As far as reboots go, Grid’s is a baffling one. It’s an ideal candidate, mind you – the first Grid game in 2008 was an instant classic and arguably one of the best racing games ever made. But subsequent releases didn’t manage to reach those heights. So going back to what made that first game so special was a mouth-watering prospect. What we have though is a shallow, half-hearted effort that only kicks dirt on its legacy.
That’s not so say that Grid is a bad game; far from it. Racing games is all Codemasters does and they’ve mastered it to an art. The driver AI in this game deserve a special mention because they really are fantastic and, more importantly, realistic. They defend their positions intelligently and will look for an overtaking opportunity when you slip up, without being overly aggressive – most of the time. In most races, there will be one rival racer that will challenge you for the lead more aggressively than the others and this can lead to some intense skirmishes.
Pick your battles
Then there’s the Nemesis system. Rub another racer the wrong way (literally) or indulge in bumper cars and that driver will get tagged as your nemesis. He/she will then proceed to hunt you down for the rest of the race, even occasionally trying to bump you off the track. That might seem overtly aggressive and nasty, but it doesn’t happen all the time, and hey, you started it.
The intelligent AI layered with the Nemesis system ensures that Grid’s races are always action-packed, provided you arrive at the right difficulty setting for your skill setting. Like the previous games, gameplay in Grid leans heavily on the arcade side, although there is a fair amount of adjustment and learning curve as you move between vehicle classes. With a mix of muscle, tuner, touring, classics and supercars among the game’s 75-odd cars, there’s enough variety here. Driving is fun and exciting with just enough of a challenge to keep you on your toes.
While not abundant, Grid’s car collection is sufficient. The same can’t be said for the track options. While there is a good mix of urban, road and grand prix tracks, there just aren’t enough of them, even with their own layout and day-night variations. The longer you spend in the game’s mainstay – Career mode – the more this dearth of tracks is felt.
A directionless career
That brings us to the biggest disappointment about Grid – the Career mode. Aside from the game’s online mode, this is all the game has to offer and most players will spend the majority of their time here. And so it’s a shame that Codemaster’s execution here is so dull and half-hearted. Each of the car types is divided into its own event type, so you have multiple specialities to progress through, from muscle to tuner to touring. All disciplines are open from the get-go so there’s a reasonable amount of freedom to progress any way you like.
The problem is there is absolutely no incentive to do so. There is zero incentive for levelling up your profile because all you’ll get is cosmetic items like liveries or badges and tags to slap onto your player profile. Even the credits and XP you earn for race wins aren’t clearly demarcated, so you don’t really know if you’re rewarded for turning off the racing line, disabling assets or not utilising a flashback/rewind. It’s all very sterile and the Career is eventually nothing but a list of events with little consequence attached to it.
There is a team mechanic, where you can form a team, name it, and recruit a teammate to race alongside you. You can direct your teammate to attack or defend positions during races and you’ll earn extra credits when they do well, but here too, it’s all very superficial. Moreover, you are free to hire new drivers whenever you want so there’s no sense of camaraderie or teamwork.
Things don’t fare too well online either. Our first few attempts at joining a quick match were met with a ‘please connect to PlayStation Network’ error, even though we were connected. When we did finally manage to get into a lobby, we could barely find 5-6 players to race with, and the rest of the pack of 16 was filled out by AI. And this was during the game’s launch weekend. The randomising of starting positions also left us puzzled. When some players are put at the front of the pack and the others at the back in a short 3-lap race, it does stack the odds heavily against the latter.
Codemasters are renowned for their slick UIs and excellent overall visual presentation, but here too the studio is off its game. The Career mode, player profile, team and Objectives (which are just a list of pointless achievements you’ll never care to chase down) screens are all overly cluttered. During races, the chase camera frequently glitches when a rival car comes within touching distance behind you. It’s also common for the frame rate to drop drastically during typical first-corner traffic – and this on a PS4 Pro at 1080p. On the audio side, the cars themselves sound great, but the commentary before races is cringe-inducing, while the pit instructions during races do little more than stating the obvious.
The original Grid game had heart. Little things like an announcer saying out your chosen nickname when you boot up the game or after a win went a long way to draw you in. This game, however, is devoid of all personality. It’s still a great game once you’re in a race, but that’s to be expected from Codemasters. But in 2019, where games like Forza Horizon find new ways to push the boundaries, Grid simply doesn’t do enough.