Codemasters surely has been busy in the racing game scene this year. After an excellent DiRT Rally 2.0 and a meticulous F1 2019, it was time to revive GRID franchise that was last seen in the previous console generation. Even though the new GRID is described as an ultimate racing experience spanning over several continents, it’s not an open world hullaballoo like Ubisoft’s The Crew or Microsoft’s Forza Horizon series. Quite the contrary, the game’s approach is pretty old-fashioned. There are several racing disciplines that are competed over series of races that make up the career mode. GRID has a delightful retro attitude to it but make no mistake, the game is modern because of its gorgeous graphics swimming in powerful lighting and weather effects, both of which enhance the heated wheel-to-wheel racing where rivalries are made with every close scrape.
GRID series have always been about racing fast and that means the driving physics favor good feel over ruthless realism. It’s there where the game is at its best and if it weren’t, there wouldn’t be that much to shout about. Apart from beautifully modeled cars and lovingly rendered racing venues from San Francisco to Shanghai, there’s no fancy and abundant presentation of most recent racing games. Quite frankly, why there even should be? The car handling is simply superb and it carries the game far without anything superfluous window dressing drawing away from it. It’s not unpredictable like in some other racing games out there so you can really rely on the physics that define how the different vehicles behave, be them touring or muscle cars, modified production cars, prototypes or classics from Mini Cooper to various Ferrari models. There’s a grateful consistency throughout when power-drifting through corners or hitting the draft to overtake rivals.
I was disappointed that unlike in DiRT Rally 2.0 and F1 2019, there’s no driver avatar to choose from. You only get to name your driver whose face is always hidden under helmet. As a funny surprise, when inputting the driver’s name, the game offered the one I used for F1 2019 that I also played on the same system. Still, the only thing distinguishing between different drivers is a customizable player card that can be modified with various backdrops and banners and plastered with stickers, all awarded from winning competitions. So, the game is all about fast and expensive cars and while several races offer free vehicles to begin with, eventually you have to spend in-game credits to buy new wheels for different racing disciplines. For a personal touch, you can customize liveries of those cars you have in your virtual garage.
The career mode branches between different disciplines. You can’t simply race through one class and move to the next because further events in each class requires success in other disciplines. For example, to unlock more races for an Invitational series featuring classic cars, you need to first clear five touring car races. Thus, the game design encourages you to try out all dishes in the menu instead of preferring one flavor. Luckily, all classes are equally fun to drive and the featured circuits are cleverly designed to make most out of the pulse-pounding racing where some demolition derby antics aren’t exactly punished (expect in a repair bill at the end of each race). In an unfortunate event where you happen to crash and severely hamper your chances to position in the top three that most races require, you can freely rewind and correct any mistake you made. While I don’t usually like this kind of cheating, in a super-fast arcade racing of GRID it’s acceptable.
Later in the career mode, only wins matter but that shouldn’t be much of a challenge. In a way, intuitive and superb handling makes things almost too easy because it’s pretty hard to make serious driving mistakes if you know what you’re doing. Also, you are bound to rack up so many credits that you can afford some of the best wheels the game offers to hoard golden cups from all races. In theory, rivals you get in each race should make your life harder but once you overtake them, their menace is mostly wasted effort – even more so if you start from a pole position anyway after an optional qualifying run. In the long run, winning contests will cease to matter as it happens way too often and most of the time you don’t have to even break sweat for victories. For those seeking more challenge and impress the whole world with their driving skills, GRID really doesn’t deliver. The multiplayer is strangely bare-bones and offers only simple quick or private races. There are no leagues, challenges or daily and weekly events that are customary nowadays in the genre.
You don’t drive alone in your racing team as you can pick up a team mate whose performance in races brings more credits to your account. New drivers are unlocked as you gain experience levels but honestly, the team mate is a feature you don’t need to pay that much attention to. They drive on their own account without any input to direct their performance. Several rewards, like liveries and more custom parts for the profile banner, are mostly window dressing. It would have been nice to actually win new cars after successful events. Alas, the only satisfaction to reap is simply driving.
If you shun DiRT Rally’s authenticity or F1 series’ almost tiresomely detailed race weekends and don’t mind the deficiency of online features, GRID is just about the best game you can get if you only fancy racing fast. It knows where it’s good at but at the same time, I still wish there was more character and challenge to it. Even though I really appreciate the game’s disciplined vision, there will eventually be time when you have raced through everything the game has going for it and the only thing left is to crave for more of the same good stuff. GRID is quite excellent at what it focuses on but at the end of the say, I’d like to see its superior car handling featured next in an open world game. Only then Forza and The Crew series could have a serious contender to run for their money.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.