Review: GRID (Microsoft Xbox 360)

GRID
Genre: Racing
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: 06/03/2008

Codemasters’ newest racing game GRID drives me out of my mind (pun intended). It has nothing to do with the actual game, but more the fact that I have a small OCD issue. If I see an acronym, I want to know what it means. GRID appears to be an acronym, but refers to the starting position of the cars before a race. I didn’t know that at first and I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around what GRID stands for. Giraffes Running Into Doors? Ghost Racing In Denver? This kept running through my mind from the moment I looked at the box.

Luckily after taking some medication, having a few drinks, and deciding that it must mean Great Racing and Intense Driving, I settled down and played the game.

A little background on the game, GRID is developed by Codemasters, or Codies for short. Codemasters is a long running British development company who are apparently so good at what they do that just recently the founders of the company were honored as Commanders of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England. In America the only way a video game developer knows that they’re doing well is when Jack Thompson files a lawsuit against them.

Codemasters in America is probably better known for its racing games than anything else. Codemasters developed the Colin McRae series of games, though if asked most Americans would probably think that Colin McRae was some sort of relative to the Highlander. They’re also known for their TOCA Race Driver series and for publishing the under appreciated game Overlord. Recently they’ve released Colin McRae DiRT and Race Driver: GRID in the US as DiRT and GRID respectively. I’m not sure why they’ve done this other than that it’s easier to say, though maybe us Americans also just prefer four letter words, I sure know say a lot of four letter words.


Not Colin McRae

One of the first things you will notice about GRID after turning it on is just how amazing it looks. No matter what system you are playing it on, GRID looks fantastic. If developers could figure out how to make people in video games look as good as cars look in GRID, we’d be one step closer to photorealistic games. Not only do these cars look great, but they break apart beautifully, few racing games outside of the Burnout series (where crashing is their bread and butter) have the kind of damage modeling that’s on display in GRID. Collide hard enough with a wall or another car and watch as the debris accurately explodes from the vehicles. Even if your car or another car happens to get into an accident just hard enough to knock a bumper off it’ll still be there in the road when you make your next lap.

This damage is not merely just eye candy either. Slide too hard into a wall or another car and watch as it messes up your suspension making it a little harder to steer correctly, there are other areas that when damaged can effect the handling of the car and all of these are monitored on an easy to read Heads Up Display.

GRID
Whipping a donut

Even though damage can effect the way you drive, GRID is not a driving simulator. Somewhere in between Simulation and Arcade style racing lies GRID, with the sense of speed and damage you can find in arcade style racing games like Burnout, but racing by only pressing down on the accelerator will get you nowhere and the races take skill on when to pass and when to brake like Forza Motorsport. The game does several things to make sure that no matter what your skill level is that you’ll have fun playing GRID.

One of those things are the Flashback feature. At any point during a race if you make a mistake, have a crash that totals your car or spin out, you can instantly watch the last ten seconds of the race and rewind to any part of that clip and jump back into the race, much like you could in the video game Prince of Persia if you fell to your death. This is counterbalanced by limiting the amount of times this can be used during a race, with as many as 5 times for the easiest difficulty level or just once for the Expert difficulty level.

I love this feature so much. Admittedly I’m not much of a racing game fan, and when I do play a racing game I’ll choose a more arcade style of game over anything else. In GRID you don’t have to worry that the one mistake you made during the race is going to cause you to pull into last place, a quick rewind and you’re back in action. This is great for when you’re playing and your cat decides to jump at you.


Not a good time for the cat to play tag

There’s a whole mess of other features to insure that you enjoy the game that are optional. By default the game has all of the driver assists, such as breaking assists by giving you a heads up when a nasty turn is coming up, to stability assists, etc. There’s also several difficulty levels, the ability to turn on Pro-Mode (you can’t restart races, you f-up you deal with it), and locking the camera to the Helmet Cam which limits your view to the cockpit only. Turn off all the assists, turn on pro mode and the helmet view and the game becomes extremely challenging.

GRID is challenging, but never cheap. One of the other great things about GRID (in the long list of great things about the game) is the AI. Often playing a racing game on your own the other drivers on the road act like they’re controlled by computers, they’re either racing perfectly or always make the same mistake, or all the other racers act like you’re the only real threat and are aggressive to only your car. I’m not sure how they did it but GRID feels like you’re driving against other people, all of them are trying to win the race but some are more aggressive than others (intentionally bashing into you or other drivers), while others are more careful. Because of this instead of focusing on trying to out perform the AI you’ll find yourself concentrating on just driving better.

To continue the praise, the actual driving feels perfect. If you are used to simulation racing games GRID will require an adjustment period though since the vehicles in the game accelerate very quickly and taking corners is a little bit looser than driving in a game like Gran Turismo. Everything responds exactly as it should and I honestly can’t think of anyway they could possibly improve the current control scheme.

The main portion of what you’ll be doing in GRID revolves around the single player World Tour mode. In this mode you’ll start off as a freelance driver taking offers from other driving teams before creating your own team and working your way up the leaderboards of various world circuits. World Circuit is broken into 3 different areas, Japan, US, and Europe. Each of these territories are further broken up into 3 license divisions. In each division there are a number of races that you can do, each one earns you more cash and more respect points. Cash is required to buy more cars and to eventually hire a teammate while respect points are required to earn more licenses in each division. Every couple of races you’ll reach the end of the driving season which means you’ll get a recap of where your team/driver standings are at and you’ll get a shot to drive the 24 hour Le Mans.


Have I mentioned yet that this game is fun?

Le Mans in the game does not really last 24 hours. Each hour instead is broken up into one minute periods of time. Personally these are my least favorite races in the game as after that long my trigger fingers start to hurt. However these are well represented in the game with day/night cycles that change as you’re driving the race and it really gives you a sense of what these drivers have to endure for this race. I barely have the attention span for 24 minutes and these guys do this race for 24 hours? If you don’t wish to participate you can always skip it at least, but it pays extremely well.

I mentioned in the World Tour mode that there are different territories to race in, in addition each of those territories have specific race types. These different race types include Demolition Derby style racing, Drift (with Downhill and Freestyle variations), Touge, Midnight Touge, Open Wheel, Touring Car, Muscle Car, and on and on. Most of the time when a game tries to be a jack of all trades it generally doesn’t represent any of the styles very well. GRID is an exception to this as even if you don’t like some of the race types all of them are very well designed in the game. This adds a lot of variety to the gameplay, and even when you race on tracks you’ve raced on before just with a different type of race or different type of car there’s a whole new feeling to it.

There’s also a single player quick race mode with several options, and the ability to play multiplayer over Xbox Live. Multiplayer over live is fun, when you race even if you don’t place you still receive points for racing which effects your standing on the leaderboards. My time online went smooth with the exception that during the demolition race wrecked cars disappeared off of the track.

One of my biggest gripes about the multiplayer is the lack of split screen multiplayer. While the AI in GRID is great, there’s nothing like racing against someone else in the comfort of your own living room, an experience you can only get in GRID if you have another system to link to yours.

In addition to that issues there are several small problems I had with GRID, and one large one. The biggest problem is an issue with the game stuttering while racing. After playing for two hours I started to have a problem with the game locking up for about half a second a few times during a race. Only a brief delay, but when you are hunched over gripping the controller tightly taking a turn and getting into the lead…then the game pauses for a half a second….that’s enough to throw you out of the experience. Luckily this will be solved soon by a patch being released by Codemasters. The fact that the game was released with this problem is pretty bad, but when you look around at various message boards it appears that this isn’t a widespread issue and may only effect 50% of the people who purchased the title. I stopped having the problem after dealing with it for another two hours and haven’t had it come up again, so I’m assuming that it’s an issue that might have been hard to QA test. Certainly haven’t seen the issue even mentioned in any other review for the title.

Other than that the issues I have are minor, there are no real customization options other than deciding your team colors for your car. While I’m not really into pimping my ride with tinted windows, under carriage lights, or rims, it would’ve been nice to be able to custom paint my ride a little bit more. Both my headlights can be broken or sheered off and it’ll still appear as if I have my headlights on. The team manager that does narration is really annoying after awhile. Other than the issue that they’re patching I have no real problem with this title.

Final Scores

Modes: Great
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Classic
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Decent

FINAL Rating: Very Good

yeager-1.jpgShort Attention Span Summary: Except for a technical glitch that will hopefully be resolved shortly GRID stands out from other recent racing titles by just being flat out fun to play. Unfortunately released after big releases such as GTA IV and MGS4, hopefully this game will find a way out of the shadows of those titles and get the attention such a well made title deserves. Please stay tuned as I expect to amend this review and bump the score a little bit once the patch is released.

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