Officially the fourth installment in the GRID series, GRID is nevertheless a reboot of sorts. It’s been five years since Grid Autosport and while a lot has changed in the meantime, GRID feels as if it’s coming round for just another lap. It’s familiar territory all around, dishing up a mixture of street and circuit races, four different continents to race on, and a well-stocked roster of cars which includes GT, Touring, Stock, Muscle, and Super-Modified.
As some of you may or may not know, I am a huge racing fan. Having participated in a few events in the US when I lived there, I'm all about cars and motorsport. So it's with a heavy heart I have to say I'm disappointed in the GRID reboot. After the excellent Grid Autosport, the pieces were in place for Codemasters to knock it out of the park with GRID. Sadly, get right down to it and, besides the AI and the enhanced visuals, not much has actually changed.
The career mode is perhaps the biggest let down. It’s flimsier than an Dorothy’s house in storm season, offering up a barebones race after race to unlock more races. There’s precious little variety or depth, and all of the racing events boil down to time trials or regular races. TOCA and GRID has always dabbled with the periphery of racing but here that’s all stripped bare. There’s no business to run, no upgrading parts, no hiring or firing, and nothing really at all to separate GRID from the hundreds of racing game campaigns which have come before.
But, for racing fans who want to simulate life on the track, so real you can almost smell the burning rubber, GRID's a great looking game. Codemasters has also finally prioritised the interior of the cars. Yet while a significant upgrade over Autosport, car interiors still aren't a patch on the likes of Project Cars 2. GRID is designed to be more of an arcade racer, but there's still a huge audience out there which loves the cockpit view. It's a great looking game, although the interiors could have looked even better, they still did a fantastic job with the graphics. My favorite part may be the podium cut scene at the end of the race, with the top 3 driving into frame and stopping with a bit of engine sound, looks and sounds great.
Codemasters is finally getting into DX12 which should make it more playable on lower end systems. For those who've got the high-end firepower though, GRID really does look beautiful. It's not a night and day improvement over Grid Autosport but it's undeniably a great looking racer which only adds to the thrill.
Once we get to the handling, the rot begins to sink in. The controls for GRID are great, in theory, but in practice they seem broken. For the purists out there, race cars don't have ABS or TC (Traction Control), but some people may actually want to drive like it's the SCCA wherein cars are actually regulated and most of them can't be modded. In GRID, so much of its vehicle handling doesn’t seem to work properly, which is unusual for Codemasters. ABS on or off it doesn’t matter - the wheels lock up making it near impossible to trail brake, even with light braking. I messed around with both an Xbox One controller and a Logitech Driving Force wheel, neither of which made any difference. Considering GRID is supposed to be an sim-lite racing game, Codies has perhaps been over-eager on the simulation handling aspects. It ends up feeling a little like Project Cars 2, a comparison which GRID is never going to come out on top in.
I do love the fact that going over the sidewalk or a corner strip on the upset upsets the car like no other; apply the wrong throttle pressure and you’re all over the place. In that regard they got it right, but car handling is a real Jekyll & Hyde scenario that which straddles arcade and simulation tremendously awkwardly. Car are very prone to sliding and wanting to drift no matter the situation, and finding that sweet spot where you can begin to comfortable braking hard is no mean feat. Fortunately there are plenty of handling options to mess around with, although it’s difficult to shake the feeling GRID doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.
It goes without saying that audio and audio feedback may just be about one of the most important elements for any modern racer, and it's here where GRID plays its trump card. The engines and backfires sound fantastic. There's a menacing audible rumble when tearing it over over corner strips. Couple it with the roaring spit of the engines and the end result is a remarkably immersive racing experience. They did a great job hear, they may have over done it with the tire noise for my taste and having very little audio options makes that a bit challenging to address. Dolby Atmos is a great add-on for those running a true surround sound setup or simulated surround when using headphones.
The AI is both fantastic and dim witted. If you crash into an opponent a bit too much, they won't hesitate to show you how they feel, sometimes flat out ramming you off the road. Again, this leans into GRID's arcade rather than simulation roots. Teammates, however, are completely useless. They can be told to push for a better position the entire race, only for you to be met by your team boss telling you he can't push right now, which didn't seem to make any coherent sense. It's all too easy to end up with a first and last finish on your team, wiping out the benefit of a win. And that's part of where GRID can fall flat on its face - content and AI that’s all over the place. Simulation purists may turn their noses up at the aggressive AI but I happen to think it adds an extra layer of gratification to proceedings, but the joy is wiped away when a dopey teammate refuses to move up the racing pack.
Where does Grid fall short for a €55 game? The content is just barren. Sure, you could say Autosport had DLCs for cars and and extra tracks, even a free demolition DLC, but for €55 and a game that's come out in 2019, some may coming away feeling short-changed. Codemasters is effectively competing hard against itself in this market, and when you can pick up Autosport and its DLCs for dirt cheap in regular sales, the slightly threadbare offering of GRID can stick out like a sore thumb.
As much as I wanted to love GRID, I ended up having a much harder time writing this review than I’d anticipated. Off the back of 2014’s Grid Autosport, GRID 2019 comes off as feature-light. Even the multiplayer component veers toward the bland; you don't get engine parts anymore, nor to used cars need to be repaired. There’s just something missing. The best parts of Autosport are gone, replaced with, well, nothing. GRID ends up being proficient but never dares to be more than this. For some, that may well be enough. But for those looking out for genuinely new racing experiences, GRID becomes a lot harder to recommend at full price.
However, taken on its own merit, GRID is a fantastic audiovisual experience, a decent racing game, and a barebones package. It’s the epitome of just enough, but enough is the optimal word here. Here’s hoping the next GRID can kick on bigger, better, and more ambitious things.