Monday, July 21, 2014

Grid Autosport review

Codemasters is back with another release in the Grid series, barely a year after the last entry came out.  Grid 2 received generally positive reviews at the time, however there were a number of things that fans took issue with.  The most glaring thing was the complete lack of a cockpit view, something that marred the experience for me personally as it's the viewpoint that I primarily use in realistic driving games.  Then there was the slightly squirrely handling model, which I managed to get used to at the time.  Finally, while not really a general complaint aimed at the game, I personally hated the Touge and Checkpoint events.  Has Grid Autosport managed to address all of theses issue? Let's find out...

Graphics: 8 out of 10
While not a drastic leap over Grid 2 or anything else out there on the Xbox 360, Grid Autosport is still a solid looking game.  The cars and tracks are nicely detailed, the frame rate is solid with almost no sign of slowdown or glitching, and the damage model is impressive with cars deforming and losing tires realistically.  The main thing that's wrong is the ugly looking cockpit view, but considering that the previous game didn't even have one, that's still progress for you.  We all know that Codemasters is capable of better though, so it's a shame that the insides of the cars haven't received a little more polish.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
The music used in Grid Autosport is perfectly fine, yet it is only present in the menu's and in race replays.  During races there is a complete lack of any music at all, which I think is a shame but has probably been done to appease petrol heads who would prefer to hear the engine note of their car at all times.  If I remember rightly, in the previous Grid games some dramatic chase style music would kick in on the final lap of a race, increasing the excitement, but that's gone now.  You can still use custom soundtracks of course. The engine roars sound perfectly decent to my untrained ears, and there's definitely a noticeable difference between the high pitched whine of an open wheel car compared to the growl of a muscle car.  Finally, we have the voice over, which consists of the dulcet tones of some lady who introduces all the different race disciplines to you at the start of the game, and your team manager who talks to you over the radio during races.  You can press different directions on the D-pad during a race to request different information from him, such as how your team mate is doing, where you rival is and how far you're behind the car in front.  Useful stuff!

I totally didn't mean to wipe that guy out in my video review - I just braked too late for the corner, honest!
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
In my opinion, the structure of Grid Autosport is a definite improvement over Grid 2.  Considering that the heritage of the Grid series stretches back to TOCA Touring Cars for the PS1, it's a shame that touring cars have been completely absent from the series for a while.  Not anymore though, they're back in Grid Autosport and have a sizable presence within the game.  Besides this, there are another four disciplines: Open Wheel, Endurance, Tuner, and Street.  Each of them feel distinct from one another, from the handling, the rules of a race weekend, and the types of event found within.  For example under the Tuner discipline, you will find standard racing as well as Time Attack and Drift events.  I've previously hated the Drift events in other racing games but Grid Autosport manages to get things right by making them optional events for the most part, and not a critical part of seasons.

Endurance is really the only discipline that I don't enjoy, and that's mainly because I'm not very good at it and find it slightly boring.  Every Endurance race takes place at night, uses a timer (about 8 minutes by default) instead of a set number laps, and has tire wear turned on.  You have to drive cautiously and sensibly during the early parts of a race so that you've got enough left in your tires for a charge at the pack towards the end.  It's just not my thing really, and I dread having to complete a season of Endurance just so that I can earn enough XP for the next Grid championship.  I should take a step back here and explain how that works.  You see, you have a separate level for each of the main disciplines, which you level up by completing seasons and fulfilling goals that your chosen team sets for you.  Then there are special cross discipline Grid championships that require you to be a certain level across all the disciplines - the first being at level 3, the next and 6, and the final one at level 9.  So while you can focus on just your favourite disciplines for a while, eventually you will have to play them all if you want to "complete" the game.

Speaking of my favourite disciplines, I enjoy Street and Touring Car the most, followed by Open Wheel and Tuner.  The handling model and the pack racing of Street and Touring Car simply feels the most enjoyable to me, whereas the Open Wheel cars are a bit more of a challenge.  Drift and Time Attack aren't the most exciting of event types to me, but Tuner is pleasant enough to be an interesting way to break up the other discipline types.

Before I move on, I just want to quickly go over the online mode. Here, you start with your own Golf GTI and $10,000 to your name.  That doesn't limit you just to low end Street races though, as you are given loaner cars to any of the different disciplines or car classes.  The idea is to get some races under you belt with these loaner cars, build up your cash, and then buy cars of your own that you can upgrade and tune.  There's a vast range of different car classes though, so deciding which car to buy first can be difficult.  You don't really have to worry about it for a while though, so just enjoy so races in the cars they loan you.  If you play in one of the Codemasters play lists as opposed to setting up your own lobby, then damage is set to on by default.  This can be problematic because as we all know, random players online race like complete tossers, ramming into everyone on purpose.  This can smash up your vehicle and see you having to pay out a hefty repair bill at the end of the race, slowly your progress to buying your own car.

Performance wise though everything seems fine online - I didn't notice any problems with lag when I tried it and there weren't any disconnection issues.  The only thing I would recommend if your more interested in the online multiplayer mode than the single player, is to consider getting the PC version rather than one of the console versions.  At the Xbox 360 and PS3 are both winding down, then the community for this game may not be around for the long term.   At least you know the PC isn't going anywhere.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
The single player campaign is huge - getting to the level cap with each of the five disciplines and beating the Grid Legends championship will take a good deal of time.  Then you have the online multiplayer mode to dive into after you've finished, which is vast as well.  There are also a sizable amount of tracks in the base game - admittedly a lot of them are reused from Grid 2 but there are some new ones as well.  Plenty of game to get stuck into.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Grid Autosport is an incredibly solid and fun realistic racing experience.  While the number of disciplines available may seem on the lean side compared to the days of TOCA Race Driver 2 and 3 which both featured around 30, a lot more care has been taken over each one so that they feel right and do justice to the particular branch of the sport they are emulating. Hopefully we will still see a Grid 3 or whatever they decide to call it on the next generation platforms at some point, but until then I'm perfectly fine with keeping my Xbox 360 plugged in!

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