It’s been quite a while since a PC racing game was hyped like Codemasters’ Race Driver GRID. Basing their opinion on preview videos and screenshots, many critics already praised the game as the next best thing in terms of PC racing.
Can GRID live up to that hype from a sim racers perspective?
Powered by the Neon engine, Codemasters’ newest product is certainly state of the art from a technical point of view. Neon was already used for DIRT, the latest edition of the Colin McRae Rallye franchise. Even though DIRT was far away from being realistic, the game was well received by many magazines and most players – Making it a success.
Success that Codemasters wants to transfer to their Race Driver series by bringing us GRID. The ingredients for a top product are there: A state of the art engine, 14 tracks and over 40 cars� should make up for a good game, right?
There’s no shortage of content in Race Driver GRID as Codemasters wants the game to be appealing to a broad audience. The cars and tracks are a mix of fantasy and realistic choices. From drifting to Le Mans racing, Destruction Derby and Touring cars – Almost all road racing disciplines are covered.
Most sim racers will be interested in the realistic cars. Those of you that like Endurance racing will be satisfied as a big emphasis is put on Le Mans style racing. Codemasters seems to have acquired the needed licenses as many teams and drivers of the 2006 Le Mans Series season can be found. To top things off, the game includes the mother of them all – The 13.6 kilometre Le Mans circuit, birthplace of endurance racing.
Since I´m a big endurance racing fan myself, I was pretty keen to try Race Driver GRID. But first, I had to install it which takes quite a while. As soon as installation is finished, you´re good to start the game. Like most multi-platform games, GRID relays on gamepad/key controlled menus. You can’t use the mouse in the menus, making it somewhat harder to navigate. But in all honesty, there is not much to navigate trough…
First, I paid a visit to the settings section. There is not much to choose despite the usual stuff. Resolution, anti aliasing, sound options and key assignments can be found. You can also edit the driving aids and tweak control sensitivity which is kind of pointless – But I´m getting ahead of myself.
Once you´re set, you can either start a career or do single races. If you choose to start a single race, you have a choice of tracks and cars. If you want to race in the Le Mans Series, you can choose the matching tracks, same goes for all other disciplines. You can’t drive the Le Mans cars on the drifting circuits and vice versa, GRID splits the cars and tracks into isolated groups.
Ok, off we go to the first race. Beforehand, you can choose your difficulty level and where to start on the grid. Once you click go, the race starts! There is no practice or qualifying, nor a setup screen. Such stuff does not exist in the GRID world – All you can do is going straight to a race.
This is it, I´m sitting in an Audi R10, ready to go racing at Le Mans. What sounds like a sweet deal turns ugly as soon as the flag drops. During the first seconds of driving, all enthusiasm for GRID instantly dies. The cars handle awful and make you feel like driving a hoovercraft. Steering is wobbly and incredibly unresponsive, changing the above mentioned sensitivity settings does not help much.
The game simply fails to give you the feeling that you fully control the car. You can’t feel what it’s doing, it feels numb and fake, making it very hard to predict what the car will do next. The physics aren’t just bad bad, they´re incredibly unrealistic too. The cars have almost infinite grip, you don’t have to brake much as almost every corner can be taken very fast. Drifting won’t slow you down at all, this game does not reward a clean driving style.
The cars are not just very grippy, they are insanely powerful too. The Audi R10 will easily top 260mph, a WTCC touring car goes up to 175mph. But you don’t have to worry as the cars have out-of-this-world brakes too. You won’t miss many corners as even breaking at the 50 meter mark will do the trick even if you´re on full speed.
While you´re trying to keep the car on track, the AI will constantly slam into you and each other, making excessive use of the damage model. Even in the real-time 24h Le Mans race, cars slam into each other at turn one like there’s no tomorrow.
Now that we´ve covered the ugly, let’s get to the slightly better stuff. Graphically, this game is pretty decent but ruined by overusing HDR and other effects. Graphics are of shaking quality though. While some things look very nice, you´ll find low-res textures in other spots. The car models look very good, no surprise as they have been modelled based on CAD data. All cars come with their own cockpit which are accurately modelled too.
Same goes for the tracks, the overall quality is nice but far away from being a new benchmark. Everything is packed with effects, from animated crowds to flashlights – The GRID world is busy. Sadly, the tracks are not very accurate. While they mostly resemble their real-life counterparts, many corners don’t feel right and most tracks are either too narrow or far too wide.
The game comes with plenty of special effects. From smoke to dirt, debris and flying tires. GRID looks impressive, but you´ll get the feeling of being trapped in a bad Michael Bay movie quickly. The developers just love their damage engine and make excessiveve use of it. Yes, 70 detachable parts per car are impressive but the flashback-system rewards players for doing stupid, unrealistic stuff. If you crashed your car beyond repair, you can rewind and pick up where you left off. The number of available flashbacks varies with the chosen difficulty level, you always get at least one flashback though.
Sounds are decent, most cars sound somewhat like their real-life counterparts even though you shouldn’t expect excellence. Despite that, there is some team radio and plenty of crashing and banging sounds that are used often.
When you´re tired of the single races, you can start your GRID career. Don’t expect anything like Gran Turismo’s rewarding career mode. You don’t get to choose much stuff, all it takes is accepting driver assignments to try and make money for moving up to the next license level.
Assignments vary from single races to setting fast laps and mission races. In those races, you have to finish ahead of chosen cars for the challenge to be complete. But, GRID is all about quick and easy fun without much pressure involved. It does not matter if you meet the requirements, as long as you finish the race you will get money and advance in the career mode. There is not much to screw up, seems like the usual GRID driver does not like to be challenged.
That’s it, there is nothing else to do. There are not time trials, no test runs or anything else. All you can do is race. Yes, there are plenty of cars but if you´re not into drifting or crash derbies, things get repetitive quickly.
Many things have been said about Race Driver GRID before the release. Many people praised it, some even said it will blow GTR2 and other simulations out of the water. Fact is, GRID is a poor game whose features are average at best, some are just incredibly bad.
Don’t get me wrong, even though I´m writing from a sim racers perspective, I would have liked a decent arcade game. I´ve enjoyed Gran Turismo 4 for quite a while but GRID does not come close. It’s not even an arcade game, it’s just a train wreck.
Who will like Race Driver GRID? I don’t know but certainly nobody who’s a motorsports fan. Many details in GRID show that its makers don’t care much about motorsports. Its not about acquiring licenses and take photos of tracks and cars. It’s about an eye for details and passion to do it right, passion that has fueled companies like Simbin to produce accurate simulations. There does not seem to be much passion involved with Codemasters which makes thinking about their upcoming F1 games just scary.
Finally, many expressed their hopes that GRID’s content will end up in other games. I say, I would not care much about converting the content. The tracks are too inaccurate to be of any use – And most cars can already be found in rFactor and GTR2 -Looking better and handling right.
Gameplay Videos – Courtesy of erale
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Do you agree with me? Or think I´ve got it all wrong? Let me know in the comments:)