2018 is set to be the year that the arcade racer careens back into view, but while the tyre smoke billows from Burnout Paradise Remastered, or the sand and mud spews out beneath the wheels of the unusual sounding Onrush, it’s the white knuckle, roof-of-the-tunnel-riding, missile-swarming future racing of GRIP that could be the genre’s most important racer of the year.
There’s history here. The spiritual, nay, unequivocal successor to the PS1’s Rollcage – which, alongside Wipeout, paved the way for the techno-futurist racers of the modern era – has been a long time coming, with the wounds of a failed Kickstarter slowly erased by a successful stay in Early Access.
Launching yourself from the grid for the first time, it’s clear that there’ve been some changes since the original Rollcage. The racing is weightier, grittier, and more tactile than before, with each of the vehicles handling with some realistic heft that matches their huge armoured bodies and over-sized tyres. The vehicle designs still mean that they can run no matter which way up they are – I can’t help but always think of the revered radio-controlled Tyko Rebound when I think about Rollcage – and you’ll appreciate that fact when you’ve been flipped through the air or dropped from the roof of a tunnel at insane speeds.
There’s an array of offensive and defensive weaponry which turn each race into a warzone, and you’ll need to make use of them if you have any hope of finishing in the top three. From the rear-facing Aegis shield through to the cluster of Hydra missiles, there’s plenty of different ways to engage with your opponents, while certain more unique weapons like Time Warp will be returning from Rollcage.
While you’re constantly trying to gain the upper hand over your opponents it seems as though game director Chris Mallinson doesn’t quite want you to race off into the sunset. “The nice thing about [Time Warp] and our catch-up system,” he explains, “is that it keeps the pack together, it keeps things exciting, and I think that’s the main draw of the game, just the chaos in large numbers. You can’t have that when you’re isolated!”
You’ve got two separate power-up slots, and there’s an extra layer of tactics to when you use them thanks to a charging system that the team are still working on. If you’ve got two pick-ups in your slots you’re able to charge one of them in order to unleash either a more powerful version of it or to activate an alternate firing mode, which excitingly gives races even more of an element of the unknown.
There are 18 tracks in total, with that number being boosted by being able to race some of them in reverse, and so you’ll be careening through a mix of wild futuristic landscapes and neon-strewn industrial cities. Tracks are littered with weapon pick-ups, speed pads and launch pads, with that last one allowing you to jump from floor to ceiling or from one wall to the other, which can help in the search for the perfect racing line or attempts to evade another racer.
As fans of the original would hope, the new soundtrack is full of all the pounding trance-techno and drum and bass you could possibly hope for, and it fits perfectly with the gritty futurist racing, with artists like Kevin Greenlee and Xtigma bringing some authenticity to the roster. Chris said, “I spent a lot of time contacting artists, and I think we did a good job grabbing newcomers as well as trying to get people from the original games to jump onboard.”
Update 04/05: We’ve now been informed that Dom & Roland are no longer involved with GRIP’s soundtrack.
Despite GRIP still being a little way off, it’s looking fast, fun and fluid, with the game set to run at 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One, while the Switch version will be hitting a more modest 30fps. No matter what you’re playing on, the game will have a fully featured campaign mode, as well as a host of casual and competitive modes which you can tackle both online and via local split-screen. Additionally, all future DLC will be entirely free, helping to keep the community together.
The campaign mode is also going to play host to a dedicated rivalry system, similar to the ideas we’ve seen with the Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system or the TOCA games for those of a certain age. You’ll build up a passionate dislike for certain AI drivers who are set to throw themselves into their heel role with verve. Chris revealed, “In early access we’ve had some players create natural rivalries [with AI opponents] because it feels like they shoot you more, they bump into you more so you’re like ‘I hate that guy!’ We’re trying to amplify that in the campaign.”
There’s no doubt that this has been a labour of love for the team, but particularly for Chris it’s a personal thing; “The reason why I started development on this game was that I loved Rollcage, and I played a lot of Rollcage Stage II as a kid. I was looking for a sequel for Stage II and there wasn’t any news about it, so I contacted my business partner Rob [Baker] who was a programmer on the previous two Rollcage games – he’s got pedigree for racing games – and we started the project!
“It was kind of a random thing. It was a passion project that we started working on, the first trailer got a bunch of hits, and we were like, ‘You know what, maybe there’s something there!’ so we kept going with it.”
While last year’s Wipeout Omega Collection returned the futuristic arcade racer to the forefront of people’s minds, it wasn’t a fresh new entry for a beloved series. Whether it’s wearing the Rollcage name or not, GRIP is, and it stands poised to bring some much needed heft, carnage and eyeball-drying speed to modern race fans.