When Codemasters announced that they’d be reviving the Race Driver series with GRID 2 last year, many people were suitably excited. The original Race Driver GRID was a fantastic game which pitched itself somewhere between arcade racing and simulation, and that provided big, beefy cars battling it out over several disciplines. GRID 2 hit the spot for the greater part and carried on the legacy despite having a few issues, but GRID Autosport is a bit of a confusing title that feels rushed at times. Almost as if they're getting it out of the door as quickly as possible in order to unleash a next-gen version in the not-too-distant future.
A lot has been stripped away from the single player mode, for starters. Not nearly as stylishly presented as its forebears, the game gets rid of any sort of story, instead providing a simple season-based approach to things. Each competition you enter comprises a season, whether the event contains ten races or two. Winning races and XP improves your chances of being asked to drive for better teams, and so it goes. There are five disciplines to conquer – Street, Endurance, Tuner, Open Wheel, and Touring – and each discipline comes with its own separate XP level. You need to get your XP above a certain level in every discipline in order to be invited to one of the four GRID championships.
Given that the seasons are not “mixed” in terms of disciplines, this means that progression can take an awful long time, as at an absolute minimum, you’ll need to take on five seasons of racing in order to reach each GRID Championship. Generally, it’ll be more than that. That’s fine when you’re racing in something like the Open Wheel, Street, or Touring disciplines, which are fun. Less so when you have to take on the Endurance discipline with its ludicrous tyre wear algorithm which means that the last minute of any eight-minute Endurance event basically involves you trying to keep your position without accelerating, lest you spin. Or when you’re racing in the Tuning discipline, meaning that you’ll have to take part in the frankly awful Drift events which see your car careening to one side or the other off the line, despite the fact that you’ve only held the accelerator down to 25% and haven’t actually tried to steer anywhere.
Fortunately for GRID Autosport though, the Open Wheel, Street, and Touring disciplines are SO fun, that they more than make up for the many shortcomings of the other two. To be fair, the Tuning discipline is fine most of the time too. It’s just that some seasons will inevitably contain Drift events. A lot of the fun that you’ll have with the game will be due to the arcade/simulation hybrid feel that the game has brought along from previous versions. Hardcore sim fans can make things more realistic by enabling or disabling all manner of assists, which in turn will change the XP payouts that are granted to you at the end of each race.
GRID Autosport is a fine-looking game generally, too. There are some drops in framerate at times that we could live without, but on the street circuits especially, the tracks and environments are a joy to behold. One of the saving graces of the Endurance events is the fact that they take place at night, with the courses being lit absolutely beautifully. Plus of course, the cockpit cam makes a much-ballyhooed return. Cars crunch and collapse as you throw them into walls and opponents, with pieces crumbling from them and causing problems for racers that are further back in the pack. Driving over a discarded bumper when you’re tearing down a straight at 100 miles per hour isn’t a good idea in real life…and neither is it here.
Some things don’t sit well, though. For example, you’re ALWAYS the lead driver on a team, and you’re always expected to command your AI team mate as part of the race. You can hit the LB and RB buttons to tell him or her to take it easy or go for a higher position, but there are generally only two things that ever seem to happen, given that if your teammate is skilled enough, he or she will be heading up the pack anyway. If they’re not, telling them to attack will cause them to crash or spin out, and telling them to defend will cause them to lose a place or two. It just seems to be an unnecessary distraction, and it makes no sense given that the team boss should be the one giving the orders, not the drivers.
Online, GRID Autosport is the victim of lower-than-expected sales. The game didn’t even break into the top five in a slow sales week in the UK, and the variety of games available to join at any time is representative of that. A fun “Race Club” system works well enough but needs to be managed via an internet browser rather than in-game, and you can only earn club points by racing in a car that you own as opposed to a car that you’re “loaning” for a specific race event. This means that for this to work, you have to either own fifty different cars so that you have one available for each subset of each discipline, or spend an age waiting for the one race event that supports a car that you own to become available. That’s if you can find one, given that there’s no ability to search for events that support cars that you own only. There are a lot of oversights in the online component of GRID Autosport, and this is just one. The fact that you’ll probably be hammered into a wall on the first bend when you finally do get into a race is almost moot.
Despite its many shortcomings, GRID Autosport is a decent game. There’s plenty of fun to be had in single player mode generally, even though multiplayer is pretty much a bust. If you’re a fan of the previous games in the series, then it won’t disappoint, even though we’d liked to have seen a bit more inventiveness above and beyond strictly separating the racing disciplines.