Codemasters and racing games go together like a whole pack of Jaffa Cakes and a cup of tea. The British studio has maintained something of a laser-focused dedication to the racing genre for as long as I can remember. While they dabbled in other genres, racing games were where the studio shone. For years, the Colin McRae Rally series was one of my favourites in gaming, and I played them religiously. The studio had a penchant for delivering some of the most authentic and fun to play games in the genre and pushed boundaries with every release. While the competition in recent years has stiffened, Codemasters has somehow held on to its podium placing as one of the best racing studios in the industry, by catering to fans of almost every flavour of racing.
It feels somewhat odd that Codemasters chose to take the reboot route with the Grid series. With Grid, Instead of building on previous entries, the developer has instead opted for a full rebuild, removing it's garish chrome accents and essentially taking the game back to its stock set-up. This no-frills approach to the game, to me, feels like a step sideways and instead of coming across as feeling fresh, it feels lacking in the soul department and is an altogether hollow experience.
While other games in the genre are striving to thrill with glitz and exciting concepts, Grid is here for those wanting more of a purist experience. Following a brief introduction to a few of the different disciplines of racing you'll be doing, you're unceremoniously dumped into the games menu, where you're presented with a massive wall of different races you'll need to complete in career mode. Every race is laid out on the screen in an almost chore-like list that you need to work through.
Working your way through the large number of races in career mode will see you racing in an impressive if somewhat small range of cars: from classics like Mini-Coopers and the Datsun 240Z to the sphincter-clenchingly powerful Acura DPi prototype. Every class feels unique to drive, and each come with their own set of nuances to get used to. From feathering the throttle around a hairpin to control drift in a suped-up Japanese tuner, to managing the tank-like feel of an American muscle car, you'll have to change the way you drive each drastically if you want to ensure a podium finish.
Because of the way the career is laid out, or if you want to finish it at least, you'll often find yourself having to go from a discipline you've just become used to, to another where you essentially need to re-learn how to drive. This lack of dedication to one discipline can leave the experience feeling a bit all over the place, but the variety helps in offsetting the dull presentation. Sure, the cars all look glorious in their near-perfect recreations, but outside of that, there's just not a whole lot to get excited about.
Going from race to race, levelling up (yep, the game has an XP system) and unlocking rewards like new liveries or frame art for your driver card is never exciting thanks to all of the rewards feeling incredibly non-essential and pointless. I understand the need to provide a proverbial carrot on a stick, but this carrot is old, dried-out and fell on the ground about a decade ago. If new advertiser heavy paint-jobs excite you, you may get a little thrill from unlocking new ones, but don't expect to be doing any in-depth cosmetic modifications to your garage.
While the game lacks on the cosmetic side of things, under the engine is a different beast altogether. Grid is a very well made racer and handles beautifully. It leans a bit more heavily into the arcade side of things, but a wealth of options and assists can be turned on and off to varying degrees to create more challenge for seasoned racing gamers or to make things easier for beginners. If you want to have full control of your clutch and gear changes, that's entirely possible and will please those gear-heads wanting total control of their timing. The excellent range of options here does an excellent job of ensuring that Grid caters to all kinds of gamers.
Being a Codemasters fan, I immediately switched to the first-person cockpit view and was immediately impressed with the field of view. I don't recall playing a racer before Grid] that went so far as to render the drivers whole body, so you can see his feet furiously stomping back and forth between the brakes, clutch and accelerator. It's an excellent touch and significantly adds to the already impressive sense of speed. It would have been great to see some more detail on the dashboard and driver, but I suppose when you're hurtling down a track at 250 KPH, you should really be looking at the road anyway. Pulling the camera back behind the car also looks great, but there are some curiosities when it comes to the games damage system. There are times where a small bump will scratch up half of your car, and others where you'll hit a wall at 150 KPH and come away with barely a scratch. I also noticed instances where an opponent smashed into me on one side, but the opposite side of my car received the paint damage. It's disappointing as Codemasters has had some strikingly impressive damage effects in the past.
Apart from the occasionally dubious damage modelling, [i[Grid is absolutely gorgeous at times. The team responsible for the incredible lighting deserve a ton of praise, as it really makes the game look breathtaking at times. The way light bursts through clouds or headlights bounce off puddles is a sight to behold. The range of cars from manufacturers like Audi, Ferrari, Holden and Aston Martin, to name a few, all look thoroughly impressive form the outside. When it comes to the sound of the cars, it's mostly passable, but they do feel like they lack a bit of punch. Cars sound good from the cockpit view, but even then, I would have liked everything turned up a few levels to really capture that chest-hollowing sound of a powerful engine thrumming.
As great as the arcadey-racing feels, with only twelve tracks, Grid falls woefully short in that department. You could race your way through every one of the game's tracks in well under an hour, and you'd have seen everything the game has to offer. Sure, some of those tracks are rather spectacular, it for every location that stuns, there's one that feels forgettable. Every location does look nice at least, with some beautiful lighting effects and vistas, but I would have loved more variety. There's only so many times a track can be fun, and once you've raced on it in every different type of car, it's hard to find the motivation to continue.
While you're racing, you'll undoubtedly crash into your fair share of other racers. The game tries something a little different here by making some of these drivers angry at you. It will mark them as a nemesis, and they'll drive a bit more aggressively to get in front of you or to stop you passing them. You also always race with a teammate who you can give a small range of commands to on the fly. You can get them to do things like push for a higher position (earning you more credits) to blocking your nemesis from passing. This doesn't add much too the game as it won't change the way you drive much. I more or less stopped worrying about giving my teammate commands after the first few races.
Winning races will net you currency, which you then use to purchase other cars. Some events will be locked as you'll need to spend a fair bit on unlocking a car in that class. I won more than enough money to cover plenty of purchases though so you're never more than a few wins away from having the funds for a new ride.
I grew up playing Codemasters racing games, and despite not really digging into any racing games for several years, I've briefly tried out the majority of their releases. While I may not be the massive fan once was, I can still relate to the appeal of a great racing game. I came into Grid with an open mind, but it just didn't do anything unexpected that surprised or thrilled me. I enjoyed the variety between the different vehicles, but racing them felt too similar to racing in the games I was playing over a decade ago.
It's been several years since I last played a racing game. That's not due to a lack of games to play, but more that after years of playing racers, it felt like the genre wasn't doing anything to move forward. Sure, the graphics got increasingly more impressive, and the physics engines underneath the hood added all kinds of realistic nuance to the handling of vehicles, but at their core (outside of a few boundary-pushers), there never felt like an awful lot of difference from one entry to the next. Grid unfortunately hasn't done anything to change that opinion, and I think I may need to continue my racing hiatus while I wait for a studio to do something truly groundbreaking in the genre.
+ Handling is a great mix of arcadey and realistic.
+ Both beginner and experienced friendly.
+ Stunning lighting effects.
+ Cars look great from the outside.
+ Might be my favourite cockpit view ever.
+ Different disciplines feel very different.
- Presentation is very dull and unexciting.
- Not enough tracks.
- Damage engine not up the the developers standard.
- Doesn't do anything new or exciting.