Codemasters have a long list of reasonably well respected racing games. TOCA Touring Car Championship was released towards the end of 1997 and proved popular in territories like Australia where motorsports are very prolific. A number of sequels followed and the TOCA series was renamed V8 Supercars in Australia and New Zealand. 2006 saw Codemasters bring out TOCA Race Driver 3 which continued with the theme of ever expanding motorsports available to contest. Race Driver GRID is the evolution of the TOCA series, a mix between the arcade and simulation type racing games and is probably best described as a hybrid of the two.
Race Driver GRID is based across three different locations – Europe, Japan and United States. European tracks are strictly circuits on tracks such as Nurburgring and Le Mans, United States are mostly downtown street races, while Japan features a variety of back country courses with a real underground feeling to them. You can see from the locations that Codemasters have attempted to cover all their bases in terms of competition within the racing genre.
I believe all video games should have at least one aspect that distinguishes it from other games. Race Driver GRID has achieved this in a simple, but effective manner. Flashback is essentially an instant replay feature which provides you with the last ten seconds footage wherever you have paused the game. The great thing about Flashbacks are, you have the option to restart anywhere along that flashback. Pause the game quick enough after a championship ending collision and you can restart a few seconds earlier and make the required adjustments to avoid near death. Flashbacks can only be used a certain amount of times per race, depending on the level of difficulty you are playing.
Grid World is where most of your time will be spent playing Race Driver GRID. Grid World sees you racing for a series of teams trying to raise money for your own vehicle. Once you have enough money you can purchase your very own car. Whether you would rather buy new or used it is up to you, but make sure you head over to Ebay Motors before you make your decision. As you progress through the game, winning races and buying new cars, sponsors step up to offer you performance based funding. Money doesn’t come free however and company logos need to be plastered across your vehicle. As bigger and better offers come you way, it is important to manage your sponsorship deals effectively to ensure you make the most from the combination of sponsors you select. You can also hire team mates to drive with you in the races, but I felt I was often forcing my team mate into the wall as I pushed to the front of the grid.
Cars handle pretty well, but the controls will feel a little sensitive to start with. Expect to oversteer throughout your first 15 minutes of racing, but once you come to understand some of the finer nuances of how the vehicles control and where the AI is likely to attack you from, you will be away laughing. There is an extreme sense of speed throughout the races, similar to what you experience in Burnout only not quite as fast! The most frustrating aspect of the races come at the start of each race. You are always placed somewhere near the rear of the grid and depending on the vehicle and circuit, it will often be a total fluke if you make it out the other side. Thank god for Flashbacks.
Race Driver GRID uses Codemaster’s own EGO engine, an upgraded version of the neon engine used in DIRT. However, the damage engine has been completely revamped. From a visual standpoint I was very impressed with what I saw. As I mentioned earlier, speed is represented extremely well during the game, although it does mean you may miss out on some of the beautifully rendered circuits. I particularly enjoyed some of the American street circuits, with sun peeking through the tall buildings as you drift in and out of the shadows. I can recall once race which featured a hairpin turn at the end of the straight, as you accelerated out of the bend you drove through all of the dust that had drifted through from the back straight, amazing. The crowd really seems to get involved throughout the race, particularly if you have a close call or crash in front of a stand. Loud gasps fill the air as you barrel into the wall before accelerating off to contest your place on the podium.
Race Driver GRID is the best racer game I have played over the last 12 months. The unique combination of arcade and simulation make for an experience unlike anything else available in the racing genre this generation. Adding a touch of team management through sponsorship, hiring team mates and selecting used cars makes it more than just a racer, but removes itself from the GT5 style of vehicle upgrading, which in my opinion is a good thing. The game is well presented (although a little too similar to DIRT menus for my liking) and has plenty of depth if you are prepared to gain all of the licenses across the three territories. If you were disappointed with GT5, or are just looking for something new, Race Driver GRID is a game I highly recommend.