Race Driver GRID

You can feel every gear shift, every bump in the road, every shunt from a rival. GRID is the return to racing games that we’ve been waiting for since the PS3’s launch: summing up why this particular genre can produce brilliance when the right developers are behind the wheel. From inserting the disk to finishing the Career mode it’s an exhilarating experience, unmatched, and one that leaves the likes of Gran Turismo at the start line.

If you’ve played the demo available on the PSN Store you’ll know exactly what we mean: this is racing with the emphasis on fun and excitement. Ridiculous catch-up keeps the races tight; opponents spin out just ahead of you and rivalries heat up the action, testing the delicious damage modelling at every given opportunity. The demo gave you some insight into the variety on offer here, but GRID offers so much more than street, circuit and drift racing that the wide open scale can be overwhelming.

It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about the wonderful Career mode: DiRT’s presentation style is back and better than ever, with the menus, race ladder and even loading screens all represented in full 3D giving a uniquely solid feel to the game even before you get in the driver’s seat. Although it starts off slow, with only a beaten up old Mustang and a few Driver races (until you sort out the car you’ll have to race for other teams) an hour or so in and you’ll be well into the Career proper, kitting out your cars in your own liveries, hiring and firing team mates and moving in and out of the various game modes through each progressive season.

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You’re free to pick and choose from the three regional (Euro, US and Japanese) sections, with each offering their own sub-types within. For example, tuner fans will head straight for the Skylines and Supras of the Japanese tournaments, but will face drift challenges, superbly implemented Touge events and some straight up circuit racing, but over on in the States expect heavy muscle cars, destruction derby trials and some intense races around California.

It’s this variety that keeps things fresh, with each season capped off with a visit to Le Mans in a recreation of the famous 24 hour extravaganza. Naturally, the races aren’t the full 24 hours but you’ll still get the full day-night cycle to test your knowledge of this high speed circuit. Elsewhere you’ll encounter one-off mountain races (sure to delight Initial D fans) and build up rivalries with competing teams.

Success in races is rewarded with both reputation and cold hard cash, with which you can open up more events and buy new cars respectively. There are just over 40 cars, but they’re all race-spec, custom tuned affairs with no filler vehicles in sight, and thankfully all handle with their own distinct style. Moving from a drift event to a straight race can take a little adjustment, but any mistakes can be nulled by the superb rewind function, new to GRID.

Essentially it’s a tap of the Select button to bring about an action replay of the last 30 seconds or so, but you can stop this replay at any time and jump back into the race from that exact point, correcting whatever it was that caused you to make a mistake, be that a shunt from another car or braking too late. Naturally the use of the feature is limited by the difficulty level you select pre-race, but it’s a life saver at times and is most welcome as some races can be particularly violent.

Visually it’s a stunning game: locked at 30fps with plenty of motion blur and excellent lighting effects, the bumpy head-cam alone is worth the entrance fee. Replays themselves can easily be mistaken for real life footage, and although the game itself is about as far away from Gran Turismo as it can be, we reckon this just about nudges ahead in terms of aesthetics. The music’s in the Tokyo Drift / Atari Teenage Riot mold, but works well in the instances you’ll hear it, and the 3 minute climax track that builds up as you finish yet another Le Mans race is superbly uplifting whilst creating just enough last-lap tension. Car sounds are, as you’d expect, brilliant.

We spent a full weekend (seriously) hammering through GRID’s career, then a further few days this week testing out the other modes and the mostly great online play – a patch for which is due very soon. The rest of the package rounds off the title well, but it’s the presentation throughout that grabs you and sucks you right into the game until you emerge at the end the victor – how many games call you by your first name throughout the game?

A brilliant, hugely enjoyable racer – certainly the best on the PS3 so far – and one that we reckon no fan of the genre can afford to miss. It’s deep, involving, fun to drive and an absolute blast with mates. Enjoy.

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