Codemasters Race Driver: GRID
PC gamers have never been short of great driving games with which to indulge their speed-demon tendencies - GTR 2, Colin McRae: DiRT and Trackmania Nations Forever are regular favourites in the Buyer office -but here's a brand new contender from legendary British software house Codemasters.
Race Driver: GRID uses a refined version of the graphics engine from Colin McRae, but if we thought things couldn't look much better than that, we were sorely mistaken. At even medium settings, the races are eye-poppingly gorgeous. The cars and racetracks are rendered with astonishing detail, and liberal helpings of special effects give a movie sheen to the proceedings. Stamp your foot to the floor, and motion blur gives a fantastic impression of speed. Crash into a barrier, or plough into an unfortunate opponent, and the whole screen shudders in response, the camera jerking violently to the side. It's purposefully disorientating, and makes you wary of trying to scythe through your opponents without due care.
GRID's good looks would be nothing were they not accompanied by finely honed handling. Playing many driving games with anything less than a good-quality steering wheel can be a desperately bland experience, but GRID is equally playable with the cursor keys. Your first driving experience comes courtesy of an unhealthily powerful V12 supercar, and although its accelerator and brake are tethered to the unlikely combination of the up and down arrows, the sense of realism is incredible. Dab the up button and you can almost feel the visceral tug of those 500bhp, the tires scrabbling desperately for purchase on the rough street.
It's not long before you revisit those streets in the altogether less refined cockpit of a Ford Mustang, and guiding it safely to the podium is a completely different experience. When you floor it, the front end goes light and the steering mushy, and taking corners at speed proves astoundingly challenging.
Make a mistake at a crucial moment, and many games would leave you to restart the race, the air blue with recrimination. Not GRID. Write your car off, or mistime a manoeuvre, and GRID's masterstroke is a feature called Flashback. Just hit the instant replay button to rewind and restart the action as if your gaffe never happened. With a limited number of Flashbacks for every race, it doesn't spoil the challenge, but many a time it saved us flinging our keyboard across the room.
Variety keeps things interesting. As you build up your reputation as a driver, entering races wins you the cash you need for extras like demolition derby, one-on-one races and drifting contests.
Race Driver: GRID fills a welcome gap between the po-faced realism of GTR 2 and the arcade thrills of Trackmania. It's not particularly forgiving of lower-specified PCs, but if yours is capable, GRID will grip you right to the finish line.