As this week’s PlayStation Classic announcement handily proves, Sony’s first console was home to a cavalcade of classic titles. Thanks to the success of Wipeout – surely one of the greatest launch games of all time – future racers had become an indelible part of the gaming landscape, and unsurprisingly it paved the way for other franchises to ride on their hyper-fast coattails.
Rollcage took the inspiration of Tyco’s chunky RC cars, thrust them into a futuristic racing setting and added a soundtrack headlined by Fatboy Slim, making it a sure-fire hit. It was also no doubt also helped by being published by Psygnosis, the original home of Wipeout. While the Rollcage name is lost to the sands of intellectual property legalities, GRIP is the spiritual successor that fans have been waiting for. Perhaps though, it feels too much like a game that’s out of time.
Much like Psgnosis’ other, more famous, future racer, GRIP is a game centred on racing your vehicle around impossible tracks while using an array of weaponry to cripple your opponents. It’s fast, gritty, and thanks to a late deal with Hospital Records, absolutely sounds the part. The trick with GRIP is that you can race across nearly any surface, and your vehicle is just as happy upside down as it is the right way up. Tracks have multiple routes and you can jump your vehicle from one surface to another as you try to one-up your rivals, very often at an insane pace.
There’s a pleasing range of modes to get stuck into, with an increasingly tough campaign mode that’s split into ten tiers, single player races that let you jump straight into a particular race type or the time trial chasing of Carkour, as well as online and offline multiplayer options. The inclusion of split-screen is a great addition that seems to be making something of a resurgence, and it proves that there’s few things that are as good as blowing your best friend’s car straight off the track with a well-timed missile. You can also turn off “Catch-Up Assistance” and there’s every chance you’re going to want to.
Playing solo it seems as though I inexplicably win a lot of the time. The fact that the “Skill or Luck” Trophy popped the moment I passed the finish line makes me wonder even more. There is rubber banding at play, and it’s definitely skewed in the player’s favour to begin with, as your opponents practically fall over themselves to let you past. This doesn’t last long though, veering off in the opposite direction, and as you progress races being to feel more and more unfair, to the point that no matter how well you drive the game seems adamant that you’re not going to win.
This really serves to undermine the fact that, when everything comes together, GRIP can feel utterly brilliant. Hopping from one surface to another to race over the speed boost pads before gracefully spinning back through the air and landing ahead of the race leader is exhilarating and unequivocally cool, and if that was all there was to it, GRIP could be one of the best racing games of the year.
It’s hard though not to feel like it’s just slightly held together with sticky tape though. It looks fantastic, taking the basis of the original and bringing it right up to date, even though its filmic visual grain effect can make it look more like Mass Effect: Racer rather than its own entity, but the gameplay often just proves too frustrating. It’s all too easy to find yourself careening around the tracks, and even with the best will in the world and a steady, mildly cautious approach, things will go horribly wrong thanks to the others on the track.
Crashing isn’t much fun in any racing game but in GRIP it’s particularly infuriating. Some of that isn’t helped by the visual language and signposting for where you’re supposed to be heading, and GRIP seems keen on piling a few further annoyances on you as you progress, with tracks featuring multiple routes where you can actually find yourself repeating sections of a track if you don’t turn off at the right time. The fact that your vehicle can bounce from surface to surface is great when it works, but all too often you’ll fall off a wall, crash into an immovable object or find yourself spinning through the void as you slide down the pack.
The campaign will take you through most of the different game types, but each of the tiers past the third are bookended by one-on-one duels against your key rival from the last batch of races. What this turns out to be is a lesson in frustration as you spend three laps trying to get past someone who can catch you back up in about ten seconds, despite hitting them with a rocket and blowing them straight off the track. They will then take you out on the final straight. Every. Single. Time.
There are at least plenty of vehicles to unlock, though they’re all undeniably riffs on ‘chunky metallic bodies with huge wheels’. There are a few that are clearly a bit different, whether because they’ve got more wheels or a slightly more ‘out-there’ design, but ultimately it comes down to you to make your ride as distinctive and unique as you’ll want it to be. You unlock a series of pattern and decal options as you progress through the campaign, as well as a range of different tyre patterns with which to deck your vehicle out, and while it’s not suddenly going to provide you with a Forza-level of decoration, it does allow for a satisfying amount of individuality.
GRIP: Combat Racing is an unpolished gem that’s currently too flawed to fully recommend. When it comes together – particularly in multiplayer – GRIP is capable of providing some of the most engaging future racing this side of Wipeout 2097, but it’s all too easy for it to fall apart, especially when you’re placed in the hands of the game’s cheating AI.
Version Tested: PS4 – also available on Nintendo Switch, PC and Xbox One