In many ways, despite the title, it’s best not to think of The Grand Tour Game as a video game. I would say TGTG is more of an interactive experience – analogous in some ways to Netflix’s hit Bandersnatch. Yes, there are times when you are racing against rivals, completing challenges and covering James May in a plume of pink smoke, but a large portion of proceedings is simply watching an episode of the TV show.
The game mixes both episode footage with gameplay. Take season one, episode one, for example. It starts like the usual episode, for all intents and purposes you are simply watching Amazon Prime Video. But then, a few minutes in, you are handed control of one of the three Ford Mustangs blasting across America, racing against Hammond and May. The cut is smooth, almost seamless. It keeps you interested in the episode, as you feel part of the event. Then after the brief challenge, the TV episode continues.
You can skip through the video elements, using R1 for the ‘Clarkson button’ and L1 for the ‘James May button’. When you press either, you can hear a little catchphrase from each presenter. So, if you are skipping forward, Clarkson portentously shouts “Come on” or “Hurry up”, whereas while rewinding, May proclaims “Now, wait a minute”. A little nod to each on-show persona. If you’ve not seen episodes of The Grand Tour, especially if you don’t have Amazon Prime, this is a great way to watch the highlights.
Sure, you don’t quite get full episodes, they are mildly edited to make the game elements work, but watching and playing a game episode still takes around one hour and a little longer if you are trying to beat your scores in each level. What makes things particularly unique is that initially, you get to play through season one, episode one and season two, episode two. Then every Friday, when every new episode of the third season of the show arrives on Amazon, the game updates with that same new episode to play through at the same time, making 14 episodes in total by the time the current run ends. The workload to put this together must have been immense.
Now we have covered the interesting structure, how does it play? Pretty terribly, sadly.
My main complaint is with the vehicle handling. Rightly pitched as an arcade title far away from simulators, lurid drifting and high speeds are the order of the day. Except, the cars are too responsive to tiny inputs, leading to either turning into a corner too early or zig-zagging your way down the course after a corner, as you aimlessly try to waggle the analogue stick left or right to regain control. Less experienced players will simply smash their way from one wall to another. Need for Speed or Burnout this most certainly isn’t. I mean, how hard can it be?
There are power-ups on certain levels, but these are largely superfluous thanks to the strange AI behaviour. You are either miles in front or suddenly catch up near the end regardless of your efforts. To make matters worse, you are stuck with just one camera angle, I’ve experienced full crashes that boot me back to the PS4 home screen and there is zero online functionality. After each experience, you are given a rating of either gold, silver, bronze or toilet. I can’t help but think an online leaderboard would have spiced things up a little.
And yet, weirdly, I had fun. You could be po-faced and look down on TGTG, or you could take it with a pinch of salt and roll with it. Like a Jason Statham action movie, it’s enjoyable rubbish. The key to the entertainment is two-fold. One, you feel more immersed because of the unique set-up and two, there is a huge amount of variety on offer. It’s the KFC Bargain Bucket of automotive video games. Each gameplay moment is specific to that episode. It could be an electric-power drag race in a McLaren P1 vs. a Porsche 918, a timed lap of the Eboladrome, a drift-off, towing something across a beach with an old Fiat Panda or making smoke in the form of doughnuts. During the Columbia special episode, you have to take pictures of animals or find clues to the whereabouts of a bear in a small open world area using a Jeep – something that immediately reminded me of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. I bet you didn’t expect that.
For the most part, the surprise and delight masks over the imperfections. Which is just like the show itself, really. The kicker is the price. At £11.99, it’s not just the variety that makes it similar to the Colonel’s fried chicken, but the cost too. That includes all 14 episodes plus offline split screen multiplayer, which I think would be around 15-20 hours in total. The value level is off the chart. But, you shouldn’t buy a video game just because it’s cheap. Hayfever is free, and you definitely don’t want that.
Certainly, The Grand Tour Game is hard to recommend if you are looking for the final word in virtual racing. Technically, this is far from polished. It also wouldn’t be appropriate to give it a score either though, seen as at the time of writing on a Thursday evening less than 30% of the game is available. What I do know is that in the morning there will be a new episode to watch and a new episode to play through. The trailer has pick-up trucks and explosions, and you know what? I can’t wait.