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Grid Autosport review

Michael Passingham
2 Jul 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
30

Possibly the most immersive console-based racing game you'll play this year

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Specifications

Available formats: Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

17 years ago, ToCA Touring cars was entirely devoted to the burgeoning British Touring Car Championship; you picked a car, your raced, you crashed a bit and then you won (or lost). In the intervening decade and a half, ToCA turned to ToCA Race Driver which then morphed into Race Driver: Grid with multiple racing disciplines and story modes. By 2013's Grid 2, the flashy sponsors, team management and dubstep had all become a bit much, with tepid reviews criticising the diluted experience where big-name brands and arcadey street racing had become the order of the day.

Grid Autosport is Codemasters' attempt to go back to its roots, ditching everything that doesn't affect the core racing experience to put driving front and centre, without distractions. It does a damn fine job of it, too.

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Campaign mode once again puts you in the race suit of a faceless driver, tasked with picking a team and competing in various racing disciplines. Sponsor objectives still have to be met and rivals need to be put in their place, but it's all simple stuff that doesn't detract from the racing. Many of Grid 2's superfluous additions have been scrapped, including the ability to hire and fire drivers, pick up sponsors and design liveries.

Each of the five racing disciplines has its own subset of car categories. Touring Cars, Open Wheel and Endurance are the real-world categories while Tuner and Street get a little more creative with street tracks and more arcade-like handling. Tuner is by far the least fun of the five, mostly because dull time trial events and difficult and awkward-feeling drifting challenges are scattered amongst the actual races.

Each racing category has different handling traits: open wheel cars have huge grip at high speed but will punish you if you push too hard in slow corners, while touring cars can take a few knocks and slide their way into corners without sacrificing too much time. It's a unique handling model that won't please everyone, with the classic Codemasters "floaty" response that sometimes feels as if your controller inputs are dampened by the game, but once you get used to it, you should be able to drive consistently.

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Endurance races force you to look after your tyres as they wear - push too hard early on and you'll be struggling for grip come the final couple of minutes. It's just unclear whether this mechanic also applies to the AI drivers; the leading cars often take off into the distance at high speed while you're left managing tyre wear, and by the end of the race they're somehow going even faster despite our conservation efforts.

Despite our endurance woes, the AI in Grid Autosport is among the best we've seen in a racing game. The drivers are fast, unpredictable and ruthless, with no qualms about bumping you out of the way if you make a mistake and, unlike many other games, actually have some overtaking ability. It's easy enough to outsmart them by blocking, but we were genuinely surprised by some of the overtaking manoeuvres they were able to pull off.

Once they're committed to a move, though, woe betide anyone who tries to get in their way: attempt to block mid-corner and you'll get a hip-and-shoulder shove and a face full of gravel. Again, the laws that apply to you don't apply to them, and trying to dislodge them in a similar fashion will see you picking up damage; controlling your temper and driving sensibly is a prerequisite skill.

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Grid Autosport does a great job at making you feel you're at the centre of the action. Unlike Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, you actually feel as if you're part of a race. The distant sound of the PA system, the pieces of car littering the circuit after the first lap and the track environments work together perfectly to create the feel of a real racing circuit.

Most of the 22 track environments, including Brands Hatch and Yas Marina are accurately modelled on real-world locations, but others are the developers' own creation. Each one is well modelled with little flourishes like falling autumn leaves, helicopters flying by overhead and night time fireworks displays, although some of the gesticulating, screaming crowd members are hilariously awkward and take away from the game's immersion.

Rubber-banding, where AI cars are artificially slowed down and sped up based on your own skills, does happen, but you'll still have to drive beyond your limits to catch the top drivers. If you've tuned the AI difficulty to just above your actual skill level (we liked Hard; Very Hard was impossibly difficult), podium finishes feel like real victories.

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Codemasters' EGO engine, which first appeared in F1 2009, returns for Grid Autosport, which means it is stuck on the eight-year-old Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as well as the PC. It admittedly looks very pretty on a high-powered gaming desktop, but this is very much a last-gen game; the occasional low-quality texture will rear its head in liveries and the car's cockpit views.

There were some noticeable performance issues on the Xbox 360 version we played; the frame rate often slows to a juddery snail's pace when multiple cars collide onscreen. This is mostly limited to the first lap of most events when the field of up 16 cars is attempting to squeeze itself into a single lane, but it does take away from what should be the most exciting part of the race.

Performance issues aside, the actual racing is terrific fun. Not only is the handling model satisfying, it's varied and genuinely challenging once you start disabling the numerous driver assist settings. Lock a brake, get greedy on the throttle or try to close the door on an aggressive rival and you will find yourself spinning into the nearest piece of scenery. Luckily, there are Flashbacks available for you to rewind time a few times each race if you get things wrong.

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Multiplayer is a well balanced affair too; the online systems punish poor driving and even when racing against players as far away as South America, there was no hint of lag. The lobby system could do with some work though. You can sometimes find yourself waiting upwards of five minutes to actually get into a race, but overall it's polished and should extend the game's lifespan significantly.

As the culmination of everything Codemasters has learned about the notoriously hard-to-please racing game fan base Grid Autosport is a fine way to see out the last generation of games consoles. It's not perfect, but it's the best mainstream racing game we've played in the last decade, and that is something it can be really proud of.

Availability
Available formatsWindows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows Vista/7/8
Minimum CPUIntel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon X2
Minimum GPUIntel HD 3000/AMD HD 2000/Nvidia GeForce 8000
Minimum RAM2GB
Hard disk space15GB
Buying information
Price including VAT£30
Supplierstore.steampowered.com
Detailswww.codemasters.com
Product code255220