The GRID series has been a very pleasant surprise in the racing genre for six years now. Codemasters carved a niche out for themselves with both it and then DiRT by making games that were not only easy to pick up and play, but also featured the slickest menus in gaming. They seriously had the best presentation of anything and put the Forza and Gran Tursimo games to shame. Now, we move away from the numbered entries in the series to focus on a more sim-oriented game that winds up delivering the same high-quality racing action but with a dramatic hit in the presentation.
Before Autosport, GRID was about a lot of different racing disciplines, but they were brought about in a very casual way. The progression system was also very unique as it brought up a pyramid of events and you could tackle them in any order. Now, you can still pick your discipline – but you’re stuck with it for a whole season of races, so you’d better get really good really quickly or else you’ll be toast. Practice is available, but you’ll still have to learn a lot on the field as you aren’t given much instruction on how to do things like drift properly. You have XP like past games, but it’s tied to each discipline – so you’ll need to do a few seasons in each discipline to play the GRID Series events that showcase all of them.
This setup can be soul-crushing at times since you’ll definitely wind up struggling with things like drift events early on. The other race types in touring, street, and endurance all basically amount to racing in standard vehicles and they’re fun to play in – with endurance feeling a bit needless due to the lack of pit stops. Open wheel racing gives you F1-style cars and brings about a notable, but not insurmountable increase in difficulty. The cars are much lighter, faster, and can’t ensure nearly the same amount of damage. Here, you’ll need to make use of drafting to progress steadily and make sure to avoid contact since the cars don’t have the mass to take large amounts of damage.
Fortunately, if you take a lot of damage in any race or just have one bad turn, you can rewind time. This feature debuted in racers in DIRT and works smoother here than in any other game. Rather than a convoluted VCR-style setup with replay-like camera angles all around, you just get your in-game camera’s viewpoint rewinding. It’s much simpler and far more intuitive. Like before, you can limit your rewinds to none if you so desire, although I always keep a couple on-hand instead of the usual five since something can always happen and you don’t want to constantly restart races due to a fluke turn or crash.
Outside of the career mode, you can also take part in races only featuring a particular car as a skill challenge, or even go into a demolition derby racing mode. This is just a crash-focused version of a regular race with figure 8 tracks thrown in to ensure collisions – they’re pretty violent, but the rewind feature makes this mode slightly needless. For a real challenge, play this without the replay function and see how well you do – it’ll test your mettle more than any other pure racing mode in the game.
When it comes to which version to buy, the controller is going to tell the tale. The Xbox 360 version only supports that pad, and that controller has always worked well for racers. The PS3’s pads in both the Sixaxis and Dual Shock 3 are less than ideal for racers due to the L2/R2 buttons dipping so far into the controller. You can always get trigger add-ons, but those never feel right. The best option if you’re also a PS4 owner is to use the Dual Shock 4. Simply plugging one in gives you an excellent bumper/trigger setup that feels far more natural than the PS3 pads. You do lose out on rumble, but it doesn’t add much to the game – so if you have all the Sony consoles, do that.
Online play enables you to play as a lot of cars if you haven’t unlocked them thanks to loaners. This is a fantastic feature that more games have included and it allows you to focus online if you do desire, or just mix things up so you don’t get burnt out doing basic races in the career mode. During our testing, online play was seamless and that was very impressive. There’s even a little fast rewind function that basically acts as an undo button.
Visually, GRID Autosport looks fairly good in some ways and rather unsightly in others. The cars themselves look fantastic in-game, but post-race close-ups aren’t kind to the jaggy liveries used. Still, for a last-gen game, the lighting is excellent and unlike Forza 5, you don’t have a laughably-bad crowd to look at. Cockpit view was taken out of GRID 2, but it’s back here. Sadly, it’s quite clear why it was taken out before – they simply can’t get the engine to run well on last-gen hardware with it. Now, it’s in the game but with a blurry view. The idea is that it won’t distract you and it makes sense for it to be out of focus in relation to the road, but it wounds being distracting due to how ugly it is. You can’t even read the speed on the speedometer.
Menu-wise, the series takes a sharp left turn and spins out trackside with Autosport. The once-unique menus are now just black, white, and red. You get a car on-screen to gussy things up a bit, but this lacks any of the visual charm of the prior entries and it makes the presentation seem clinical – like the mainline Forza games have become. There’s also very little to write home about the audio. Music is limited to menus and is instantly forgettable, while the sound effects are impactful, they’re no more impressive than past games. The voice work remains impressive though, with a long list of spoken names that helps add a sense of realism to the career mode.
GRID Autosport is a return to a more serious game after the street-centric GRID 2, but it still falls short in some key areas. Fortunately, while the graphics disappoint in some ways, the gameplay doesn’t. The GRID series has been know for providing some really fun and intense over the past half-decade and Autosport continues that tradition proudly. It’s kind of hard to recommend this as a $60 purchase, but if you loved either GRID game before, you’ll enjoy GRID Autosport – just be prepared for a visual shock to the senses when you see how bland the menus look.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a retail copy of GRID Autosport for the PlayStation 3 provided by Codemasters.