You’re on the final stretch of a gruelling five lap race. All that’s left between you and first place is an equally skilled driver who has been your rival since this whole event began. It’s the last corner and you quickly realise that a little extra pressure on the accelerator is all that stands between you and victory. Putting pedal to the metal, you pass your opponent, leaving him with nothing but the bitter taste of burning rubber, while you slide around the tight corner and find yourself only with the taste of sweet success. It doesn’t last long however, as you violently spin out of control. Suddenly you’re on the dirt at the side of the track, disheartened and angry as you watch fifteen cars pass you and glide across the finish line in an instant. Victory falls through your fingers like the sands of time. If only there was a way to replay the past.
Grid Autosport is the latest addition to a long line of Codemasters racing games that span back generations if we're counting in terms of console releases. The UK based studio have always brought a certain attention of detail to the TOCA Touring Car series or the Colin McRae/Dirt series. After a mixed response to the previous instalment, Grid 2, from many critics and fans alike, the UK-based developers returned to the drawing board in order to reclaim their position on the winners podium reserved only for the racing sim elite.
What's good about Grid Autosport is that it strips out all the unnecessary features that seem to weigh down other racing franchises.. Gone are the contrived storylines, complicated car tuning, and confusing garage set-ups that other racing games, including previous Grid instalments, have all been guilty of in the past. Instead, Codemasters have gone for a leaner, but by no means less enjoyable racing experience.
The career mode is the game's main focus. After completing a few opening trials, you'll be free to pursue your own racing career across five disciplines: Touring, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner, and Street. However, rather than purchasing and maintaining a garage that would make Jeremy Clarkson proud, instead you race for a team, hitting the goals and targets that they set out for you prior to each race. While some will obviously subscribe to the Ricky Bobby "If you're not first, you're last" school of thought, the races in Grid Autosport don't immediately demand you take pole position every time.
Of course, it certainly helps and taking the lead early on can save you from a whole heap of trouble later on down the road. Naturally, starting off your career in a racing class you are more comfortable in will score you some early XP, but it won't be long before you'll find yourself jumping over to a different discipline in order to progress your career and unlock more teams, cars and tournaments.
By pooling from a rich pedigree of racing game history, for much of which Codemasters is responsible, the game attempts to cater to petrol-heads from all walks of life in one complete package. Fans of Need for Speed games may be more comfortable with the Street races, even though they don't quite have the same bling and swagger. Meanwhile the Open Wheel competitions appeal to the more technical car fanatic or Formula One followers. There's plenty to choose from, but sometimes the sheer scope of the game's choices can really throw you off balance when you have to shift gear and take on a different challenge than you're used to.
The game's AI can be pretty relentless at times, not letting up even if you are a complete novice. Forcing you off the road or slamming into you during a difficult corner will leave your car with noticeable damage, and one too many knocks can lead to an awkward DNF (Did Not Finish) appearing on your record. While this happens across all disciplines, it's perhaps most frequent during the Touring races, given the intense dirt racing nature of the sport. You'll have no time to reminisce about the TOCA Touring Car games you had on your PlayStation One as you avoid the other drivers while trying to take the lead.
Thankfully, there are a number of tools at your disposal that will both help you to win the race and prevent you from kicking your console in a fit of road rage. First of all, the game includes a rewind button, the one feature common to modern racers that Codemasters have decided to leave in. Gone are the days of hitting restart halfway through a race as pressing the Y button on your Xbox controller rewinds the race back anywhere up to thirty seconds. While we've seen this before in the likes of the Forza games, it works particularly well when navigating tight race courses or preventing your opponents from cutting you off on those nippy corners. It also proves effective after one of those wrong maneuvers that go on to cause a complete pile up on the racetrack.
The second, more original feature is the ability to use your teammate to help you win the race. By radioing commands to your partner, using the Xbox controllers bumper buttons, they can drive aggressively in order to force other cars out of your way, or defensively to keep them from catching up with you. It works well when trying to overtake a rival team or push some of those harder opponents off the road, but sometimes the AI lets you down and you'll find your teammate accidentally charging through you.
If you want something done right however, you’re better doing it yourself and relying on your team mate can sometimes be a gamble in itself. While other racing games don’t particularly push their practice modes, you’ll find yourself learning the lay of the land before going up against the other teams. While realistic and crisp in the looks department, each track is full of deadly twists and turns that can put you out of the race quicker than any opponent can. A practice run can prove to be invaluable in learning the route before you starter pistol fires.
Some races also include a qualifying mode. As expected, these races put you in a time trial against your opponents that will give you the opportunity to climb up a few valuable starting positions before the main event. It adds an extra layer of authenticity to the career mode. However, taking short cuts by deliberately bashing into the other cars will see you incur severe penalties so it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable with the games controls, as well as the sensitivity of your car’s steering before hand.
Even if you’re a fan of the sport, getting to know the likes of the Indianapolis Speedway circuit or Hockenheim Ring before hand is an intimate and revealing experience. Meanwhile the locations, while not strictly based on real tracks for the most part, are aware of their surroundings and are so visually authentic, that they could easily pass for the likes of Chicago, Paris or Dubai.
For what is considered last-gen technology at this stage, Grid Autosport is one of the best-looking racing games of the generation, perhaps only leaving us to wonder if the game could look any better on Xbox One or PlayStation 4. The HUD is a basic yet slick design that’s easy to navigate with absolutely no clutter to distract you from the main game, aside from the usual multiplayer functionality and gameplay options. In plain black and white, you’ll be able to see how well you’re doing in each race and discipline, or in the game overall without having to drop in and out of menus or sub-menus constantly.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each car is given incredible attention, from the design of the chassis, to the team decals proudly printed across the bonnet. Even the hits look good, as a slow motion replay is keen to show you not only the point of impact in an elegant ballet of destruction, but proves that your car will be authentically damaged at the point of collision, rather than just putting generic bumps and grazes to the front and side of your car. This game also marks the return of the first-person cockpit view, which puts you right at the heart of the race, to the point where you’ll feel every knock, when other cars slam into you.
For all of its visual spectacle, Grid Autosport is still a tough nut to crack, even with the relatively basic control set-up. But while other racers will have you push down hard on the trigger button and worry about the consequences later, this one demands a little more thought during each race. Corners can be sharp so firing on all cylinders will often lead to a barrier collision before you’ve even finished your first lap. Instead, this game requires patience and using the brakes effectively is essential to simply finishing the race, let alone winning the damn thing. The controls may seem simple at first glance but after just one race, you’ll find yourself gently tapping both the left and right triggers on your controller in order to keep control of your car long before you even think about winning the race.
In fact, simplicity is what makes Grid Autosport such an enjoyable game in the first place. While frustrating to begin with, you’ll soon discover that the worries of buying and tuning cars or being sucked into a pointless storyline were nothing but distractions used to pad out other racing games. Stripping racing back to the basics, Codemasters have crafted a simple game that’s one-hundred-percent about the racing while also proving that going for the simple option doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the easy one.