Now that Codemasters has given itself wholly unto games about cars, you would expect that the big mainstream GRID Autosport – which is to Codemasters what CoD is to Activision – would have everything nailed solidly into place. Lest the company’s fortunes be sullied, should it suck.
Well praise be, it’s a damn fine racing game. More than fine – it’s fun. Heaps of fun for everyone, and that includes sim hardheads through to all-aids-on nubs.
There are no surprises, as everything from the career structure to car physics is straight out of the Book of Cars Codies’ wrote 20 years ago.
Career mode is still all about short races of just a couple of laps, at first, building up to slightly longer races as you make some progress, though still you won’t ever be engaging in anything that takes more than a few minutes. That’s the Codemasters way of making racing challenging and exciting, and it used to be hyper-annoying, but now it’s not. Before, you’d be dumped on the track without a chance to practice the track – or even having prior access to the setup screen to configure your controller. Now, the game treats you with a bit more respect and lets you do all that.
Better yet, the hyper-energised voice-over dude has been locked in a cupboard, with a lovely soothing female voice now doing the unnecessary talking. In fact the whole UI has been stripped of over-amped bullshit. The music is now a gentle and ambient groove instead of blazing disco, and the cut scenes are engaging and mostly fitting.
There are still irksome console-ported atrocities, which Codemasters seem not to know how to deal with. You won’t find a mouse cursor, and many functions are tied solely to a button on your controller. Good luck if you happen to know which one button 11 is on your 22 button wheel. But these annoyances are things we accept in a Codemasters PC game in return for bloody good fun on the track.
There’s a way to drive Codemasters cars that hasn’t changed since TOCA launched back in 1997, and is there in all its familiar arcade glory in GRID Autosport. Seriously, the core handling hasn’t changed since then... it’s like they have a basic physics template, and with every new game and every car within it, a few sliders are adjusted for traction, acceleration etc. I know it’s probably not that simple, but I’ve played every Codies racing game ever, quite a lot, and that’s how it feels. The fundamental style is that the cars all flip flop from side to side at the slightest flick of the wheel, which in turn can – and should – be used to get a nice little Scandinavian Flick happening, then once it’s entering the turn gas it on to induce oversteer (which should actually produce understeer, but never mind that, oversteer makes for better arcade fanging), hang your arse out a bit and tuck it through. It’s the same in the F1 games, it’s the same here.
What that translates to is epic fun on the track. Every single car can powerslide, even the Indycars. It’s fantastic! Put aside any sim-seriousness and just embrace the crazy handling. Get into it, get good at it and I promise you that once you click with it, every race you drive will be a big smiley adventure.
As usual in GRID games the AI is often atrociously bad mannered. This here is more Codemasters ‘gameplay’. Having an AI take you out at least once a race – regardless of how hard you try to stay the heck clear of them – is to be expected. Well, I think it’s a bit silly. The chances of being taken out on the first few turns of lap 1 are about 50%, and given that many races are just a couple of laps that means just one thing. Restart. Yes, the horrible ugly pattern we racers all know kicks into high gear. Start. Crash. Restart. Repeat. It’s a mental sickness. I hate myself when I do it, but I’m so angry because some AI dick ruined my race that I smash the restart button and glutton myself up another dose of punishment.
So, I personally avoid career mode and instead tuck into the custom single races. They’re done right. Doing it with a car of your choice on a track you feel like is one option, but I reckon it’s more fun to allow the game to randomise things. It makes you care a bit less when the AI screws with you. It’s also the best way to learn the many cars and tracks. Online can be run this way, too, with players in the lobby given two tracks to vote on for the next round. Very cool.
There are 22 tracks with many variations. Short track configurations, reverse, of course, day and night. There must be 4-5 times the number of tracks than just the stock 22. They’re mostly excellent real-world tracks, and that includes Mt Panorama.
Online performance is generally very good, and an immediately-evident improvement over the F1 games. I haven’t yet seen a drop-out, lag, warping or the nasty Codemasters invisible bubble around cars. A big tick, there.
This is the best arcade racer the PC has yet seen. Despite the familiar physics, some re-used tracks from the F1 games and an aging Ego graphics engine; it still looks great, runs well and is a blast to drive.