Since 2007, the GRID series has delivered some of the most satisfying racing action on the market. The original game was a sea change for what was the TOCA Race Driver series and provided a far more user-friendly interface alongside the smoothest gameplay Codemasters had ever delivered to that point. GRID 2 took what worked and made it even better with faster action, and Autosport made things a bit more serious with a simulation-centric approach. After a five-year absence, GRID is back with what I guess could be called a soft reboot of the series with Autosport being re-released at the same time for Switch. GRID showcases the same sense of teamwork and large amount of racing styles that the mainline GRID series did alongside a more serious approach akin to Autosport.
Since Autosport, we’ve seen the rise of party-themed racers with the Forza Horizon series and the increase in arcade-style racers in general. As a result, more serious games are limited to mainline Forza and Gran Turismo games – opening the door for GRID to find a new market thirsty for something a bit different, but still familiar. You have a lot of different racing disciplines to partake in here, with traditional supercar racers standing as a stark contrast to stock car battles that pit you in close-quarters races with more physical action. The meat of GRID’s action is the nemesis system that acts in much the same as Burnout Revenge’s revenge system – but takes it to a new level.
When you race aggressively and start bumping into a single driver a lot, you will have them as a nemesis. As a result, this puts you at a higher risk to not only be attacked by them, but also be bumped into other drivers by them – adding even more rivals to the mix. This system ensures that racing action is just about as intense as you want it to be and allows you to have more control over how much difficulty each races poses in real-time. The second you get a rival, you need to figure out just how you want to approach the race from that point on. You can also have teammates in races – something that has been a part of the series since day one. Having allies helps out, but you’ll want to pay them well before they get tired and leave the team.
The nemesis system keeps races a bit more interesting and while it can make things harder, you can also use it to make races easier. Enemies can act as buffers for you when you’re trying to move up the ranks. This allows you to be a bit more reckless and take more risks as long as things work out and you can just bounce off of them. If not, then you can just use a flashback or two if you’re playing on normal difficulty to rewind and undo that mistake. Flashbacks were popularized in this series, so it’s fitting that they’re back in the reboot. The interface is fantastic and a single button is all you need to use the feature – making it one of the best implementations of this feature yet.
GRID’s career mode hits some of the same notes as the first game did, but feels far more lifeless. It’s very much like the modern-day Forza mainline career mode where you have a lot of things to do and the overwhelming majority of them are fun to do – but they’re presented in the most boring way possible. Your team gives you a bit of world-building with the team aspect of things, but beyond that, you just have a ton of racing styles as part of different series spread around in a bland giant menu system. It’s just a large grid paper-esque design of races and while that does make it clear that there’s a lot of content, it also seems very daunting and the presentation doesn’t inspire much of anything.
Fortunately, while the presentation is iffy, the core racing action in the career mode and thus every mode is, fantastic. Truck races are great for those who want something a bit slower-paced, while supercars are a must if you want sheer thrills and the on-field action is a lot of fun. Scraping cars results in some satisfying sparks flying. The lack of structure for the career mode hurts things a bit, but doing individual races remains a lot of fun at all times and gives players a lot more freedom in what they can do.
Visually, the on-track presentation of GRID is fantastic. Cars have a lot of detail and that extends to the tracks themselves. While pre-race graphics don’t really show off much of the environment, the game itself allows every area to stand out with bright skies during the day amid things like theme parks in the background – showing off more of the in-game world and reminding you that the world you’re in isn’t just a series of tracks. It’s a small thing, but much like Daytona USA featuring things like a slot machine or Sonic in its walls, little details like that make the tracks more exciting to race in.
The best part of the audio is the sound design – with announcing and car clashing creating a unique atmosphere. While most games set out to have in-game commentary sound like it’s coming through your TV like a broadcast, GRID aims to create an in-crowd feeling by having it play over the house speakers and then go through your own speakers. It’s a unique approach to commentary that makes it slightly harder to hear it, but also makes it a more immersive experience – especially when playing with either a nice soundbar or a good set of speakers. The music featured for menus and in races winds up getting drowned out by everything else – and that’s fine since the music is just meandering light rock and doesn’t leave an impression on you.
Overall, GRID is a very good game – but one that fails to fully find its own voice. One thing that defined the series when it began was a unique team-based premise and a defined structure to its career mode. You had a sense of identity there that isn’t present now and it hurts the overall experience. Fortunately, the core racing action is still top-shelf and the nemesis system keeps you glued to the race and doing your best to either avoid contact or exploit it depending on your play style. This reboot isn’t my favorite in the franchise, but it is the best-playing on-track experience even if the rest of the game doesn’t quite match its greatness.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of GRID for the PlayStation 4 provided by Codemasters.