It’s difficult to frame Grid Autosport as anything other than an attempted Codemasters apology to the Grid fans who didn’t appreciate the drift-happy antics of Grid 2. While that sequel’s looser, more arcade-focused approach was perfectly legitimate, it seemed strange to put the Grid badge on it when it handled so differently.
For Grid Autosport, Codemasters have been pushing the PR line that car handling will once again be closer to the original Grid. I’m certainly not here to confirm that marketing angle as gospel, but based on the work-in-progress preview code provided by the publisher the handling is less the back-end botty-wobbles of Grid 2 and more grip-happy. Depending, of course, on the type of vehicle you’re in, the race assists you have on and the discipline in which you happen to be competing.
Grid Autosport is structured around five distinct events: touring cars, open wheel, tuner contests, endurance and street racing. The latter probably comes closest to a Grid 2 “feel,” but all events have their own approach to handling and subtle skills to learn.
Each racing ‘season’ is dedicated to a discipline of your choice, during which you’re contracted to a certain team who have specific goals they want you to meet. Things like finishing at least 4th in the driver standings. Other secondary goals, such as improving your lap time during a race, can be met too; all of which earns you experience points towards unlocking more prestigious events in the discipline, and a shot at more demanding team contracts in the following seasons.
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Team racing also means you’re going to be paired up with a bumbling team-mate, who you can command (via the returning verbose engineer) to either defend his position in the race or make a risky push for a higher finish. Calling them ‘bumbling’ may not be entirely fair, as this preview code had unfinished AI and early contracts with more lowly teams, but at one stage my partner almost rammed me off the track while I was well placed to win the driver’s championship. Perhaps in Grid Autosport’s world I’d been sleeping with that guy’s wife, I don’t know.
Just as in Grid 2 nothing I do is ever good enough for Mr. Engineer Voice man, although he did amuse me with a damage report of “everything looks good to me” just after I’d watched my car’s bumper clatter on to the tarmac and bounce away behind me. In fairness, he was right. It didn’t really affect my driving at all. Other, more serious, damage to gearboxes and the like can make the car pull to one direction of otherwise struggle to function.
The unfinalised nature of the AI racers makes endurance racing, in particular, difficult to assess. That event is all about the management of tyre wear throughout a longer than average race. All of preamble suggests that endurance is all about personal strategy; whether you aim to go all out early on and then try to survive on bald tyres for the last couple of minutes, or hold back and then push up with your superior tyres later in the day. In this preview build though, endurance played out like every other race with the AI sticking to its patterns and not really employing any noticeable strategy. Hopefully that’s one of the areas still to be ‘optimised’ before release.
They fared better in more straightforward events where the aim was simply “try to finish first, or as fast as possible,” but proved fairly simple to pass. It’s worth noting here that I stuck broadly to the medium difficulty level, which will of course have influenced the effectiveness of the AI to a degree.
Grid Autosport actually has a welcome method of rewarding higher difficulty play. The options within each default difficulty setting can be tweaked to your own liking (for a while I added ‘racing line’ guides to corners, which is something from a lower difficulty setting,) but this will impact the experience points you receive after a race. The more risks you take with disabling race assists and aids, the better your haul will be for succeeding.
Codemasters’ trademark ‘flashback’ feature returns in Grid Autosport (allowing you to rewind a mistake a limited number of times per race,) and is one of the options you can choose to disable in return for higher rewards.
Tuner competitions were the most simulation-leaning events present in this preview build, by virtue of being the only races where limited tinkering with the car was available as an option. Suspension (soft or stiff,) ride height, gear ratios and brake bias were all on offer here, albeit with somewhat binary sliders. It seems clear that further choices will open up as the player progresses through their Grid Autosport career though, so these were just the initial, early stage tuner options. Drift events are present within the tuner discipline too, and they’re the only place where I saw a specialist car’s back end waggling about like a courting bird of paradise.
Open wheel races, Formula C cars in the preview, share a few things in common with Codemasters’ F1 series in terms of how the cars handle. They can’t really take a collision without spinning off in hilarious fashion, but they will grip corners as long as you don’t push your luck too hard. Driving clean around corners and accelerating out of bends is the way there. In contrast, trying to accelerate while turning hard in one of the touring cars is just asking for trouble, but jostling with the pack is a legitimate way to get ahead.
For those frustrated at the lack of cockpit views in Grid 2, Grid Autosport may be able to satisfy your desire for steering wheels, speed gauges and track level racing. Cockpits were present in this preview version, but appeared to be slightly unfinished in terms of quality. Either that, or something was off about how my graphics card was choosing to render them. There’s a screenshot from inside one of the open wheel cars below, so you can see what I mean. It looks a bit like a weird depth of field effect is being applied.
When it comes with a full page list of notes declaring multiple things that are yet to be finalised, there’s only so much you can learn from a hands-on preview build. Specifics like AI competence and handling are where racing titles either cruise masterfully around a corner or spin-off into a ditch, so until the finished designs are presented by the full release those are difficult areas to critique.
However, Grid Autosport’s preview code did demonstrate the basic intent and structure of the game. While I’d not say this release is aiming to be any kind of simulation, it does appear to be reigning in the casual arcade feel of Grid 2. The five discipline structure allows Codemasters to provide races with somewhat different handling and strategies, and I’m just delighted by any title that allows me to force my race engineer to call me ‘Cupcake.’ Whether this is the wholehearted apology some Grid fans have demanded is not yet clear, but Codemasters do appear to be extending a hand in search of forgiveness.
Grid Autosport will be released for PC on 24 June (US) and 27 June (Europe)