The pedigree is irrefutable: Of Codemaster’s twenty-nine game releases since 2010, twenty-three of those titles have been racing games – even more if you count the difficult-to-categorize combat racing experience that is ONRUSH. In fact, the newest release in the studio’s popular GRID franchise traces its deep roots back to the TOCA series which started all the way back in 1997. Yes, twenty-two years ago. It’s evident that GRID carries with it a solid heritage, but is this upcoming reboot of the popular franchise worthy of such an amazing pedigree? Well, after spending numerous hours with the game, I can easily say that Codemasters has crafted an intuitive racer that separates itself from the crowd with an inviting accessibility curve and incredibly cunning AI design.
An area that I often see racing games fall miserably short in is being approachable, which is really a two-fold issue. First, racing games are often categorized in one of two sub-genres: arcade or simulation. Luckily, GRID strikes an impeccable balance between these two pillars of racing video games, giving players both the immediate gratification of an arcade racer and the heightened realism of a simulation. Second, many racing games constrain a player’s access by grossly overdoing the gated content. In other words, in order to race a GT event race you must qualify for GT license, own a GT-type car, like a Ferrari 488 GTE or an Aston Martin Vantage GTE among others, and fully complete two or three other class championships beforehand. In GRID however, while players are still required to own specific cars to compete in certain events and races must be unlocked in succession within a particular car class, you can essentially race the event classes in any order that you’d like. So, you can go straight from a Stock event, where you find yourself behind the wheel of your growling Pontiac Firebird to a GT event where you sport that hella-peppy Porsche 911 Carrera RSR. This was a smart choice by Codemasters which undoubtedly helps keep the interest levels higher.
Another facet of the game that is readily apparent that Codemasters spent some considerable development time on is its artificial intelligence. With four hundred unique AI drivers, GRID’s computer opponents are likely some of the most realistic drivers that you’ll face in a racing game. These artificial drivers will amp up aggressive tactics based on how the race is unfolding, including running interference for teammates, blocking other drivers from passing, and even making genuine mistakes which could cost them a few race positions or send them careening our control. Now, take all of that and layer on GRID’s new Nemesis system. Nudge an opposing driver a few too many times and that’ll often trigger them as a Nemesis. At that point, you’ve made an enemy for the remainder of the race. That driver will go to great lengths to ruin your day, often forgetting about the goal to land themselves on the podium in favor of landing you on the “Did Not Finish” list. It makes for a sometimes frustrating but always fun racing experience.
I recall watching a particular interaction between two AI drivers unfold as I fought my way up from the back of the pack. These two vehicles, a Dodge Viper and a Chevy Corvette, were muscling each other out as they careened toward a particularly tight turn. As the Viper was leading on the outside of the turn to pass the Corvette, the ‘Vette turned out just enough to catch the corner of the Viper’s rear bumper. The Viper immediately spun sideways and its sheer momentum flipped it violently into the air; and while the vehicle landed rather uneventfully on its wheels, here’s where the magic happened: the artificial driver went into a full-on craze. I watched as the Viper’s operator threw caution to the wind and set its cross-hairs on the ‘Vette. It battled and battled until it was back in lockstep with the opposing car, and just when I thought the flame had finally fizzled, the Viper caught the Corvette in a turn and simply refused to allow it to turn, sending it directly into the retaining wall. I imagine that regardless of the state of their poor Dodge Viper, that AI left the track that day with an evil grin on their face.
In addition to the game’s best-in-class AI and easily approachable content, GRID successfully checks many of the boxes that current-gen racers do as well. You’ll see global racing events spanning the globe in twelve different cities in eight different countries, from Crescent Valley in the U.S. to Europe’s Brands Hatch to Sydney Motorsport Park in Australia. You’ll compete in either nighttime and daytime races, in both wet and dry conditions, on reconfigurable tracks that comprise more than eighty unique routes. There’s certainly a fair amount of adrenaline to be had here in GRID. Furthermore, with the game’s Ultimate Edition, Codemasters promises to keep that energy pumping with at least three more seasons of planned content which will add over ninety new events and twelve new vehicles.
With all that said, I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to cars and customization, and unfortunately, both of these are areas that I believe the game has missed the mark on. Admittedly, I’d have to imagine that it’s challenging to obtain licensing rights from major automotive manufacturers, but in a genre wherein game releases have literally hundreds of cars to choose from, GRID’s lean list of cars kind of bums me out. I’d be satisfied to overlook a rather paltry vehicle offering if I could customize the vehicles until my heart’s content, but aside from being able to choose a handful of preset liveries and their subsequent colors, there’s little visual customization to speak of. This saddens me. I’d argue that the addition of front and rear spoilers, body kits, and a selection of wheel and tire combinations would make a huge impression on car enthusiasts like myself who love altering the look of their hard-earned race car.
All in all, the Codemasters team has put together a respectable entry into the racing genre with GRID, which effectively balances the ease of pick-up-and-play arcade racers and the realism of a simulation. Additionally, I absolutely loved the new Nemesis system, which had me simultaneously smiling and cursing through gritted teeth every time the AI set their sights on a neighboring racer. I consider my time in GRID to be well spent and I look forward to seeing the additional content that Codemasters will introduce to the game over the coming months. If you’re interested in checking out the game, GRID releases on October 11th for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
DISCLAIMER: We were provided a copy of Grid Ultimate Edition in exchange for our honest review.
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