A lot of reviews have mentioned GRIP: Combat Racing and PS1 classic Rollcage in the same sentence. While it’s cliched, there’s really no getting past GRIP’s ambition as spiritual successor to Rollcage. Tunnel-like tracks and cars that can drive upside-down - it’s obvious that nostalgia is a big factor here, but it’s GRIP’s downfall as well as its major selling point.
In short, GRIP’s gameplay is a mix of Wipeout and Mario Kart, seeing racers competing against each other on rapidly-changing tracks that can go suddenly vertical, all the while attempting to hit speed boosts and collect power-ups and weapons to best fellow competitors.
Generally, it’s quite a fun experience, depending on if the difficulty level is challenging enough. Handling feels tight and the presence of heat-seeking missiles and gatling guns add an element of chaos.
One of GRIP’s biggest issues, though, is that the selection of maps is pretty inconsistent. There are 23 maps in the game, meaning that there is a sizable amount of good ‘uns, but the quality does vary. Some of the best races are those where the courses are claustrophobic and twisted; any nudge or miscalculated corner will send you packing to the back of the line. These maps are where GRIP shines, but unfortunately, a lot of races happen on a wide-open tracks where the power-ups play a less important role.
The selection of racing modes is pretty solid. There are normal and elimination races, but GRIP’s flagship mode is a mix of racing and combat - ergo, Combat Racing. Where you finish at factors into your points tally, but you’ll also score points based on how many times you damage opponents. It’s a fun twist, adding a different focus to each race and encouraging you to sacrifice some speed to attack fellow racers.
There are also a few Twisted Metal-influenced arena modes that put you in a deathmatch or capture-the-flag-style setting against competitors. Although it’s good to have some variation, the lack of speed makes them a tame addition to the game, focusing too much on the assortment of weaponry when really it’s a combination of the two that works best.
The main meat of GRIP is the campaign mode, although you’d be hard-pressed to call it that. Consisting of ten tiers, each holding three different tournaments, it certainly adds a lot of value to the game, and is definitely a good introduction into the mechanics and modes, steadily increasing the difficulty. Still, while full-fledged narrative wasn’t exactly expected, it would’ve been nice to have some kind of special element to the mode, as it gets pretty dry moving from race to race in the same menu screens over and over.
Much more fun, although hidden away in the menus, is the Carkour mode, a fantastic sideshow that would do well as the focus of its own game. Essentially point-to-point stunt tracks requiring you to pick up collectibles along the way, the 19 tracks of the mode are fantastic rides, combining some savage difficulty with a satisfying feeling after you complete a track flawlessly.
The split-screen multiplayer is also much appreciated as too many racing games neglect it nowadays. Playing GRIP that way is probably one of the best ways to experience the speed and chaos of the races - especially since the online multiplayer seems to be completely dead, as I couldn’t find a single race with my time with the game.
Ultimately, though, for all its fun, GRIP’s biggest problem is that it feels a little dated - something that nostalgic games often have a problem with. It looks great when playing on night time races, but a lot of the daytime tracks look lame, and a little too last generation. The menu screens aren’t the best either, and while the game’s overarching customization mechanics are a nice touch, the vehicles don’t look too good, and besides, customixation is completely cosmetic.
GRIP: Combat Racing is a solid enough throwback to warrant a play from Rollcage fans but for those racing game players looking for something new, the game doesn’t deliver. It isn’t bad by any measure, but it doesn’t do enough to set pulses racing.