Codemasters has established itself as the creator of real ‘racing’ games, with a history spanning back almost 20 years. As such, it should be the best placed developer to draw on the wide range of global motorsport activities.
If you want variety of racing, you’ve come to the right place with GRID Autosport. A low-key intro quietly leads you into an opening race that teaches you the basic controls. After that, it’s up to you to pick a pathway for the next season. Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner and Street are the five options available straight from the off – the game doesn’t force you to choose a particular path.
The aim is to pick one category for a season, score XP to level up, unlock better contract offers for the next season and repeat. Grid Autosport lets you pick whatever route you fancy; concentrate on one or switch between disciplines depending on how indecisive you’re feeling. You’ll get various contractual team and sponsor objectives to meet, with the rewards being more XP bonuses and better team opportunities.
Each discipline has bespoke challenges and rules, designed to test you in subtly different ways. Touring offers up close-quarters racing, with frequent contact with your rivals. Endurance needs you to manage your tyres in timed races to achieve the furthest distance, whilst Open Wheel requires you to be precise and clean with your lines. Street features normal production cars battling on tight city circuits, with Tuner blending time-attack challenges with drifting.
Some disciplines work better than others. Touring feels the most rounded and enjoyable, with close racing that suits the AI well. Endurance fails to deliver; there seems to be no discernible advantage however well you look after your tyres. Drifting events in the Tuner category feel a chore, and Street races descend into anarchy almost immediately.
To add to the chaos, you’ll also have to try and manage your teammate during races. Using the L1/R1 buttons, you can relay instructions for them to push harder, hold position, or defend. It does beg the question why you, as driver, are making these calls, rather than the team manager! It also often seems to make no difference, and your colleague will undoubtedly end up at the back of the pack regardless of your intervention.
GRID Autosport treads the fine line between simulator and arcade fun. Handling is forgiving, even with driver assists turned off, and you never feel like the car is on the edge of spinning out whatever you do. The controller gently rumbles as your wheels start to lose traction, letting you know you’re being too optimistic with your cornering. It does make the game instantly playable, knowing you don’t need to spend hours getting used to knife-edge dynamics. On the flip side, there’s no real distinction between the cars across the disciplines; a rear-wheel drive Touring car doesn’t feel too dissimilar to a powerful supercar Street racer.
It’s fair to assume that all games look good on screen nowadays. GRID Autosport changed that perception for me. Although there are neat touches like flying birds in the distance, constantly harassing helicopters overhead and leaves blowing in the wind, the overall visual impact is average at best. Playing on PS3, the graphics look several years old; PC gamers have reported things to be much better at least.
In-car views – two of them in fact – feature strange blurred out dials and dashboard, where you would typically expect to find a fully detailed interior. Perhaps most critically for a racing game there’s no rear mirror, whatever the view, to help you see where the AI cars are lurking going into the next corner.
Frame rate slowdown and tearing also make an appearance, made worse on the busy street circuits that make up a substantial portion of GRID Autosport’s 22 racing locations. Whilst not a complete deal-breaker, after playing games such as Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, the graphics of GRID all too often reminded me that I was looking at a game, not something almost better than real.
Damage modelling is, however, a major redeemer. No other game comes close to replicating the sheer diversity and detail in which you can destroy your GRID racer. Codemasters’ familiar Flashback system is there should you wreck a little too early, but there’s no option to pit and repair, which is a shame, especially during longer races.
Codemasters state that the game has had involvement with the team from Autosport magazine – one of the world’s leading authorities on all things motorsport. However, through playing it’s difficult to see just what their contribution has been, other than a simple branding exercise. Autosport - the magazine – deals with real world motor racing, yet none of the disciplines in GRID feature officially licensed series, teams or drivers.
Clearly bringing together a whole raft of different official championships into one game would be too complex or expensive. It just feels a shame, for someone who can remember GRID’s roots in the licensed TOCA Touring Car games from the late nineties, that you can’t fully find yourself competing against real drivers in actual championships from around the world.
One thing GRID Autosport does recreate perfectly from real motorsport is the paranoia that everyone is out to get you. From the aggressive, devious AI to the fictional stewards handing out penalties for cutting corners, you’ll be convinced it’s you against the world. Whilst this might seem fine at first, having to restart a race for the fifth time as you’ve been t-boned at the first corner gets a little tiresome.
Multiplayer sits completely separately, and allows for the creation of clubs, bespoke liveries for cars and custom championships. Although not tested here, from experience fans of the GRID series have tended to show more respectful online racing than those found on other franchises. I’d expect the same here. Three inevitable DLC packs are already in the works and Codemasters will be offering weekly online challenges through its RaceNet community.
The career content offered in single-player is substantial, and after several hours of playing and tinkering I had barely brushed the surface. Combined with the multiplayer element, you cannot at least criticise Autosport for lacking in longevity.
Don’t get me wrong; GRID Autosport is not a bad game. In fact, it’s far from it, as at its core sits a strong, competent racer. It just lacks any form of ‘wow factor’ to fully immerse you in the experience. You’re far too conscious of the fact you’re playing a video game; there is none of the suspension of disbelief needed to make you completely believe you’re building your very own racing career.