After years of clamouring for a sequel, GRID 2 will have come as a disappointment to many, drifting away from the desired focus on real world motorsports. Coming just a year later, GRID Autosport sets out to bring those fans something closer to what they wanted.
Right away, it’s clear that this is a more straight-laced affair. Gone is the story of building up a fan base to support a new World Series Racing tournament, gone is Patrick Callaghan and gone is the garage and the computer on which the menu system lived.
In its place is a simple and more understated menu system. It’s a presentation more in line with that of the recent F1 games, with your most recently driven car showcased on screen, but the comparative breadth and depth of this game’s racing to that series is immediately apparent as soon as you head in to the career.
I was immediately presented with the five disciplines to test myself against, and picking any from Touring Cars, Endurance, Open Wheel, Tuner and Street Racing allows you to pick a tournament to race in and a contract with a team. It’s a similar set up to the first GRID in that regard, and does a nice job of meting out more manageable objectives for a rookie, asking you to come 5th over the course of a few races, beat a particular rival, and so on.
In a pleasing twist, these events also ape the rules of real world tournaments. An event in touring cars will see you qualify over three laps for a starting position in the first race, with the second race grid then featuring a reversed grid from the 1st race’s results. It’s a not-too-distant cousin of the BTCC in that regard – as well as including cars from that championship – and forces you to fight your way through the pack or gives you a greater opportunity to score points, if you didn’t match up to the AI in the first race.
Other tweaks to the game will be music to gamers’ ears, with the return of several types of cockpit camera a particular highlight. Additionally, the D-pad now a tool to prompt your race engineer to give you details on where your team mate or rival is, while the shoulder buttons let you hand out orders to your team mate to push or defend. It’s a neat system that, while heavy on the number of buttons it takes up, can actually give you useful information without turning into an odd motivational cheerleader.
Thanks to the refocus on more track-based racing, we also see the addition of a plethora of actual racing tracks. Real world locations include the likes of Istanbul Park, Sepang and Hockenheim, all tracks which F1 fans over the last decade or so will remember fondly. These join those returning tracks and locations from GRID 2, from the Red Bull Ring in Austria to the street races around Dubai and Barcelona. Regardless of what style of racing you prefer, then, there’s set to be plenty of variety for you on the disc.
Endurance races are suitably unique, with more powerful but more difficult to drive cars and the introduction of tyre wear over the course of a timed race. A few tweaks here and there, so that you finish the race at the end of the lap you’re on rather than hitting a time, would improve it further, but ultimately it feels pigeonholed by the ageing engine. While it’s a visually arresting change of pace, races always occur at night time with no day-night cycle, and a lack of pit stops means that a big mistake could irrevocably ruin your tyres and effectively end your race.
The need to look after your tyres here plays into the handling, and while this is far from simulation territory, it’s a step back to what fans of these championships will want. Dipping a toe back into the previous games for comparison purposes, it feels like some of the excesses of GRID 2 have been toned down a bit, but I’d hesitate to say that it’s closer to GRID, the handling model of which I feel has aged quite badly.
GRID Autosport still has common ground with those games though. There’s a tendency to oversteer, for example, and cars generally feel quite floaty when turning through corners, but each discipline has this to varying degrees. The open wheel cars and their greater downforce make a good counterpoint to the ease with which the endurance cars will get out of control if you’re not careful on the throttle.
There are other quirks, though even at this late stage with the game out in a months time, many things are still being tweaked. The touring cars seem to squirm around on track even when heading down the straights at top speed, while racing with ABS turned off and not locking up the brakes at every turn was only really possible with a racing wheel plugged in and some deft footwork – admittedly playing a PC build with either a DualShock 3 or 4 pretending to be an Xbox 360 controller may have been a factor when it comes to using controllers.
Yet aside from a handful of such issues, GRID Autosport was actually quite a bit of fun. Where I struggled to feel engaged by the tonal shift of GRID 2, this immediately feels more in line with what I personally would have expected, and that’s something that will surely please fans with fond memories of the first GRID.