Confession time: I thought Grid 2 was alright. That’s not really an admission on the level of “I killed a guy back in ‘73” or anything, but some people really didn’t enjoy that game and may now question my judgment.
That’s okay. Their antipathy is understandable. Anybody hoping for another simulation-tinged Codemasters racer would’ve found the drift-centric cornering and lack of car tuning options pretty disappointing. Missing first-person cockpit views and scaled back support for racing wheels were also a setback for anybody who takes their racing titles super seriously.
Grid Autosport is the company’s attempt to right some of those wrongs with the simulator fan-base, without entirely pushing away the casual drivers who have little interest in terms like “brake differentials.”
In an effort to achieve that, Codemasters have structured Grid Autosport’s single player career as a five discipline affair. The inclusion of touring cars, open wheel racing, tuner events, endurance and street racing means the developer can pull something from its back catalogue to please (almost) everyone. Open wheel’s Formula C to Formula A cars handle in a similar fashion to those found in the F1 series, while the Audis, Fords and Mazdas of the street racing circuits feel somewhat close (though less drifty) to Grid 2’s model. The rest fall somewhere in between, and all of them demand that you take corners properly.
This pretty much guarantees there’ll be a discipline in there for you to enjoy, but it’s also likely there are one or two you won’t care for. This can be a problem, because Grid Autosport demands that you level up in all disciplines if you wish to take part in the special Grid Masters/Legends events that pop up at levels 3, 6 and 9. Even if you drive well, getting to just level 3 in a lone racing style can be a time investment of some three hours or so. That’s a long time if you’re stuck in something you don’t really relish.
Career progress is measured in seasons. Each season, you pick a discipline and sign up with a sponsored team. That team gives you specific objectives to fulfill (finish at least 4th in the driver’s championship, for example) and some straightforward secondary goals like setting the fastest lap time in a race, or improving several places on your starting position.
As well as inching you towards the Masters events, levelling up unlocks different tournaments (usually with faster cars that have more tuning options) and provides you with more team sponsorship offers to pick from. But unless you have a curious affinity for Monster Energy or Ravenwest, it’s likely you’ll just opt for the team offering the broadest car tweaking options and biggest xp payout.
Grid Autosport portrays the driving career as one of a faceless, helmeted mercenary jumping from one team to the next, picking up an xp pay-cheque and immediately moving on. That may be somewhat realistic, but the lack of attachment doesn’t make for the most interesting career. In single player, you don’t own any of the cars or really choose what to drive. You don’t change the liveries (because they’re sponsored,) and there’s no sense that pulling off a tremendous rookie victory for Razor has had any more permanent impact than just quietly meeting your modest team targets.
Each race event gives you a designated rival to tussle against, but this supposed rivalry doesn’t make them behave any differently from the other drivers. I expect my rival to be the guy who I barged off the track in the prior race, not someone who just happens to be vaguely near me in the driver rankings. Drivers are named (credit to Codemasters for including a few women in the roster this time,) and competent enough to break fairly late for corners, but don’t really race with any unique, noticeable styles.
If any of the AI are supposed to be exhibiting different racing personalities then this effect is so nuanced that it’s basically imperceptible; but as a homogeneous group they do generally stick to a decent line. Sometimes to the point of trying to just drive straight through your car.
The similarities between AI drivers are particularly apparent during the endurance racing segments. Supposedly, drivers in these events will vary their tactics between going hard to establish an early lead, and holding back to preserve tyre quality (endurance is the only discipline to feature tyre wear) for a late stage push. Instead, the AI appears to drive exactly as it would in any other race. Occasionally you’ll see somebody spin off the track towards the conclusion, but since this can (rarely) happen during other disciplines too it’s hard to tell whether it’s a direct consequence of pushing tyres too far.
Inclusion of a team mate, who you can encourage to drive more defensive or aggressively, is a nice idea. But their success is more dependent on whether you’re both driving for a prestigious team than any tactical suggestions offered. Early on you’ll always be paired up with a hopeless cause who might be coaxed to 12th place if you’re lucky. Later team buddies can pretty much just be left to do their own thing.
Car tuning, in contrast, does change how the vehicles behave. Grid Autosport does a solid job here, offering incremental tuning options (fewer on lower level cars, more on better ones) for things like front and rear suspension, gear ratios and the like. Each option is accompanied by a helpful summary of what each tweak will do, so if you’re like me and lack in-depth technical car knowledge you can still make sensible alterations based on the course you’ll be driving. Most people will be hard pushed to spot the difference between a 10% change to brake differentials, but when it’s pushing 50% or more you can feel the handling alter accordingly.
Simulation-leaning players will be far less satisfied by the returning cockpit views, which look suspiciously like the community mod for Grid 2 that popped the camera back inside the car. Rather than the fully modeled interior people were probably hoping for, Grid Autosport’s cockpits are home to blurred textures, non-functioning rear view mirrors and a low Field of View. The lack of any dynamic weather (unless you include night-time races) is a surprise too, particularly as the F1 series features plenty of rain.
On a brighter note, one of Grid Autosport’s better ideas is the single player xp bonus for switching off assists and playing with fewer (or no) ‘Flashback’ rewind opportunities. These can provide quite dramatic returns, as the difference between the hardest possible settings and the medium ones I tended to stick with was around an additional 20%. It’s appropriate that those who are willing to push themselves and play at higher levels receive greater rewards for their confidence.
The familiar engineer voice from F1 and Grid 2 returns to this game too, and may well irritate you with his repeated dialogue and passive aggressive advice. Luckily, you can get your own back by forcing him to call you Muffin. Or Cupcake.
My pre-release time with multiplayer was somewhat limited, but I did manage a few races against noted IncGamers speed freak Tim “corners are rubbish” McDonald. We faced abuse from French art-lovers as we raced our clown cars down the streets of Paris, learned never to trust a handbreak in a pair of skittish McLarens and got ram-happy in a demolition derby event (returning from Grid 2.)
Lag mitigation was pretty impressive considering we’re on different continents, though Tim may want to blame a mysteriously exploding tyre on ping or delayed packets or something. Racing against an actual human being with a … let’s say ‘distinct’ … driving style made Grid Autosport about fifty times more interesting, even with the rest of the pack consisting of boring AI automatons. Of course that tends to be true of most games, but in this case a human element accentuates the title’s strengths (improved handling, solid track and vehicle selection) and goes a long way towards eliminating the weaknesses (individually-free AI and career mode.)
In multiplayer you can (eventually) purchase cars with earned in-game cash, customise your paint job in hideous fashion and actually feel like your achievements have some permanence and meaning. Regular RaceNet events can also be attempted for extra experience points and money.
Multiplayer lobby options are pretty wide-ranging, with some preset playlists (either mixed discipline or one of the five) and broad customisation available for host-created events. Pre and post race timers can be altered to ensure minimal waiting times, and, if desired, it’s possible to force people to race with interior views or without any assists. About the only thing you can’t toggle is the corner cutting penalty which slows the car to a crawl for a second or so.
What I can’t confirm at this point is whether the inevitable DLC will integrate with Grid Autosport in a less rubbish way than Grid 2 (where mixed DLC ownership could cause the game great distress and confusion.)
Like the back end of a car during a sloppy Drift event, Grid Autosport is a little bit all over the place. While it’s the usual slick production you’d expect from Codemasters, the game only partially achieves the company’s aim to make amends for the arcade-leaning and option-shy Grid 2. The simulation crowd will appreciate Autosport’s changes to how the cars handle, but not the half-hearted cockpit implementation. Driving is now far more about sticking to the racing line than drifting, and the included tuning options do alter the feel of a race (at least at their extremes.)
But the personality-free driver AI and uninspiring career mode can make single player quite a mundane experience at times. There are a glut of different events, but they all suffer from lackluster implementation of rival and team mate drivers, compounded by that rather hollow AI. The game only feels truly alive during multiplayer, where sporadic thrills are turned into an altogether more gripping contest.