Codemasters have long been known for creating incredibly fun yet realistic driving games. Starting with the TOCA series back in '97, they've provided big kids around the world with the opportunity to drive in their favourite touring car series, including the officially licensed V8 Supercars game for the Aussie leadfoots. This year, they've entered the next-gen race with GRID, a smashing (pun intended) addition to their racing lineup.
Rather than shoot for the racing simulator crowd this time around however, they've decided to aim for a more mainstream crowd with a much greater focus on presentation than in previous games. The pre-race menus look an absolute treat, not unlike the introductions to races that you'd see on a typical V8 Supercars or Formula 1 television broadcast.
These menus do more than just look good however... they're the area you'll spend the most time in (other than racing) where you kick-start your career and move up the ranks in the different regions and race classes. You see, the game is centred not just around racing really fast, but working your way from being a bottom feeder who has to drive for other teams to someone who has their own team, secondary driver (to you, of course), garage full of cars and?all things going well?a full trophy room.
Every race that you enter with your own team has a specific set of cars that can be chosen from. If you don't own a car that's suitable for that particular race, you'll have to buy one with money earned in previous races from either another class or the odd stint as a driver for another team. While the excitement of unlocking another car is always there, it's a shame that you can't pick a car to race in, throw it around the track and choose another if you don't like the way it handles. A car has to be bought and, if you don't like it, you can sell it for a reduced price and try your hand at another. Very disappointing, but it may not bother others as much as it has me.
You'd also expect that with these cars, you'd be able to tweak the parts that are used, like exhausts and such. Given that GRID lends itself to a more "get in, sit down, shut up and hang on" feel, don't expect the level of realism that you'd find in Gran Turismo or Forza when it comes to things like the driving model or the customization options. In fact, the game has been toned down to a level where there's a wide variety of races to enter (such as drifting, demolition derby and numerous international touring car modes), but if you want to tweak the engine or even change the rims on the car, you are completely out of luck.
As mentioned above, the handling of the cars also feels less realistic than you'd think. Possibly the most frustrating thing is that while hurtling around the track at more than 300km/h, there rarely feels like there's any weight to the car. It's difficult to explain, but the feeling becomes apparent when you take the controller and find that it feels as if you're floating a few centimeters above the asphalt rather than having all four tyres bite the ground as they should. The physics can be very iffy as well, frequently finding that cars would (seemingly) step out at the slightest touch of the accelerator around some corners, yet have no issue at all doing the same thing around others. I tend to be less forgiving of these characteristics in a racing game, however it can be said that it does suit the arcadey feel of the game, so it may be more tolerable to others than it is to myself. But be warned: the driving model is very love/hate.
All is not lost, though. The crashes are absolutely mental! So much so that you'll be pushing your car to the edge not just to out-drive your opponent, but in the remote hope that you'll get to witness a spectacular write-off of one of your cars. And even if it's you who's on the wrong side of the tussle, it doesn't matter; a unique feature known as Flashback will allow you to watch an instant replay and choose a point where you can rethink your decision to try and shove your foe and take a more self-preserving move instead. This makes for more tense racing, and in the end, that's never a bad thing.
And of course, the crashes would be nothing without being able to view them with a decent camera. Fortunately, with everything from the nauseatingly realistic in-car view to the fast and furious editing and angles of the replay mode, the developers have managed to capture the excitement of car racing better than anything I've seen appear on a home console. The frustrating part of this is that there's no option at all to save the replays. I'm not quite sure why Codemasters chose to do this (perhaps there was some kind of technical limitation) but it's disappointing to complete a stunning race only to find that you can't show your friends at a later time.
Even after putting quite a number of hours into GRID, I'm still not quite sure where I stand. I can see a heck of a lot of people loving the crap out of it, but as I mentioned before, there's something that just doesn't sit well with me about the way it handles. But then again, I'm an incredibly finicky fellow. I couldn't recommend running out and slamming down the clams for your own copy without trying it first, but methinks you'll only need to rent it for one night for you to know whether GRID is for you.
Want to win a copy of RaceDriver GRID for the PlayStation 3? Courtesy of Codemasters & Atari Australia, we have two copies to give away! And if you're lucky, maybe we'll throw one of the winners the sweet GRID metal keyring we were planning to keep for ourselves.
How do you get your hands on a copy? Simply email us with your own acronym breakdown for "GRID", and the two we like the most will score themselves some GRID love. Fairly simple, eh? The more relevant it is to the game, the better your chances. But of course, if you've got a hilarious example that has nothing to do with RaceDriver GRID, maybe that'll get you over the line too!
Hmm... Get Rid of Inefficient Drag...