There are some things about the 1990s that I’m glad were left there. I’m pretty sure that shell suits would count as a fire hazard these days, nobody wants to do the Macarena any more, and Mr Blobby can just fuck off. Ridiculously fast futuristic racers with hard dance soundtracks on the other hand, that’s something that I miss. Clearly I’m not the only one as Caged Element’s debut title is an unashamedly 90s-influenced racer that’s been designed from the ground up as a spiritual successor to PS1 classic Rollcage.
Often overshadowed by the might of Wipeout, Rollcage was a gravity-defying racer that saw you racing jet-powered supercars through tracks filled with tunnels, pipes and all kinds of boosters and weapons. Go fast enough and your car will quite happily stick to the ceiling, with the camera flipping your viewpoint as you go. Grip: Combat Racing is essentially the same thing but with bells on.
From the very moment that you start up the game and get presented with pumping drum-and-bass alongside a distinctly old-school looking menu, you know exactly what you’re going to get. There’s no re-inventing of the wheel here (pun intended), because quite frankly, that’s what Attention to Detail did back in 1999.
What you do get is a slew of new ways to play alongside the traditional racing modes. There is so much content in the game that at the time of writing, despite sinking about 20 hours into the game, I’ve still only seen about 20% of it. The campaign mode with ten tiers of content is where I spent most of my time levelling up and unlocking new game modes and vehicles. There are no microtransactions here, you unlock everything by playing like in the old days.
Alongside the campaign, there’s also the obligatory online mode, as well as a more traditional split-screen racing option. This is something that I miss from the old days of gaming so I’m really happy to see it come back. If solo play is your thing though, then all of the game modes can be played against AI too, so no need to worry about making friends if you don’t have any already.
There are a few new modes, including some arena modes such as pass the bomb, a capture the flag style mode called Steal the Stash and Deathmatch, that just sees you trying to cause as much damage as is humanly possible. There’s also a mode called Carkour, which sees you trying to pull off stunts across specially designed mini tracks. Honestly, I didn't think this mode added anything at all. It was a fun diversion, but it’s not something I’ll be coming back to later.
The graphics are absolutely stunning. These kind of futuristic landscapes are the kind of thing that 4K was made for, and they look exceptional. Cars are fully customisable with decals and garish paint schemes, neon light flash and jet flames flicker all around you. You’ll be moving too fast to appreciate them fully, but just look at some of the screenshots in this review to see how pretty this game is.
The real meat and two veg here is of course the racing. Races are either traditional first past the post affairs with no weapons, classic races with firepower to destroy other vehicles, elimination races that see the last placed driver knocked out each lap, or violent conflicts that rate players not on their finishing place, but on how much destruction they cause along the way. All of them are ridiculously fast and full of obstacles, often right in the middle of the track, which explains why this is one of the few racing games I’ve ever played with a jump button.
One of the downsides of the high speed and flexible law of gravity (which was also a downside of Rollcage) is the fact that you never feel completely in control. The fact that all the cars can flip, bounce and spin around without breaking a sweat lulls you into a false sense of security. One bad move and you go careering over a chasm or run straight into a stray pylon, losing a lot of lap time in the process. I found myself flying way off course and getting stuck inside bits of scenery after a few particularly spectacular crashes, which wasn’t great, but there’s a reset button to put you back on track if stuff like this happens. When it works well, GRIP makes you feel like the coolest stunt racer in the world. Twisting in a helix pattern through a tunnel before bursting out into an airborne spin and landing straight in front of your opponent is an awesome feeling. When you get that wrong, you’re just as likely to embed yourself in a wall and watch all your opponents fly past you.
Humble pie moments aside, there’s a huge amount of fun to be had here, but it’s not a game that will appeal to those in the market for a realistic depiction of the joys of the internal combustion engine. Realism has been traded for pure insanity, so if you prefer something more like Forza or Gran Turismo then this won’t be the game for you. If you were a fan of Rollcage, then you’ll love this.
GRIP: Combat Racing (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
There’s a huge amount of fun to be had here, but it’s not a game that will appeal to those in the market for a realistic depiction of the joys of the internal combustion engine. Realism has been traded for pure insanity, so if you prefer something more like Forza or Gran Turismo then this won’t be the game for you. If you were a fan of Rollcage, then you’ll love this.