We’ve had to wait five long years between the first award-winning GRID and its sequel, and as we see out the last of a console generation, it has taken just twelve months for Codemasters to give their last racing farewell to the last generation with the release of GRID Autosport, launching on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC … for now.
Thanks to its petrol-headed community, GRID Autosport rights the wrongs found in its previous two racers. It also polishes up the ploys a little bit, adds some contemporary mix of racing disciplines, a re-worked multiplayer, and then serves them up onto to a whole new handling system that delivers gamers more of a simulation than the previous titles did.
The game’s main focus is to take part in seasonal careers. In each season you get to choose from up to five disciplines in motor racing: Touring, Endurance, Fixed Wheel, Tuner/Drift and Street. On reaching level three in all of these disciplines you’ll then unlock a sixth discipline, the Autosport’s GRID Series, which has you taking part in a championship featuring them all.
Each of the disciplines has you racing in a number of events and single vehicle cups. You’ll be racing on some of the best tracks and street circuits around the world, over a hundred in fact, all carefully crafted in their polygonal glory at a quality we’ve all come to expect from the masters of racing games.
Jumping into the driving seat it is immediately apparent that Autosport leans more towards the simulation side of its car handling than the more forgiving previous two titles in the series did. No doubt this is to please its group of hardcore fans out there, but for those wanting a quick spin around the track might as well toss their car keys away now; this is racing at its rawest.
This racing focus isn’t just down to the game’s handling either, as the carrier mode will have you coming in at the back of the grid, unless you are prepared to come to terms with the new racing simulation system and put the hours into becoming a virtual Stig at the wheel.
It pays to qualify in Autosport, where as in previous titles in the series, a cheeky late-brake in the first corner from starting off at the back of the grid would see you up in the top five, at least. Once you’ve put in your hard earned qualifying laps, you’ll be in a much better position to give yourself a chance at finishing in first place. Sadly though, all that effort can be easily undone with a poorly timed manoeuvre that’ll see your car kissing the rear-end of an opponent, concrete wall or spinning out entirely once your tyres have brushed a few blades of grass. With a long heartfelt sigh, you soon realise that the campaign’s road ahead is going to be a tough one.
I am sure racing fans with their own wheel set-ups will relish this challenge, and once I plugged in my own Logitech GT wheel, the game’s new handling did feel much better and less twitchy as it did with the gamepad. With the handling woes now put to bed, the thrill of the race soon becomes apparent in Autosport and it does this so well over its competitors, even current next-gen racers.
Your progress in Autosport is measured as XP, individually spread across each discipline, and choosing the right sponsor and fulfilling each of the sponsor’s goals will see you boost your XP earned in each race. This can be enhanced even more if you turn up the AI and dial down the handling difficulties, however you’ll need to be a seasoned pro, with a wheel and peddles, to keep everything ship shape and on the track if you wish to reap the extra XP rewards!
Graphically the game is the best in the series, and it should, however because we’ve had a slight taste of some next-gen racers, such as Forza 5, the upcoming DriveClub and Project Cars, GRID Autosport shows its age on last gen’s consoles. Running at 720p on PS3, the quality of textures and general aliasing in the game can be a little disappointing. Trying to see your opponent’s brake lights, to try and out brake them, can be difficult to see whilst running at this resolution and with its darker, muddier textures.
With that said: textures, car models and trackside scenery are pretty good throughout. The game’s crash modelling has been improved and with the added realism and handling of each of the eighty three cars, once they are damaged it is realistically shown and felt, making it a challenge in itself to see your beaten car all the way through to the finish line.
Audio in the GRID series has always been stellar, and Autosport manages to keep the high bar aloft, with each vehicle type sounding just like their real-life counterparts. Crashes, shunts, spectator cheers and pit-crew chatter sounds are all present and correct, and the series’ audio nickname system has been carried over to give you that sense of personality and connection in the game.
If tackling the campaign isn’t your thing you can bypass all this and enter a custom cup. From here you can enter any discipline (including my favourite, Destruction Derby), choose any vehicle class, set amount of laps, race types and other avert details, and jump right on in.
Online has been re-imagined, along with the return of RaceNet and a new car progression system that was last seen in the original GRID. Challenges are here to keep you coming back, whilst persistent vehicles can be bought from the factory or second-hand garage with miles already on the clock. With each race your car will wear over time and it will need to be maintained to keep it in tip-top racing form. As it gets older your car will get more costly to tune and mend, but before you decide to sell it on, the older it gets, the more you’ll be able to customise it for each race, so players will soon build a bond with their online motor. Finding an online session is pretty easy and fast. Tracks can be voted on at the end of each race by your party, and the game’s rewind feature gets you back on track after that initial first-corner pileup.
In conclusion, GRID Autosport has me divided. On one side, the wheel-owning gamer in me loves the edge of the seat racing this game gives in abundance, however the time-restricted side of me doesn’t have opportunity to invest in competing at a level that this game requires in its career mode. The custom cup and online modes will fulfil the more casual side of me, and I can see myself chipping away at the career mode until something better pulls up. If GRID Autosport is how Codemasters say goodbye to the last console generation, I cannot wait to see their debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.