Gamers love surprises – I mean, how else do you explain loot boxes? – and having gone hands on and spoken to the team behind GRID’s 2019 reboot, Codemasters’ next racer is a game that’s full of them.
Since it’s been five long years since GRID Autosport didn’t exactly set the world alight, perhaps the biggest surprise is that GRID is even happening, but here it is and for those who enjoyed the series on PS3 and Xbox 360 you’ll be overjoyed to hear that Codemasters are trying to recapture some of that magic. How they’re going about it might be a little unconventional though, and I’ve got eight surprising things I want to share with you about this year’s game.
Before we do that though, just a word about the captured footage in the featured video. It is quite clearly work in progress footage despite running on Xbox One X dev kits. It’s a bit ropey in places, there are plenty of graphical glitches, and at this stage it still isn’t really representative of what you can expect from the final game.
The handling team has come over from Dirt Rally 2.0
You might think of game developers as rigid teams that work hard together, ship a game and then start work on the next, but in reality things are much more fluid than that. Still, it is a little surprising that the team working on Grid now features the Dirt Rally 2.0 handling team as having come over to work on this game.
More surprising, they’ve been given the very different task of making a racing game that’s widely accessible, with just a handful of assists between having a relatively realistic simulation and having something that novices can pick up and play.
So how does it feel? Well, pretty light and almost always like you’re on the limit through corners. This holds true across the racing classes. An outright sim, this is not, but then it’s not really trying to be.
The game has a race Choreographer
Think less of rubber-banding or football match fixing, and more Left 4 Dead’s Director. The Choreographer, as they call it in Grid, is there to add a few unpredictable elements into the game in several different ways. Tyre punctures, engine failures, and AI slip ups both big and small all fall under this umbrella, but importantly, they’ll never affect you directly, and the big stuff won’t
There’s other stuff as well, such as picking a few AI drivers to give them a slight stat boost to symbolise them just being “on it” on race day.
It’s a really interesting idea and adds some spectacular moments, but I just know it’s going to be controversial.
Less controversial is this:
The fastest AI can beat even Codemasters’ in house esports pros
Codies have created an AI system that, when tuned to the max, can fight with and even beat some of the best esports racers out there. From that, they’ve then created 400 named opponent AIs across the spectrum of ability, each with different styles of racing, different braking ability, cornering and so on. It’s those stats that the Choreographer can boost to give them a little bump.
You can piss the AI off
Ever been bumped in an online race and vowed to do absolutely everything you can to get back at that driver, even if it means getting a little dirty? Well the AI in Grid can get like that too. Every driver has a Nemesis meter, and if you bump them one too many times, it can tip them over the edge.
As a Nemesis, they get a stat boost, a little competitive edge that only the red mists of revenge can give you, and they’ll get their elbows out and fight back. These are the only AI that can actively shove you in the game.
Once a race is done, all is forgiven, so don’t expect any game-long rivalries to pop up, outside of the ones you cook up in your imagination.
Your teammate can ignore your orders
You don’t have to shove your teammate off the track to get the cold shoulder from them. Each of the 72 teammate AIs that you can hire to your team can be bossed around a bit, just as in the earlier games, but there’s also a chance that they might outright ignore you. This depends on their Loyalty stat, where they might just not respond to any push to overtake and keep doing their own thing.
Then again, they might need a little nudge every once in a while to get the job done, as just like with the other AI in the game, they’ve all got different characteristics.
You don’t need to win in the career mode
For a video game, this one’s pretty weird, but you don’t actually need to win in order to progress through the career. There’s six racing disciplines at launch, each with thirteen events and a showdown, but you just need to take part in seven events and you’ll get access to the season ending showdown. Even beyond that, complete just four disciplines and you can go and face off against the Ravenwest team.
Obviously completionists will want to get first in every event, but it’s nice and open of the team to just say, “Look, you do what you want. You bought the game, after all!” It’s a really nice move for gamers who don’t have time to spend grinding through races for hours and hours.
But maybe you like a bit of grinding?
You can prestige five times online
Heading online and you have some fairly traditional quick play and custom lobby options, but you can progress through a series of customisable liveries, player cards and accolades to show what kind of racer you are or show off your accomplishments.
There’s five hundred levels of progression to go through at launch, which you do by prestiging up to five times.
All post-launch track DLC will be free
Grid will have DLC after launch, but Codemasters will be keeping the racing community together by making post-release DLC tracks free for all players. Additionally, if there’s new classes of racing vehicles added to the game, you will still be able to race despite not necessarily owning the DLC, thanks to loaner cars getting you into the category. Those won’t be slouches out on track, but if you do buy the DLC, you’ll obviously have more cars to choose from and additional single player content.
To wrap things up, Grid is a really interesting game. We got to go hands on with this work in progress version of the game and I’ll point you to my preview for more thoughts. What I will say is it’s doing some brave things with the choreographer and how it tries to straddle a wide spectrum and sim and casual race fans. Will they recapture what made the first Grid so special? I’m on the fence right now, but having enjoyed that game over a decade ago now, I’m hopeful.