A fine racer with a few flawsRaces themselves are pretty damn exciting affairs. The graphical effects we’ve got going on in GRID are really quite brilliant. Spin out and you’ll be obscured in a Top Gear style cloud of tyre smoke, which, for chase-camera drivers like me, can be a pain in the gearbox as you’ve no idea which way you ended up facing. You car takes modular damage too, so rub that guy in front and you’ll crumple the front end… I think I’ve yet to finish a touring car race with my front bumper still attached.
Which does flag up a fairly large problem with the racing, in that you can pretty much slam into any bugger with no penalties to yourself. Fancy nipping down the inside on a tight bend? Go ahead, don’t worry too much about braking, just use the car in front as a mobile buffer… Things change somewhat on the tougher difficulty settings but on basic, where we’ll all start off, it’s very easy to get into some very bad habits.
Now I mentioned the AI earlier on and how lifelike they feel when they’re driving, but there is one glaring deficiency which you can take advantage of right from the green light, and that’s the AI’s cornering… Sure enough, they’ll go ball- out foot-to-the-floor on the straights and drift into a decent enough racing line for the corners but when they get to a bend it’s like Driving Miss Daisy. Honestly, I’ve seen continents corner quicker than this. Maybe it’s the car handling that’s throwing the AI off but it does seem to drive very firmly within the limits of the car and you’ll hardly ever see an AI driver deliberately drifting (outside of a drift event) to corner quicker.
Which brings me to the handling of the cars which in places is superb and in others is bloody horrible. Take the very first race you’ll compete in with your own team. You’re forced in using a Ford Mustang, (which is a bummer if you’re a Brit racing fan), and then you leap into your first race to find that, as with most muscle cars, the Mustang is a brute in a straight line and a complete dog in a corner.
That’s all well and good but seriously, this a race-tuned car? Surely the shocks would’ve been firmed up, the springs dropped and some form of anti-roll system installed? Now I know Steve McQueen can drive a Mustang like it was part of him but a) I’m not him and b) I’m not in a Mustang so all I’ve got to tell me what’s going on is the audio visuals and a bit of rumbling from the joypad. It might be easier if there was a decent sensation of speed but in the low end, say around 50-80mph, you’re never sure quite how fast you’re going which can make the difference between a podium finish or a very nasty pile up.
And this is where Race Driver GRID is at its most unforgiving. Make one small error of judgement, clip an apex too soon or rub the Armco on the exit and before you know it you’ll have an opponent alongside you just gagging to rub your bumper on the next bend, spinning you around for a trouser filling view of 10 other cars screaming right at you… It’s no wonder one of the achievements is ‘Roadblock’ while another is to notch up 20 rolls in car. The situation isn’t helped by a few odd physical quirks such as tyres strewn across the track throwing the car onto two wheels or a dip in the road flipping the car end over end if you land in it. Though these oddities are rare, they’re also bloody annoying when they happen.
But if you do find yourself at the bottom of a 6 car pile-up, there is something you can do about it. You have a set number of ‘Flashbacks’ which allow you to rewind time and hopefully, this time, miss that rock solid concrete corner or brake just that bit sooner. And for the egotists amongst you there’s a replay function which lets you watch the whole race again from a variety of camera angles… which is quite cool for those huge crashes in the Demolition Derbies.
All of which serves to underline that Race Driver GRID is, at heart, an arcade racer with sim-like undertones. The pure excitement and adrenaline rush of clawing your way to a podium place is addictive and, as long as you take it all light-heartedly, non-podium places are as much fun for the racing itself. Is the difficulty curve set a little too high? Well, no, where’d the fun be if you were placing first on every race and I’ve yet to see ‘rubber band’ style speeds where the other racers speed up or slow down depending on how well you’re placing, which is nice.
All in all, Race Driver GRID is perfect for those of us that’ve had our fill of Forza and PGR and are finding Gran Turismo to be taking just that bit too damn long to get here. All Race Driver GRID really needs is a decent wheel and pedal system to get the most out of it but you’ll be just as happy with a joypad, I know I was. Pros
Fast, accessible racing
Lovely graphics and sounds
Easy to get into
Plenty of racing styles and cars
Framerate drops when it gets busy
AI can’t corner
One teeny mistake and it’s 12th place
Race Driver GRID is a worthy companion to Colin McRae DiRT