoyable features. Players can feel the controller vibration vary when going into different corners, mimicking the car’s weight loading onto the outside tyres, generating friction and delivering a realistic experience. Even moments like misjudging a corner, leading to understeer or oversteer, activates controller vibration, providing the sensation of making the car feel too heavy or too light respectively. Additionally, when the player crashes into a side barrier, the controller vibrates in response to the intensity of impact force, making it feel uncomfortable, as if a punishment.
If the player crashes with significant impact, the car will become terminally damaged, which generates an on-screen message with options to either flashback (rewind time), restart, or retire from the race. Flashbacks have a five-second cooldown, but the number of flashbacks can be changed via the settings menu, meaning the player can either allow for infinite flashbacks, or zero, for a much tougher challenge, or any number in between. Racing gameplay would be far more challenging if only a 15-20 second flashback was awarded per race, similar to Codemaster’s Colin McRae: Dirt 2, which would force players to use it sparingly, but wisely.
The driving controls are problematic because they are over-simplified to just accelerate, brake/reverse, steer, and drift, which, for a racing game, sounds like an oxymoron. However, the controls are simply not engaging enough, especially considering single-player career mode’s 100 or so events set across 22 locations—the simplicity of the controls over 100s of races becomes boring quickly. Codemasters has promised that over 90 more career events will become available over the next six months, but only for those who purchase either the USD$91.51 Ultimate Edition or a season pass.
Drifts and power slides and are fun to perform, and it feels extremely rewarding to perfectly execute a handbrake drift into a corner then accelerate out of it, but it provides no real benefit, thus rendering the move largely obsolete. Drifting only slows the player down, thus allowing another AI car to simply overtake using moderate braking.
The directional pad offers an intriguing new control-based communication system with the player’s team, which is engaging and makes the player feel like they are racing with a team. In each race, the player is accompanied by a teammate who the player can use for strategic purposes. Pressing the up button on the directional pad sends a message to team HQ to relay a message for the team driver to push up and drive more aggressively. Pressing the down button commands the team driver to drive defensively, holding their position. For example, when the player is in pole position, they can instruct their team HQ to message the teammate, instructing them to push forward, closer to their position, then instruct them to defensively hold position in either second or third, enabling the player to maintain the lead.
Codemasters has also added a new feature into GRID called the Nemesis system. On paper, it is a similar concept to the Nemesis systems in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle Earth: Shadow of War. If the player crashes into another car, a red crash helmet appears over that car, and a message from the player’s team HQ warns that driver is now a Nemesis. However, nothing else really happens—the Nemesis does not become more aggressive, they simply continue to race. At least in Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War, the player was aware that defeating a Nemesis would generate a powerful weapon or relic.
GRID allows players to tune their cars before and during races. The tuning options include changing gear ratio, springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, and brake bias. Each option provides an opportunity for the player to customize vehicles to fit a playstyle. However, each tune will have counter effects. For example, changing brake bias can reduce oversteer, but increase the chances of understeering. Shortening the time between gear changes will improve acceleration but hinder top speed. Therefore, players will gain valuable seconds around short, winding bends but suffer on tracks with long open roads. The game does not offer car modification, though, so what players see is what they get with the game’s 90-odd launch cars.
Furthermore, GRID has a vast array of vehicle types to choose between that range from American muscle cars, pick-up trucks, touring cars, F1 cars, and even Mini Coopers. The title offers beautiful diversity of global courses, including sun-baked Barcelona, the narrow streets of San Francisco, high-tech Shanghai, the crumbling buildings of Havana. Codemasters has designed each map with glorious detail, but the background scenery of high-rise skyscrapers, Mediterranean-style buildings, and glistening lakes distracts from the gameplay.
GRID is an aesthetic masterpiece, but considering all the detail poured into car, track, and background designs, the game seriously suffers from omitting a photo mode. Combining a photo mode with multiple camera angles, with one of the many gorgeous tracks and a masterful power slide, would add an extra artistic layer to the game.
Another area the game could improve is in adding a background soundtrack during racing events. The cars’ engines accelerating is an enjoyable sound, but it lacks enough audible stimuli to feel fully engaging. Some hardcore racing fans will clearly be more than happy with listening to engines accelerating throughout the 3-4 laps, but the addition of a soundtrack would create an engaging atmosphere while competing against AI drivers, increasing intensity when flying through tight turns.
GRID has firmly nailed its place in the market as one of the best arcade racing series and will remain a ferocious competitor to the Forza and Gran Turismo franchises. The cars and tracks have been beautifully crafted with explicit detail, and when coupled with the delicate handling model, command-based communication, and the Nemesis system, all create a unique, thoroughly enjoyable racing experience. However, the game suffers from engagement issues, which could be improved by implementing a photo mode and racing soundtracks. The Nemesis system needs more reckless driving from the AI and greater rewards when beating Nemeses to the finish line, to stand out from other arcade racing sims.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Also available for PC and Xbox One.