For years, the Race Driver series has been revered for its robust amount of racing types that allow players to experience the thrills of many different racing disciplines and for its exceptional quality given the vast quantity of racing styles replicated within in. Back with an all-new gameplay rewind system that allows you to playback a mistake and correct it, a revamped version of DiRT’s game engine, and a slightly more dazzling version of that game’s slick interface, the series makes its current gen debut with a well-crafted game that continues the trend set by its predecessors by delivering a lot of thrilling action across many racing disciplines. Unfortunately, it also suffers from some minor flaws and antiquated features that hurt the game, but not enough to make me not recommend it as a purchase for even casual racing fans.
Given that Grid replicates over a dozen racing styles, and a variety of different disciplines within those disciplines (the drifting style alone has four of them), it has a bit of a learning curve to it. Fortunately, it’s a steady one that really allows the player to ease into things at their own pace. You’re given the option of using driving assists that make turning and braking easier, and you can adjust the difficulty before every race, so if you find yourself struggling with a certain discipline.
For example, the drift discipline is a common one that aggravates players because of how much looser drift cars control compared to anything else in the game, and it was the hardest one for me to get used to as well. After struggling for a handful of events, I decided to make use of the racing assists until I got the hang of how to properly maneuver the car around, then I gradually weaned myself off of the assists over time.
If Grid hadn’t been so user-friendly in that regard, I probably would’ve gotten so frustrated that I would’ve just given up on that discipline and tried another one. Fortunately, because there are so many racing styles to use, getting so frustrated that I would just quit the game outright never entered my mind, as I knew that even if I played poorly with one, I could get used to another fairly quickly.
One upside to not using the assists is that you’ll garner more points in the game’s primary mode, the “Grid World”, that allows you to race across three different regions of the world (U.S., Japan, and Europe), with one all-encompassing Global option opening up later on. The easiest races are on the lowest tier of each region, and then getting progressively more challenging as you progress upwards on an event-by-event basis. By not having assists on, you‘ll be able to accumulate points and rise through the multiple tiers of challenges faster. Increasing the difficulty can also do this, but if you want an easier path to the top, you can take it - it’ll just take more time for you to unlock Grid’s most challenging races, create your own team, and take advantage of big-money freelance racing and sponsorship deals.
I loved how this tiered progress system was executed in DiRT, and I think it was pulled off even better here thanks to little additions like the sponsorships, and the ability to buy cars used via faux eBay Motors auctions (which, like the in-game sponsorships, work well at advertising real-life products while also adding to the reality of the game.
Grid’s biggest strengths lie in not only its many racing style options, which include destruction derby races (where your goal is to get to the front of the pack by any means necessary - even if that requires you to destroy your rivals), but their fine execution thanks to the use of a revamped version of Dirt’s game engine, which allows for silky-smooth play in every single mode - given how many games struggle just to do justice to one racing style, this is a fairly impressive accomplishment.
The new flashback feature, which allows you to rewind time up to 10 seconds and retry something is an incredibly useful tool, although one that can become a crutch if it’s overused. Fortunately, Codemasters does restrict how many times it can be used during a given race, which prevents that to some degree, although it can still be used to gain a cheap advantage. Functionally, it’s incredibly helpful in the 24 Hour Le Mans, especially late in the race, as it prevents a single error from forcing you to redo the 24 minute-long replication of the day-long race. It’s also useful in the touge events, where a single false move can result in your opponent getting the lead in a race where contact is forbidden, and reclaiming the top spot may be impossible without it.
During normal races, where a fluke move (like being rammed into a wall or tire stack by a rival) deals you a race-ending blow, the feature is a godsend, as you can just rewind time back to before the disastrous move and avoid that single misfortune. While this feature can be a life-saver, I’d recommend not using it unless you absolutely have to because if you become reliant on it to remedy your mistakes, you’ll never figure out how to fix them on your own. Plus, by racing without the flashback feature enabled, you can progress through the tiers of the Grid World mode faster, as doing that, like racing without assists and on a higher difficulty setting yields more points.
Unfortunately, while Grid is a joy to play most of the time, it can be incredibly annoying when a race goes off-road or there’s a massive collision nearby, as each will leave you stuck in a blinding dust cloud. I’ve never seen any game feature such a thick, screen-covering cloud of dirt and dust that flies up whenever you rev the tires to free yourself from either predicament. To make matter worse, there isn’t even an arrow that pops up when you’re spinning out into the wrong direction - just a caution sign that shows up after you’ve been driving down the track for a few seconds. It’s just enough time to completely take you out of contention, and whenever this problem creeps up, I’m thankful for the flashback feature. Hopefully in the next installment of the series, they’ll reduce the size and thickness of the dust clouds, because they’re much larger and far more obtrusive than they need to be.
Grid’s also hurt by an inability to save your replays. You can view them easily after the race, but you can’t save them - an oddity now, when most racing games allow you to do that. Given how spectacular the graphics and crashes are, I’d have loved to be able to relive some of my favorite moments (like when I was hit by a rival into a barrier, flipped over in a 360, and still came in third place), and I’m sure I’m not the only one who‘d like to relive their favorite moments in Grid whenever they wanted. After getting used to PGR 4 not only allowing players to save replays, but upload them online, Grid seems woefully behind the times in this regard.
Grid’s online setup could also benefit from some improvement. While the core gameplay is intact online, and lag isn’t usually a problem, mode selection is a bit sparse compared to its single player counterpart. Fortunately, you’re still given dozens of overall options for online play, so it’s not as if you can only do a couple different kinds of races online, but after getting used to so many racing styles during the single player game, it can seem very limited by comparison. Some have also reported a very glitchy online experience, including getting a play session-ending brown screen of death, which I haven’t had a problem with - it’s still something to keep in mind though, and would seem to indicate that more time was needed to deliver a truly great online experience.
While Grid’s online setup could use some work and its replay systems are a bit archaic, its crash effects are ahead of the curse (a trend for the series) and the overall visual presentation is top-notch. The vehicles and environments look incredible, as you can see each individual blade of grass (or piece of sand) alongside the track, and see an impressively-detailed recreation of your car’s interior depending on what camera angle you choose. Even in the furthest-from-the-car angle (which I prefer), the graphics come alive. You’ll see each little part of a car fly off of either your vehicle or an opponent’s over the course of an aggressively-driven race, and in the case of the latter, those pieces can actually hit you and slow you down if don’t carefully avoid them.
It’s incredible to see the progression of the vehicular in Grid - you can easily start a race with a brand-new car, complete with a customized paint job and glossy paint, only to end up staring in amazement when the race is over and you’re left with a replay showcasing a heavily-dented monstrosity covered in scratches, missing a back bumper (which slowly fell off, leaving a trail of sparks behind as you sped forward), and pulls to the right due to a massive collision, then the camera pans inside the car and you take a gander outside of your side window, which is completely cracked from top to bottom. Sometimes, Grid’s most impressive sights aren’t necessarily beautiful ones.
The audio doesn’t hold up as well as the visuals though, as the music is limited to a scarce supply electronica and classical tunes, and the voice acting done for your racing team is repeated far too often during a race, which grates on the nerves. The audio isn’t all bad though - the sound effects are fantastic, and get across the violent nature of crashes with a plethora of sound effects that all seem to mesh perfectly with what’s going on.
If you’re in a minor fender bender, you’ll hear a lot of scraping, along with an impact, but not necessarily loud crashing sound effect, while race-ending crashes that damage your car beyond repair look and sound exactly as they should - the car will look crushed from either the front, top, back, or side, and the incredibly loud sound effects used for those kinds of violent crashes are the loudest ones you’ll find in the game, and go by quickly, fitting the trend of those crashes happening due to one mis-timed move that goes terribly wrong.
By making a racing game that is not only well-crafted, but allows its players to take part in many different kinds of racing, Codemasters has ensured that Grid will be played for a very long time by those who aren’t put off by its learning curve. While it’s certainly not a perfect game, and would be helped by better music and a more robust replay and more refined online setup, what’s here is mostly top-shelf stuff.
Series vets with fond memories of the Pro Race Driver/TOCA games on previous systems should pick this up immediately, and if you’re unsure about it, there’s a demo available for download that’ll give you a good idea as to how easily most of the cars can be controlled, but won’t give you a very accurate view of just how many kinds of racing styles are represented in the full game.