Race Driver: GRID
Hello, stephen. your car is ready and waiting." What? Hello? Me? The latest instalment in Codemasters' Race Driver series may not have become self-aware (yet) but there has been a change in emphasis. Longtime fans may recall the often risible narrative that accompanied the earlier games, with the story relayed in ham-infested cutscenes, which history now judges as somewhere between mildly tolerable and a bit wank. Memorably, there was one game in which your character was perennially harangued by a drunken Scotsman when all you really wanted to do was race a car.
Not any more. You are you and if you can't find your name amidst the myriad of audio files - or if you fancy a more informal approach - you can opt to be known as one of several nicknames, be it Ace, Boss, Chief, Captain, Spanky or Stud. In line with modern trends, it's part of GRIDs attempt at personalisation, so your chosen moniker is used throughout the game, whether you're being barked at by your pit crew, or aurally caressed by your sassy manageress.
Why do you need a manageress? Because you're not just racing for the thrill of it, you're competing to earn cold hard cash, which you can then spend on more cars to earn more cash, get sponsors, and so on and so forth. However, in typical rags-to-riches fashion, you begin the game with scarcely a pot to piss in, forced to eke out a living driving for other teams on a freelance basis.
In trademark Race Driver style, you're immediately thrown in at the deep end, stuck behind the wheel of a Dodge Viper on the streets of San Francisco. This is certainly a baptism of fire, and the chances are you'll make an absolute pig's ear of it, grossly misjudging the power of the car and careering haplessly into the crash barrier. But this doesn't matter. Using the physics-defying Flashback feature, you can reverse time to the point prior to you losing control and pretend that it never happened. In the event, it makes no difference where you finish, as simply competing in the first race earns you a rookie license.
This license gives you options, namely the chance to drive for various racing teams in the USA, Europe or Japan. One event in each territory becomes available, with a fee awarded for competing in it, as well as a range of bonuses for finishing above a certain position. As explained by your enigmatic off-screen manageress, the goal is to earn 40 grand, at which point you can set up your own team and have a proper stab at global domination.
In game terms, it's a minor taster of what's to come, with each territory featuring five locations, all playing host to bespoke events. So in the US of A, there's an emphasis on muscle cars and tight city-based street racing, with a range of tracks situated in the likes of San Francisco, Washington and Detroit As for Europe, it's more traditional TOCA fare that sees you tackle some classic circuits such as Donington, Nurburgring and Spa (Francorchamps in Belgium, not Leamington).
Japan is a different bag altogether, featuring no less than three different types of drift event which, as Need For Speed fans will attest, involve sliding your car round in an irresponsible fashion in order to accrue points.
Japan is also host to the Touge (pronounced "too gay") races, one-versus-one affairs that see you race over two legs up and down a windy hill track, with the aggregate time proving decisive and penalties added for contact. By way of variation, the Midnight Touge is an illegal event where anything goes and other traffic is on the road.
As well as cash, competing in events earns you reputation points in those territories, as well as a global rep. Depending on your skills and event selection, reaching the magical 40k figure should only take a handful of races, at which point you're rewarded with a recently renovated... Ford Mustang. Despite the Mustang's status as a classic American street car and a popular choice on race tracks and drag strips, after driving Lamborghinis and Porsches it seems a bit of a slap in the face. Still, there is some method in the meanness. Freelancing for other teams in their fancy European cars earns you a bit of corn, but driving for your own team boosts your reputation hugely. And what does reputation make? Licenses, with three in each territory culminating in the ultimate international license.
Get The Drift
Once you've named your team and given your Mustang a paint 18 race events become available, six in each region. While the Mustang is good for muscle car events, you need to dip into your earnings and buy cars commensurate with the respective events, be it Pro Tuned, Pro Muscle, Touring Cars, Open Wheel or even Demolition Derby.
The prices are on a vaguely sliding scale, so you will have to put the effort in, but as you can never lose money it really is only a matter of time before you can afford the top-end wheels, either box-fresh or through an eBay Motors system, that seems to have been shoehorned in for advertising reasons. And crucially, there's no tweaking under the bonnet: what you see is what you get, with no need to ever tamper with your camshaft ratio.
As for the Race Events, they start as bite-sized affairs, with a championship often consisting of a pair of three-lap races, which doesn't give you much leeway if you cock up the first one. If you've got enough cash, you can pick and choose events at will, although you will find yourself specialising in one region. In our experience, the traditional thrill of the European circuits was favoured over the tight American street racing, which in turned trumped the more obscure Japanese events. Does anyone really enjoy drift racing?
Due to the fairly open structure, there's nothing to stop you simply concentrating on one region and claiming all your licenses there. However, to reach international accolade, you'll eventually have to tackle the other races elsewhere in the world, a task that can sometimes feel like schoolwork.
As for the on-track action, it features the cut and thrust associated with the series. No place for the faint-hearted, it's a highly physical affair - slamming into your opponents may be unsporting but it's effective. And besides, they're just as likely to smash into you, with some particularly aggressive Al on display.
Collisions aren't without forfeits however, as the extensive damage model is more than superficial, affecting handling and performance. Recent years have seen something of a damage truce in racing games, but it's back with a vengeance in GRID, with broken cars listing violently to one side, which according to your temperament is either pleasingly realistic or a pain in the arse. The key obviously is not to damage your car, and it can be more satisfying to avoid the first corner carnage and pick off the field one by one, although the brevity of the career races can often scupper this tactic. Incidentally, away from the career, customisable races are available with between one and 50 laps.
Knackering your car may be a drawback competitively, but it's undeniably a spectacular feature, making a mockery of other damage-free games, despite GRIDs licensed cars. Going for a Hollywood approach, crashes are spectacular cars crumple, doors flap open, bumpers come off, and the track can become strewn with debris from vehicles and the immediate environment So spectacular is the damage model that the Demolition Derby mode seems to have been created to show it off, providing a slice of automotive destruction that could easily be done off as a standalone game. As indeed could the Le Mans event.
The fact that such well-realised events are part of a greater whole is to GRIDS credit, making it the most inclusive racing game around. Essentially though, it's about the race experience, a near-perfect blend of skill, aggression and seat-of-the-pants driving. Having a pack of growling touring cars snapping at your rear bumper as you precariously negotiate a Donington bend is on some levels as scary as fleeing from a horde of zombies in a dogshit survival game.
Codemasters' racing studio know what they're doing and have again got the key elements right. The damage model is one of the best in the business, as is the excellent Al. Instead of sticking to the racing line like shit to a blanket, the computer-controlled drivers show human-like qualities, weaving all over the track, having a dig at you and wiping out spectacularly in front of you, leaving vehicle parts all over the track. And should you wish to race actual humans, every track and car is available from the start, either online or over a LAN.
Dullards may quibble about such concepts as simulation, but ultimately GRID is as hardcore as you want it to be. Driving aids such as traction control are optional, the in-car camera is all but unusable to mere mortals and Pro Mode prevents you from using Flashbacks or from restarting races. As with the rest of the game, it's all about choices.
And given the choice between GRID and any of the other racing games available, you can't go far wrong. Accessible without being patronising, detailed without being bewildering, there's something for everyone, from the Top Gear-watching car bore to the provisional-license-holding imbecile. And once you gain a second-level license, you can even hire a teammate, making for some tactical races and a concerted assault on the team championship.
If you can point a lump of metal down a track, then there is a wealth of entertainment to be found here. While the open structure is a double-edged sword in that it enables you to race the events you like while the ones you dislike inexorably mount up, you're never short of something to do. Apparently, there's something called Gran Turismo coming out on the PS3. We simply won't be there. You'll find us on the GRID.
The cutscenes and backstory have been done away in GRID, effectively putting you at the heart of the game. And while in reality it is little more than a glorified 3D menu screen, your downtime is spent in your garage, accompanied by the dulcet tones of your manageress and your selection of shiny motor vehicles.
Should you be so inclined, you can study them in detail, circumnavigating them lovingly as the light glints seductively off the paintwork, tempting you to touch. Or you could just whip out the bucket and sponge and give them a good old wash.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode