Codemasters is a very special studio for me. Over two decades ago, it's where I began a serious love affair with racing games, thanks to the utterly brilliant TOCA Touring Car Championship on the original PlayStation. The studio has made a wealth of four-wheeled titles over the years, but as 2019 comes to a close, one of its most famous names is receiving a reboot.
The GRID series was the spiritual successor to the TOCA franchise, with the first incarnation coming ten years after that very first tin-top treat. And while you can now enjoy the last installment, GRID Autosport, on your phone and Nintendo Switch, the new GRID is a different beast entirely.
Five years is a long time in gaming, and it shows here. The new GRID is full of what made the old games so fun, with an added sprinkling of brilliance.
Like no other
Bottom line: GRID is back, and it's more than just nostalgia, with everything good about the old games brought up to snuff for 2019 with incredible AI and excellent physics.
- Looks absolutely gorgeous
- Great to play with a controller
- Good selection of circuits
- Incredible AI
- Pure racing fun
- Light on content without Ultimate Edition
- Not much multiplayer choice at launch
An exciting single-player experience
Unlike some other multi-discipline racing games, GRID doesn't drag you in slowly by forcing you to race in some horrifically slow, incredibly dull vehicle. Instead, you're thrown right into the action and into a proper race car in a proper race. There are no road cars in GRID; it's all race-spec, all the time.
In some instances, you'll be able to race in cars provided for you, such as invitationals. Other times you can borrow one if you don't have the credits to buy (the sacrifice is 10% of your winnings) or assuming your virtual balance is big enough, pad out your garage with dream machines of your own.
The overarching progression of the single-player career mode is very linear; You complete several series, take down the 'boss,' and when you've completed enough, you unlock the GRID World Series where you'll find the infamous Ravenwest team. However, considering one of the bosses is two-time Formula One World Champion, Fernando Alonso, you've still got a challenge on your hands.
There's also a curveball thrown in when it comes to buying vehicles. You don't want to borrow anything because you don't get a choice of car, and ultimately you want to maximize your winnings to buy more cars. There are no microtransactions for in-game currency, so you need to play to get better wheels.
But equally, you have to be selective over which series you complete and when to some degree. For example, I started the game in the Touring class but very soon reached a point I couldn't continue because I didn't have enough credits to buy the new vehicle type required. So that forced me to go off and try something else. It's refreshing because it never becomes a chore. You're always bouncing between the classes doing something different.
GRID has a real pick up and play vibe, perfect for when you don't have long to play
And since the races early on aren't very long, there's a real pick up and play vibe with GRID. If you don't have long to play, or you just want something to enjoy in short bursts, it's perfect. The variety is superb, with single-seaters, touring cars, different classes of GT car, American muscle, prototypes, even classic Minis. What you don't get is an absurd roster of cars to collect, a la Forza. Instead, you get a carefully chosen selection from some of the world's best race car manufacturers. But there's still enough diversity to keep a player engaged.
You get plenty to accomplish, too. GRID is packed with its own in-game achievements and accolades to earn, along with vanity items for your profile and your car. Ranking up isn't just reliant on how well you do, but how well you drive.
Incredible AI and better physics than you might expect
Who knew that involving one of the generation's finest drivers would result in such a positive outcome for a new racing game? Much has been made of Fernando Alonso's involvement in GRID. Indeed, an entire portion of the career mode is dedicated to him and his esports organization, but it seems to have paid off.
The old GRID games were fun, but their physics generally swung more towards the arcadey. Big drifts and unnatural movement were aplenty, but it's not the case here. The new GRID has that nostalgic feel in its presentation, but actually playing it provokes a surprising reaction. GRID feels amazing to play. And that's with a controller, by the way. It has full wheel support, but this is very much a game designed for everyone to enjoy.
It has a unique feel to it. It's no sim racer, but neither is it something along the lines of Need for Speed or The Crew 2. GRID sits firmly in the middle, and the result is just flat out fun the play. And isn't that the most important thing for a video game?
The AI, though, is perhaps the crown jewel of GRID. It's out of this world.
With Forza, Microsoft implemented Drivatars, AI opponents that are supposed to behave like their real-world counterparts. But it's always been an idea better executed on paper than in-game, with the truth being overly aggressive opponents that ram you at every available opportunity.
GRID doesn't have anything like that; it's just whatever the programmers decided upon for the behavior of your virtual rivals. And whether it's the Alonso effect, their years of experience, or a combination of both, Codemasters hit it out of the park.
The AI in GRID is out of this world
Opponents will race, and they'll race hard. You'll bang doors, and occasionally you'll come off worse. But you rarely find yourself being intentionally rammed off the circuit, or behind a wildly weaving Ferrari. The AI opponents battle, but generally speaking, battle fairly. If you leave a gap, they'll go for it, and sometimes they'll go in too hot and run wide. It makes it exciting; it makes you want to get stuck in mid-pack and have a proper race.
It gets the adrenalin pumping, too. Executing a perfectly timed slide up the inside at Paddock Hill Bend on the Brands Hatch circuit as the track falls away from under you gets the blood pumping, and feels genuinely rewarding.
Attention to detail like no other
While the core of the game is strong and the mechanics of racing sublime, one of the things that grab my attention the most with GRID is the sheer attention to detail. It's something I touched on a month back when I first previewed it, but having spent more time with the game, I'm even more impressed by it.
Two things in this @gridgame clip.— Richard Devine 🇬🇧 (@Ricker666) October 8, 2019
1) Aston Martin 😍 (wasn't allowed to show that in the preview)
2) Some of the accidents are tremendous. There's a real attention to detail in this game. pic.twitter.com/p4NANkuBra
On top of the best cockpit view of any racing game out right now, GRID is full of little touches that complete the experience. The damage model, for example, is astonishing. Besides the fact that you can turn on actual, real, terminal damage, the way the cars fall apart before your eyes is tremendous.
Bodywork splinters and flaps about, you can damage the roof, and eventually, the hood will fly off given enough persuasion. Around you, tires will fly out of the barriers when you smack into them, and you can hear the crowd roaring as you zoom past.
What I hope is that Codemasters adds a dedicated photo mode to GRID to help capture your moments at their very best. Using the replay mode and the Xbox screenshot feature is an OK middle ground, the image at the very top of this review and a few others throughout were captured that way, but there's so much detail a photo mode would be the icing on the cake.
Multiplayer and more to come
The focus for launch is very heavily skewed towards the single-player mode and getting the core game right. On that front, Codemasters has largely hit a home run. But GRID does have multiplayer, just not much in the way of choice right now. I'm OK with that, and having spoken to members of the team in the past, confident more is to come, but if you were hoping to dive into competitive play and start climbing ladders, well, you're out of luck.
The lack of a ranked mode is probably the most glaring omission, especially considering Codemasters' other big 2019 track racer, F1 2019 came with at launch, but it should be on the cards for the future (plans do change though). Precisely what shapes future multiplayer action takes mostly depends on the player base.
The season pass is almost an essential investment.
What we do have is quick lobbies and private lobbies. What I do like is that if you're in a lobby that isn't full, the game will auto-populate the rest of the grid with some of those excellent AI drivers, so you always have plenty of opponents to overtake.
GRID also has a season pass, and it's something I highly recommend. I'm a little disappointed that without it, there's going to be a shortage of content eventually in the base game, but the season pass does at least promise quite a bit. Ninety new career mode challenges split into three seasons in the first six months, along with an additional 12 cars, seasonal rewards, and a bunch of vanity items. It's included in the Ultimate Edition, and on the bright side, there are no microtransactions, you pay once for more content.
Kind of like how DLC used to be.
Should you buy GRID?
Absolutely. Sure, if you don't spring for the Ultimate Edition with the Season Pass, it's going to get short on content, but what's here is pretty mind-blowing. I wanted GRID to be good, for all those hours spent as a teenager glued to my PlayStation thrashing around on TOCA.
And it succeeded with flying colors.
GRID is a nostalgia trip for folks like myself, but it doesn't rely on fond memories to be good. Every aspect of the game has been meticulously crafted with the utmost attention to detail, and we're left with something truly spectacular.
The AI is out of this world, the circuit and car selection have something to whet every appetite, and it's fun to play with a controller as well as a wheel. What this is truly is exceptional, and Codemasters should be applauded for delivering one of the finest racers of this generation.
Like No Other
GRID is all grown up, and boy is it good
A strong contender to be your next favorite racing game. It's even better than you hoped it would be.
This review was conducted on Xbox One X using a copy provided by the publisher.
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