Racing video games are an interesting genre to study from an outsider’s perspective. It is, after all, a genre that allows a dinosaur to throw turtle shells at an ape, a NASCAR fan to ride along with their favorite driver or M&Ms to come to life and do a few laps in dull fashion (don’t ever let your parents choose video games from a bargain bin, kids). However, racing simulators are the strangest games to look at, because their attention to detail and realism tend to resist the escapism that other racing titles offer.
The GRID franchise has been hailed as one of the best simulators out there, and the series returns barely a year after its last release with GRID Autosport. Eschewing the half-hearted attempt at a story that GRID 2 took a stab at, the latest offering in the series focuses on nothing but the thrill of the race, and in doing so manages to create a racer that hardcore fans will love and casual gamers will shy away from.
To call the game “exclusive” is an understatement, as everything was built by gearheads, for gearheads, from the detail put into the cars to the mechanics of each and every race. Gamers who cut their teeth on more arcade-based games like Mario Kart, Need for Speed, Burnout or Split/Second will find that GRID Autosport is firmly rooted in reality, making itself inaccessible from the get-go with some features that seemed built exclusively to keep the filthy casuals away.
Career mode is split into five different disciplines: Endurance, Touring, Open Wheels, Street and Tuner. Touring and Street races are the most familiar, offering short bursts of intense action on closed courses. Open Wheels takes after Formula races, pushing racers to make sharp corners with advanced control and avoid collisions with the more fragile vehicles. Tuner events bring more arcade-y modes to the table, including Time Attack and Drifting, both of which are welcome diversions from the more straight-laced races. While every mode offers something to love, Endurance races are the most taxing, tasking players with lasting in a race for an extended amount of time while maintaining their tire conditions.
From the beginning, players are given the freedom to choose whichever style they like, gaining experience in each discipline until they level up. Each level gained unlocks a new series or championship to play through, which then offer bonus objectives and various perks. For example, one team may ask you to rank lower than another does, making it easier to reach that goal but ultimately yielding less experience. The teams that suggest more difficult goals usually offer the perk of vehicle customization, allowing you to tune your car to your specifications. Less demanding teams often don’t have this perk, leaving you with a stock car that’s usually not quite up to snuff.
The difficulty itself is extremely customizable, too, allowing players to adjust the AI’s overall intelligence through various automatic vehicle settings such as the ABS and even the camera view. While this seems built to allow new fans to ease into the game at their own pace, easier settings lower the experience given after each race. It already takes quite a while to level up in each discipline, meaning that inexperienced players are going to be grinding their way through the same races multiple times. Of course, this gives them the chance to get more practice and eventually start racing with the best, but the learning curve is still incredibly steep.
If this sounds like more of a complaint than a perk, it’s purely because of personal opinion. Diehard fans of the genre will eat up the variety of races available, the vast amount of customization options and the sheer amount of work put into visual and audio details. With that being said, there is definitely some potential for GRID Autosport to grow on the casual crowd, as the approach used to get players in the game is extremely similar to Dark Souls: little to no explanation is given before immersing you, you’ll be beaten relentlessly within the first few hours by incredibly difficult AI, and the frustration at each loss creates a need to best the game. But, just like Dark Souls, grinding for experience and slowly making your way to the top is insanely addictive and rewarding.
Online play is a blast as well, allowing players to drop in and out of different types of races while earning money to buy new cars for each discipline. However, the most notable multiplayer addition is the split-screen mode, which used to be a given in racers. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s refreshing to be able to sit down and race with someone on the same couch without having to set up and online connection and get another copy of the game.
If you don’t prefer racing simulators or have never touched them at all, GRID Autosport is still a game to try simply because of the rush it offers. It’s a frustrating experience in the beginning, with the realistic handling taking the focus away from pedal-to-the-metal races and instead making players think about each and every turn, but by the time you overtake the lead position with a quick turn on the inside corner and win your first race, the sense of pride makes the struggle that came before with it.
That being said, GRID Autosport isn’t the end-all be-all racing experience. Endurance events are bland and overly long, and since Codemasters forgot to add pit stops to the race, a blown tire means either restarting and redoing the first six minutes of a race or pulling off to the side and waiting for time to expire like a pouty child. Street races don’t offer much excitement either, as the events are too similar to Touring events to truly differentiate themselves apart from the tracks.
While the handling is realistic and truer to life than the aforementioned arcade counterparts, some of the tracks exploit this to the max, becoming twisted, winding paths of endless frustration that the AI seems to blow through with no problem. In fact, even on just the medium setting, the AI barely makes any mistakes. There’s an occasional pileup, but aside from that, almost every turn is made perfectly, meaning that for most races, the final rankings are decided within the first lap.
Yet for every frustration, GRID Autosport is an engrossing experience that offers countless hours of top-notch racing fun. It converted me to the racing simulator genre, and it’s somewhat inviting to new players, even if the concessions made come off as slaps to the face as well. The exclusivity of the game will understandably be a turn off to many people, but those willing to try it will find a satisfying holdover until the inevitable GRID 3 graces the next-gen systems.
This review is based on a PlayStation 3 copy of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Featuring the return of the reigning king of the racing simulator series, GRID Autosport makes attempts to welcome newcomers while expanding the gameplay that made the series so great in the first place.