Releasing games on last-gen consoles certainly makes economic sense still. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have an install base that is an order of magnitude larger than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
On the downside, releasing a game such as a racing game on these platforms when the likes of Forza has already made its way to the next gen means that Codemasters’ latest title, GRID Autosport, feels a little dated before it has even been released. The game itself is of a standard that you would expect from a publisher that specialises exclusively in racing games, but having seen the game in operation on PC (the lead platform) in a preview sessions, I couldn’t help but wish the publisher took the risk with next gen hardware.
Gripes about technical proficiency aside, there’s a lot to like about GRID. It offers plenty of tracks (and variations of tracks) to race on, and plenty of different ways to race. Codemasters clearly wanted to demonstrate that it understands the sometimes subtle differences between different kinds of racing, and it largely succeeds in this goal.
In the single-player career mode of GRID Autosport, players choose between one of five different styles of racing; Tour Cars, Open Wheel, Street, Endurance and Tuner. The cars are different in each instance, and they drive differently. Whether it’s the elegance of nailing a sharp turn in sleek open wheel vehicle, or muscling through a crowd in touring cars, GRID caters effectively to a range of different racing preferences.
The downside to being a jack of all trades is that GRID is also a master of none. If there’s a style of racing that you’re not a big fan of (I found the street racing to be a little soft when compared to, say, Gran Turismo 6’s) then you’re losing a big chunk of the game’s content instantly. There is something to be said about the value of offering a focused experience, and so my relationship with the sheer variety of GRID became a difficult one; I appreciated what the folks at Codemasters were trying to do, but I’m not totally sold on it.
I did appreciate how extensive the single player game was, though. Players work their way through the racing ranks in each style of racing by accepting seasonal contracts to race with a team. Experience and progress in each style of racing is tracked separately, and each season tends to be a fairly long affair featuring multiple races and plenty of optional challenges. Simply working through it all will take some time and skill.
Eventually you’ll be racing for the top teams, and the sensation of speed in the end is impressive stuff. Codemasters knows how to write racing code, and the physics of the cars on the tracks is pretty much spot on and balanced towards rewarding skill. Even slightly miscalculating the racing line or breaking is enough to send you from the leader to the back of the pack, and the AI can be unforgiving even on the low difficulty levels.
Players do have a useful rewind ability at their disposal that can undo a handful of mistakes over the course of a race. I’m not entirely sure that this arcade-like feature sits within the theme of a more realistic racing game, but I certainly appreciated the ability to undo my inevitable errors. More dedicated fans will appreciate the ability to turn this feature off if they don’t want to be tempted to “cheat.”
In fact the way the game handles difficulty impresses me in general. The difficulty settings don’t downgrade the skill of the opponents, but rather provide a helping hand to the player. On the lowest difficulty level you’ve got brake assist, a racing line, and so on and so forth. On the higher difficulty levels you’ll be grappling with a manual gearbox and none of those rewind abilities. In return you earn more experience points and level up more quickly when racing on the higher difficulty levels. It’s a nice way to continue to challenge players at any skill level without artificially changing the quality of the experience on the track.
The multiplayer is where the game’s real strengths lie, of course. The netcode is reliable, and Codemasters has developed a social network around its games, called RaceNet, that allows for leaderboards, stat tracking, and weekly new events to participate in. Players can also create “RaceNet Clubs” which allows teams of up to 100 drivers to compete against one another. These clubs have their own webpages, experience tracking and communication features, bringing a dash of an MMO experience to the game that will help keep people engaged with the game over the long term.
GRID Autosport is a quality production, as you would expect from Codemasters when developing a racing game. It’s just difficult to see the relevance of this game on console, when there are so many next gen racing games on the way.
– Matt S.
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